Jesse Torres: PCC EWD’s Guide to Industry

Pam Sornson, JD

Pasadena’s Economic and Workforce Development (EWD) department works with a myriad of agencies, industries, and businesses to gather the information needed to drive its programs and services. However, connecting with all those resources takes time and strategy to maximize both the effort and the result. Consultant Jesse Torres, principal of ArroyoWest LLC, a Los Angeles-based economic consulting company, takes on the task on behalf of the department and brings a long and well-versed personal and corporate history to the project.



Education + Experience = Value for PCC EWD

Torres’s communications and business development talents were already sharp when Pepperdine University hired him as the Director of Alumni Relations for its Graziadio School of Business. He had received his MBA in finance from that alma mater, and his focus was always on helping businesses and industries thrive economically. That focus paid off, apparently, when he left Pepperdine two years later to become the Regional Director for the LA Small Business Development Center Network (LASBDC), and then again three years later, when he left the LASBDC to join the California Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development.

In both agencies, Torres’s attention was on working with companies and regional industries to grow and develop new economic opportunities, whether through direct contacts and communications or through the strategizing and development of business-friendly policies. Both jobs also revealed to him the diverse eco-systems in which California’s industries thrive, based on their geographic location, cultural backgrounds, and community connections.

What his education and experience have taught him is that the State of California is bursting with talent, innovation, and opportunity and only needs connections across its resources to nurture those opportunities to fruition. In his position as a principal at Arroyo West, he provides those insights to his clients as they develop their small businesses into bright futures. Through his work, he is helping PCC EWD foster industry connections even during the COVID-19 pandemic.  In addition to a notable Rolodex of who’s who in California’s business community, Torres brings a wealth of knowledge about what’s what and how to get things done.


Macro View; Micro Details

His position with the SBDC, gave him an understanding of the finer details of managing a successful business: customer management services, HR practices, and even regulatory compliance and his state-level position offered insights and information about the interplay of industry, communities and small businesses at large.  Knitting the two views together creates in Torres a formidable bevy of tools, strategies, and comprehensions that are applicable in almost any corporate or enterprise situation. It’s this bevy of tools that Torres offers to the PCC EWD. He helps the department make connections with its industry and corporate neighbors, while also engendering success in those relationships for both the school and its business compatriots.

From these perspectives, Torres brings several lessons to the PCC EWD table as the department reaches out to new and potential business partners:

To a company eying Pasadena as a potential home base, the available labor pool is as significant a deciding factor as other economic incentives or something more intrinsic like our year-round good weather.  Companies won’t make any city their home if they can’t find the labor resources they need to thrive in that community.

That labor pool also needs to develop the skills and abilities demanded by regional companies, tailored as much as possible to both the relevant industry and the specific business. Teaching students anything less serves no purpose.

Successfully connecting the two – corporate and labor – requires a strategy that ensures the needs of both are met, and that they can successfully partner to achieve their common goals: good jobs, healthy communities, and successful companies.

It’s from this perspective that Torres’s real work begins: helping PCC EWD advance on its industry priorities and supporting EWD leadership in determining and developing what programming is needed to attract and retain corporate engagement and to demonstrate that PCC is in step with the evolving industry sectors.




It’s All in the Details …

As in all other LA and California regions, there are identified industrial sectors that have a higher representation within the area, so those are the sectors that determine the scope of PCC programming. In his initial scope of work as a consultant for the department, Torres’ work involved researching key industries, reaching out to industry representatives and introducing them to PCC’s unique labor-development resources for those industries.  He played a significant role in the design and implementation of the department’s first Future of Work conference which brought many industry, academic and legislative contacts to PCC to discuss the opportunity for greater collaboration on economic and workforce issues.

Part of his work also involved exploring how to best support PCC EWD in developing strategies to connect industry and academia in term of talent development and upskilling.  From the school’s perspective, the business’s information about its specific needs not only impacts curricula development but also often defines economic investments in books, tools, and even lab construction.  From the business’s perspective, seeking well-trained staff may also be an indicator of corporate growth, which will, in turn, require analysis of the company’s finances, its capacity to take on more workers, and even a review of its HR protocols.


… Pivoting in COVID-19

As noted, the original scope of work entailed face-to-face meetings, seminars, and other networking opportunities. Then COVID-19 hit, and, like the rest of the world, it compelled Torres and PCC EWD to adjust his tactics and scope to reflect that new reality. Again, his past experience informed his decisions and his steps forward.

Back in 2018, while still at the Governors’ Office, one of Torres’s projects was to assist the countless small businesses impacted by that year’s devastating wildfires. The ability to adapt to one’s circumstances quickly rose to the top of the ‘most desired skills’ list, and the impact of Torres’s experience both personally and from observing the effort of those business owners remains with him today. That experience helped him pivot (like other PCC colleagues) to accommodate the virus while maintaining a steady focus on his goal of connecting PCC EWD resources to the businesses and companies that need them.


Looking Forward

The COVID-19 pause has also allowed Torres and the PCC EWD to regroup and rethink their next steps, although those will be different after receiving the benefit of Torres’ inputs. They’ve engaged in a retreat to review overarching intentions and resources, and have already implemented new communications tools (such as podcasts for both Torres and PCC EWD) to get the virtual work out to the community. Moving forward, outreach will be more strategic, and goals will be both clearer and most cleanly defined, which will help with metrics and measuring success.

Most importantly, though, is the fact that Torres’s work remains unchanged, regardless of the pandemic or any other barrier that has already popped up or will in the future. His focus remains on helping companies find success within their industry, and workers find success within their jobs. Adding in assisting students to find their future seems a logical next step in Jesse Torres’s already stellar career trajectory.


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