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Transcript- Episode 87: How To Reimagine The Future Workforce of Los Angeles, With Larry Holt VP of Economic & Workforce Development At LAEDC Episode 87

Feb 14, 2023


00:00:00            Larry

You know, I think economic and workforce development is a team sport. And I think when I think of the future of work, I think all of us are engaged in this work. And I don't think Larry Holt or Steven or LAEDC has any lock-on ideas.

00:00:17            Larry

I do think we're focused on what I would consider sustained, proven strategies for growing our economy. But I want to make this open-source. I want to hear from our listeners on what are the areas of opportunity that you see?

00:00:36            Christina

The workforce landscape is rapidly changing, and educators and their institutions need to keep up. Preparing students before they enter the workforce to make our communities and businesses stronger is at the core of getting an education.

00:00:49            Christina

But we need to understand how to change and adjust so that we can begin to project where things are headed before we even get there. So, how do we begin to predict the future?

00:01:01            Salvatrice

Hi, I'm Salvatrice Cummo, Vice President of Economic and Workforce Development at Pasadena City College and host of this podcast.

00:01:09            Christina

And I'm Christina Barsi, producer and co-host of this podcast.

00:01:13            Salvatrice

And we are starting the conversation about the future of work. We'll explore topics like how education can partner with industry, how to be more equitable, and how to attain one of our highest goals, more internships and PCC students in the workforce.

00:01:27            Salvatrice

We at Pasadena City College want to lead the charge in closing the gap between what our students are learning and what the demands of the workforce will be once they enter. This is a conversation that impacts all of us. You, the employers, the policymakers, the educational institutions, and the community as a whole.

00:01:47            Christina

We believe change happens when we work together, and it all starts with having a conversation. I'm Christina Barsi.

00:01:54            Salvatrice

And I'm Salvatrice Cummo, and this is the Future of Work.

00:02:00            Salvatrice

Hi everyone, and welcome back to the Future of Work Podcast. I am your host, Salvatrice Cummo. Today, we'll be talking about economic and workforce development as subject near and dear to my heart, of course. And with the most pressing issues the LA area is facing. In this space, we'll be discussing what strategies we should be implementing in our own organizations to better prepare the workforce.

00:02:22            Salvatrice

With that said, we would like to welcome Larry Holt, Vice President of Economic and Workforce Development at the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corporation. Larry is a national top 50 economic development executive who has proven his ability to translate the needs of governments, citizens, and businesses.

00:02:42            Salvatrice

He is driven to create business and social impact through creativity, innovation, and strategic relationships within his new role at the LAEDC. Thank you for joining us today, Larry. Welcome.

00:02:56            Larry

Good morning, Salvatrice. Thank you so much for having me this morning.

00:02:59            Salvatrice

You bet. You know, I have so many questions for you today, and this may be one of a few episodes that we do because economic and workforce development is so big and fluid and evolving and ever-changing. So, if it's okay with you, let's just dive right on in and get started.

00:03:19            Larry


00:03:21            Salvatrice

Excellent. Excellent. Well, let's just start with the fact that your background is so impressive, and I wat to spend some time talking about that. So, if you could tell us a little bit about your history and why this space of economic and workforce development continues to be such of interest to you.

00:03:37            Larry

Well, thank you for that and thank you for allowing me to be on the podcast this morning. And so, in terms of my background, let's get the couple of obvious things out of the way. I'm a gay man from Alabama, so that's why you hear a southern accent. So, I may even get a "y'all" or two in there.

00:03:53            Larry

I began my career in the Southeast and have gotten to work all over the country really. And so, I've really gotten to live a lot of my dreams. But I think today, we think in terms of how our communities are different. But I can tell you that one thing I've seen from Alabama to Washington state is that people care about the future of their communities.

00:04:19            Larry

And so, that's why I believe economic and workforce development is so important to communities all across the USA. And I feel very fortunate that I've gotten to do work, which allows me to shape the future for the communities I've had the privilege of serving in. So, I'm a new Californian.

00:04:40            Salvatrice

Nice. Welcome.

00:04:41            Larry

I know. The weather is so amazing. Like people get mad at clouds and I'm like, "Y'all, this is pretty good." So, as I'm watching my friend send me pictures of snow-covered Texas today, so I couldn't be happier to be here and to get to know community members across Los Angeles County as we work to shape what LAEDC's mission is of a reimagined Los Angeles economy.

