Stephen Cheung’s Data Drives the County’s Economy Forward

Pam Sornson, JD

Pam Sornson, JD

December 6, 2022

Understanding global financial and industry developments and how those impact the LA County region will help its industrial complex define and structure its short and long-term public and private investments. As the closing keynote speaker at the November 8th Future of Work Conference (FOW), hosted by Pasadena City College’s (PCC) Economic and Workforce Development division (EWD), Stephen Cheung offered his expert analysis of the possibilities suggested for LA County’s future economic opportunities. Mr. Cheung is the President of the LA Economic Development Corporation (LAEDC) and the World Trade Center LA (WTCLA). In his opinion and based on extensive research and analysis, LA County can achieve exponential economic gains if it builds on its vision of where the global economy is going, not where it is right now.


Down a Little. Never Out.

LA County and all its residents suffered significant losses during the COVID-19 pandemic, just like the rest of the world. However, this region is well-known for its resilience and stamina, and its recovery efforts reflect its globally recognized dedication to overcoming adversity. Mr. Cheung’s evaluation underscores how this positive attitude will assist the County in achieving even greater economic excellence in the future than it did in the past.

Like everyone else in the workforce and economic development sector, considerations of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic color virtually all aspects of current and potential activities. Accordingly, Mr. Cheung analyzed data collected before and during the health crisis and up to the present to determine where the County’s economic realities lie in comparison to where it was two years ago:

In just two months, April and May 2020, the region lost more than 3/4 of a million jobs (784,800), which closed down thousands of businesses and created an immense demand for unemployment benefits.

Also, in May 2020, LA county experienced an unemployment rate of 19.2%. One in five workers was out of a job.

Those two data points reflect the worst economic moment in Los Angeles County since January 2000. The COVID-19 pandemic caused more employment havoc than either the bursting of the Dotcom Bubble of the early 2000s or the Great Recession of 2007 to 2009.


Always Optimistic

Cheung’s good news for 2022, however, is very heartening:

By September 2022, the County had recovered 91% of all the nonfarm jobs lost in 2020.

Also, as of September 2022, the County’s unemployment had fallen to a low of 4.5%.

This data confirms that LA County is definitely back in business, and its economy is slowly recovering from that dramatic and distressing downturn.

But it’s not returning to its “old normal,” Cheung says. Instead, while the pandemic eliminated hundreds of occupations completely, it also generated hundreds of new vocations that require workers to have different skill sets from before, as well as a more technology-savvy knowledge base. Consequently, former employees who are still out of work – and those who want to improve their ‘upward mobility’ – will most likely have to obtain new training and occupational skills to qualify for the work options that are emerging in the post-COVID economy.

Additionally, several industries that have already expanded beyond their pre-pandemic perimeters are now looking for a new labor force to fill these employment opportunities. The healthcare, business and professional services, transportation, construction, motion picture and sound recording, and information sectors are all building on COVID-driven insights and will need more workers as they grow into their “new” normal. As a result, the overall job posting volume is up, too, surpassing 110,000 in July 2022.


On a Firm Foundation

As assuring as the current labor data appears to be that LA County will enjoy a secure economic future, it is Cheung’s prognostications that the region’s emerging economic opportunities actually hold the most promise for a genuinely well-entrenched economic comeback. The County remains a commercial industry powerhouse across many significant industrial bases, including aerospace and defense, digital media and entertainment, trade and logistics, and manufacturing. All of those sectors will also be gaining ground moving forward as they adapt to emerging economic opportunities.

In addition:

LA County is the continent’s most significant transport and logistics hub. Despite the pandemic, the LA and Long Beach Ports handled over 10 million ‘TEUs’ (twenty-foot equivalent units) during FY 2021-2022, more than 3.5 million more than the previous FY. The port of Long Beach alone managed over 3,000,000 TEUs between January and August of 2022.

LAX, one of the world’s busiest airports, handled almost 19 million passengers between January and September 2022, which is a 107% year-over-year increase in passenger volume. In 2021, the aviation hub handled over 48,000,000 passengers.

LA County is also a startup epicenter, generating hundreds of new companies each year. Currently, 120 Venture Capitalist firms manage more than $9.1 billion in venture capital investments, and the County is home to 31 business accelerators, 49 incubators, and over 8,000 startup enterprises. Trader Joe’s, Hulu, Ring, and Fandango are just four of the thousands of internationally recognized brands that originated in an LA County storefront.

Home to global film, television, and multimedia industries, LA County also hosts millions of dollars worth of sporting events and entertainment at dozens of venues across its 88 cities. In addition to professional football, baseball, and hockey teams, the County will also be welcoming National Golf tournaments, horse racing, soccer, and Olympic sporting events in the coming years.

LA County’s still solid financial footing isn’t only American-based, either. Foreign-owned enterprises own thousands of businesses, employ almost two hundred thousand workers, and pay more than $17 million in annual salaries to their workers.


Cheung’s fact-based messaging underscored his message that LA County is and will remain a globally recognized economic powerhouse for years to come. California’s robust 2021 GDP of $815B (4th largest in the world) demonstrates its capacity to overcome even pandemic-driven catastrophes, while its cultural diversity (240+ languages) invites a constant stream of new ideas and dreamers. Moreover, as the State’s and nation’s largest county, LA County will remain at the economic center of the western hemisphere’s industrial universe. “All those businesses and industries will need well-trained workers,” says Cheung. “The community colleges should be the first place they go to find those resources.”


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