00:05:11            Salvatrice

That's right. I'd also like to share that you just started a few months ago here. Brand new, brand new. So, let's really kind of acknowledge that and honor that, because I met you at the very, very tail end of last year.

00:05:22            Larry

At the Christmas party.

00:05:23            Salvatrice

At the Christmas party, and we had a blast. We had a blast, it was a lot of fun. And I was really intrigued by your background and your vision for economic and workforce development through the lens of LAEDC.

00:05:35            Salvatrice

So, tell me, how has it been since the last time we met? You know, how have you gotten your bearings around LA - and LA is ginormous, if that's even a word. It's huge, it's huge. And so, where do you start in these first few months?

00:05:48            Larry

Wow, yeah. So, how do you boil the ocean?

00:05:51            Salvatrice

That's a good analogy.

00:05:54            Larry

Things have progressed nicely, I would share. So, some of the work I've been doing in the initial stages here is really focusing on LAEDC's strategic plan developed with many, many members of our community and many great professionals in the workforce and economic development fields already working here.

00:06:14            Larry

And we're about midway on that plan. So, I think maybe it would be helpful if I shared some high-level thoughts about where we're going, which is LAEDC has a human-centered economic development approach.

00:06:29            Larry

And so, what I mean by that is, if you think about how economic and workforce development systems tend to operate in most of the country, it's around they're kind of overly business-focused, I might say. And let's just focus on growth as opposed to why don't we focus on the whole system?

00:06:49            Larry

Why don't we really start as a premise that what's going to drive meaningful pathways for our citizens, for our small businesses, for our underserved and stressed communities? Realizing that economic growth is a great driver for some of those DEI goals that we want to see happen in our community.

00:07:08            Larry

So, in terms of what I've been able to unpack so far, and as a check-in from our last meeting, that's kind of the work I've been doing and seeing what our progress looks like and where we're going. And just to elaborate a little bit.

00:07:23            Larry

I talked about kind of the problems in other communities, and we have problems too. So, when I think about LA county, I was looking at job growth numbers, justa real simple metric. And LA has been hit really hard by the pandemic and out of 190 communities, we are about 141st first in being back to 2019 job numbers. So, C-, maybe D+.

00:07:49            Larry

So, there's a lot of work to do, but I'm encouraged incredibly by the great support I see across our work fellows and economic development partnerships and partners.

00:08:02            Salvatrice

Nice. Using the human-centered, is that what you called it? Human-centered approach to economic and workforce development?

00:08:08            Larry

That's right.

00:08:09            Salvatrice

That's right. I got that right.

00:08:11            Larry

I love that concept.

00:08:12            Salvatrice

Using that framework, in again, the short time that you've been here, you spoke briefly about the job gap and the need for revitalizing and bringing our deployment back to the numbers that it was back in 2019. Is there, I should say, one issue that stands out to you loud and clear using that human-centered approach to economic and workforce development?

00:08:35            Larry

I think the one issue that really stands out to me, and it's neither positive nor negative, but just mostly an observation, is we've got a lot of systems, but are we as leaders really being intentional and doing the work it takes to achieve that alignment?

00:08:52            Larry

And I think there is a lot of collaboration that takes place within LA county, but again, a data point is LA has the highest poverty rate in the state of California. So, we've got to take that seriously and really redouble our efforts to ensure the greatest possible alignment to deliver on those sustainable, equitable goals that I know are key to what our organization is trying to accomplish and many of our other partners as well. So, we can't afford silos.

00:09:22            Salvatrice

We can't. Absolutely not.

00:09:24            Larry

That's an area that I'm particularly passionate about is that sort of intentionality. And at the beginning, you referenced an ability to translate. And I think it's incumbent on all of us to try and be translation pros. Because translation to me, is a key hallmark of leadership, and that's how we bring people into the conversation. So , we're all guilty of jargon.

00:09:46            Salvatrice

That's right.

00:09:47            Larry

Just because our work is kind of specialized, but sometimes that language does not serve our communities in terms of being translated so everybody understands, and can take part and be visible and be a part of the conversation in a reimagined Los Angeles.

00:10:01            Salvatrice

And leads me to think about too, is one of the topics I always like to talk about, and I haven't been really successful at unpacking, is system alignment. And our systems don't talk to each other, let alone the jargon that we use to our communities and the stakeholders at large.

00:10:21            Salvatrice

And we are in a real unique space right now with emerging leaders like yourself and I, and Steven, and with Kelly LeBlanco. And like there's a lot of us kind of in this space that are new and emerging leaders, and I think that now is really the time to do what you just said, is alignment with our systems, alignment with our language, alignment with our programs - alignment, alignment, alignment. So, I'd love that concept and that process

00:10:48            Larry

Well, because we're trying to achieve scale. This is a workforce of 5 million people. We can't come up with boutique programs that only serve even in the most underserved communities. We need to achieve that skill. And that's going to take alignment. You did just mention all my favorite people.

00:11:04            Salvatrice

I know they're all my favorite people too.

00:11:06            Larry

You know, I moved here because of Steven.

00:11:08            Salvatrice

Is that right?

00:11:09            Larry

Yeah, well, I mean, for a lot of reasons. I did have some family in California, but I love California.

00:11:15            Salvatrice

Where's superior state, Larry.

00:11:18            Larry

I mean, it's pretty awesome but there's a lot of problems too. But I guess I'm someone that's embraced challenges in my career. I've worked in Oregon and Washington and now, California, so I've worked up and down the west coast, and believe I do have some insights into where our challenges are and where our opportunities are.

00:11:38            Larry

So, I'm excited to be here. I'm excited by Steven's vision. I may be kind of inferring some of what your question was on let's continue to unpack how do we ... so we know we can't silo, we know we need to build systems that scale, how do we do that?

00:11:54            Larry

And so, that's where I think Steven's vision of a five pillars approach is so valuable. And let me kind of share about that.

00:12:04            Larry

Where LAEDC is going is breaking down our own silos. So, we want to eat our own dog food here. And so, we want our internal systems of our Institute for Applied Economics, which is our research team, our business assistance team, our workforce development team, our foreign direct investment, and attraction piece. And finally, to feed into our cluster development piece.

00:12:28            Larry

So, I've kind of outlined the five key tactics we'll utilize to break down those systems, but let me tell you why I'm excited about it, and you know why I think it's scalable.

00:12:37            Larry

So, there's work happening along the economic and workforce development continuum within all of those individual pillars. Where our opportunity is all of those act as inputs for gaining market intelligence. So, our workforce development systems can be interacting with our friends in the LA research consortium.

00:12:57            Larry

Our business assistance team can be gathering market intel from our supply chain, from our small businesses, from our historically underutilized businesses. And finally, our cluster and FDI pieces can be getting real-world and actionable intelligence from industry.

00:13:14            Larry

And that can all be fed back into our research we're doing to really refine and bring about research that allows us to continue the work of building scalable programs that center our communities at the heart of that. So, I mean, that's really exciting to me.

00:13:30            Larry

And I'll kind of pick on my industry a little bit. You know, what I love about it as well is it's a sustainable proven model. And too often in our field - I know workforce development doesn't chase fads, but economic development can get excited by the new shiny object.

00:13:50            Larry

But we have decades and decades of experience showing that a cluster-based approach is really how you build up a workforce, supply chains, and an industry where you begin to have place-based advantages. And place-based advantages is a really key important concept for all of us in economic and workforce development.

00:14:12            Salvatrice

Now, for those who don't understand, what does that mean?

00:14:14            Larry

So, as we think about occupations and pathways and careers and investment attraction opportunities, one of the things we really at LAEDC want to have a keen eye on is where do we have advantages?

00:14:29            Larry

And let me use an example of not just where do we have advantages, but where are the industries that offer meaningful pathways for our citizens and have extensive supply chains, so that can have additional money velocity throughout our economy for the small business community as well.

00:14:48            Larry

This is in an essence, how economies work and how we can shape our future here in Los Angeles. So, when I think about place-based advantages, I mean some of the obvious ones where we do have place-based advantages are media, digital media, creativity, that continuum.

00:15:04            Larry

So, clearly, Los Angeles has seen a lot of money velocity out of our historic hub as the entertainment center of the world. There's other industries like aerospace with deep, deep supply chains and that offer amazing career pathways to our citizens.

00:15:22            Larry

And finally, an emerging industry that we think a lot about is the biotech industry where I believe the numbers like around 60% of the jobs don't require a bachelor's degree. The great thing there is with biotech is that's university-driven as well. So, how do we loop in our higher ed partners to really create an ecosystem? I can give you a negative example too.

00:15:43            Salvatrice

Okay. Yeah, please do.

00:15:45            Larry

So, just to illuminate this and unpack it a little more, there's a lot of financial services in Los Angeles. Financial services is an industry with good-paying jobs, but what are LA's advantages for the financial services industry? Or put more directly, what does LA have to offer that Phoenix doesn't?

00:16:05            Larry

So, that's just me being real. And so, perhaps, that negative example really illuminates what we're looking for when we think about where do we have inherent place-based advantages.

00:16:16            Larry

So, to drill that down even further, you look at biotech and you look at all the NIH dollars coming into UCLA that continue to drive the research ecosystem. Again, higher ed with aerospace and Caltech and the NASA Jet Propulsion laboratory, nobody else has that. And then Hollywood, maybe we take it for granted.

00:16:36            Larry

I don't know, I still get excited seeing the Hollywood sign. You know, that Hollywood sign offers a lot of opportunity, I think for creatives and entrepreneurship too. I mean, in our world of economic and workforce development we tend to think a lot in terms of careers, and maybe a more nine to five oriented approach.

00:16:55            Larry

But in media, a lot of those jobs work for people that with the requisite skills, really desire flexibility in their careers and can contract for digital designers and digital entertainers of the world. So, one of the things that's interesting to me is that flexibility, because we know we have a lot of working parents out there.

00:17:16            Larry

And so, how do we think broadly about what our customers are? So, again, I'm probably talking too long, but I get really excited about this.

00:17:25            Salvatrice

For sure, for sure. And I'd like to really kind of underscore what you just said about entrepreneurship, and if there's one thing that this pandemic taught us is the flexibility and is the ability to just transform.

00:17:37            Salvatrice

And I think now just being in this space for as long as I have, entrepreneurship has always been its own bucket. We've categorized it as its own thing, where we should be saying is that it's threaded throughout, it's not its own thing. And every industry has its element of entrepreneurship. And so, let's amplify that.

00:17:59            Larry

That's how I think. But that brings up issues around the digital divide. And so, LAEDC's doing a lot of work there because we can go, it's great, there's all these new digital opportunities, but some of our citizens don't have the tools.

00:18:16            Larry

And just recently, we were dealing with an initiative here in LA county, and there was an idea of getting computers for some of our underserved communities. And I'm so proud of our team for going, "Well, that's great, but there's no Wi-Fi attached with that computer." So, how do we continue to push ourselves to think about whole systems.

00:18:37            Larry

But really want to circle back and underline that entrepreneurship component, because I agree with you. I do feel like sometimes it's seen as its own system, but we can't be shortsighted and think about it like that because the U.S. economy's changing and it continues to change. And we're working on occupations that didn't even exist when we were growing up.

00:18:59            Larry

That's great, that economic growth, really, again, I believe all of our goals around shared prosperity, they depend on people having those opportunities. And sometimes, they're in entrepreneurship, sometimes they're in apprenticeships, sometimes they're in full-time careers. So, how do we think about that continuum to success?

00:19:18            Salvatrice

Speaking of shared prosperity, you got me thinking about shared prosperity and opportunities. Like those phrases together are really, really strong and impactful and have a lot of meaning to them. And I think about our issue of homelessness in LA. And just in our state, but specifically in LA because we're talking about it and the access to job opportunities for them and other wraparound services.

00:19:44            Salvatrice

From your experience and what you've seen, where do we need to kind of spend our time in ensuring that economic and workforce development agencies like ourselves are a solution provider for that community so that we are living true to these shared prosperity?

00:20:02            Larry

That's a really tough question. There are communities that have had some success though. Why don't we just stipulate that I'm optimistic, it's a heartbreaking story. But there are communities like Salt Lake City and Houston, Texas. Many have seen the LA Times article kind of comparing LA and Houston's continuum.

00:20:23            Larry

And Houston's done an amazing job and really moving homeless into permanent supportive housing. So, that's great, and those are elected level decisions. In our own worlds of economic and workforce development, here's how I think about it, which is truly, we're talking about housing affordability.

00:20:41            Larry

And so, how do we in economic and workforce development, impact housing affordability? Well, housing affordability is two issues that are distinct and joint.

00:20:52            Larry

It's the price of housing but it's also incomes. And so, do we in the economic and workforce development worlds - this goes back to everything we've been talking about, which is we've really got to work to break down our own internal and external silos so we can achieve the collaboration that can drive true income growth and shared prosperity for our citizens.

00:21:15            Larry

So, that to me, is where we can have an impact on reducing homelessness in our community. You know, it'd be crazy to say we don't have a rule in it because we absolutely do. And we're on the side of working on driving income growth for our communities and that shared prosperity we were just talking about.

00:21:33            Salvatrice

Right. And I do believe that kind of going back to what we discussed earlier, that that alignment is what's going to get us there. The alignment between our agencies, our higher ed and other entities that foster economic workforce development that our practitioners within this space are going to help solve that. I don't see that as a one organization solution.

00:21:53            Larry

100%. And that's a joke if any of my friends are listening to this because I've noticed Californians say a hundred percent a lot, so that's why ... I'm a little Californian, I'm dropping in there.

00:22:04            Larry

Not just alignment and a shared vision, but I think the final piece to that, Salvatrice, is a sustained effort. And I think that is an issue that plagues economic and workforce development groups throughout the U.S. So, I'm certainly not picking on California or LA, but a lot of times in our field (stop me if you've heard this one before), we get all excited about, oh, I don't know, coding.

00:22:30            Larry

So, a lot of resources in our world go into coding schools and it's kind of the latest, greatest thing. And I think we have to work it on really sustained initiatives. And that's around, our model LAEDC's model is around traded sector industries. And I'm sure our audience is familiar with traded sector, but really, this is a very simple economics concept.

00:22:52            Larry

You have companies that provide goods and services locally, meaning grocery stores are everywhere. And then you have companies that produce goods and services for external consumption. And that's Hollywood. So, people from all over the world purchase digital media, purchase software related to entertainment, and purchase entertainment.

00:23:12            Larry

And those dollars come in to Los Angeles county. So, that's what we refer to as traded sector. And there's a long list of traded sector industries. But we do know absolutely from a top-down point of view, that growing trade - and that's not just imports and exports, but really, growing our industries that provide these goods and services anywhere outside of California, that's going to increase that velocity of money for us.

00:23:37            Salvatrice

I love that term: "velocity of money." I wrote it down.

00:23:40            Larry

Oh, thank you. It's not mine.

00:23:43            Salvatrice

Well, I'm going to keep using it too. I love it, I love it. It's so good.

00:23:48            Larry

Yeah. Well, that's what we're trying to do, growing trade with the outside world brings in new dollars, new money into our economy that is spent on local goods and services. And the other piece of this that we're trying to do - and all of us are trying to reduce what you might refer to as bad money, and what is bad money?

00:24:08            Larry

Bad money is people dropping out, bad money is people moving out of California because they can't afford it, or worse yet, people falling into homelessness. So, economic and workforce development is a whole system. We are taking a human-centered, as well as a top-down approach, which is focused on the needs of our citizens and taking the approach of focusing on driving trade and reducing system dropouts. So, that's our five-pillar approach and our real simple model.

00:24:37            Salvatrice

I love it. Well, now might be a good time to ask my favorite question that I ask every guest, and that is, look, this is a future of work podcast, so we're reframing it, we're reminding ourselves.

00:24:49            Salvatrice

If you had to share one thing that you want our listeners to better understand about this topic and how it impacts their future, what would that be? It's a big one, right?

00:25:03            Larry

Yeah, that's a really big question. Well, I think economic and workforce development is a team sport. And I think when I think of the future of work, I think all of us are engaged in this work. And I don't think Larry Holt or Steven or LAEDC has any lock-on ideas.

00:25:24            Larry

I do think we're focused on what I would consider sustained, proven strategies for growing our economy. But I want to make this open-source. I want to hear from our listeners on what are the areas of opportunity that you see. And so, we certainly have our insights and gosh, there's a lot of ways to plug in here with our team.

00:25:45            Larry

But I'll circle back to one of the things I love about California, which is ideas are so valuable here. So, I am open to ideas, and I think California's open to ideas. And maybe that's just a way of me kind of explaining my excitement about being here.

00:26:00            Larry

And I mean, we've all kind of been to those places that are like, oh, we don't have anything to learn from Seattle or Amsterdam or Salt Lake City for that matter. But I think one of California's great advantages is being open to ideas. So, I want to open-source this and share anybody that wants to reach out to me, feel free.

00:26:21            Salvatrice

Fantastic. Well, it sounds like you and I have some chitchatting to do further, and do some alignment and strategy work. Right?

00:26:29            Larry

I remember at the Christmas party, you and I were like going, "Yeah, this needs work."

00:26:34            Salvatrice

There's currently a ton of synergy there for sure, for sure.

00:26:36            Larry

That's right.

00:26:37            Salvatrice

This is what I love about it. There's never a dull moment.

00:26:39            Larry

Well, there's never a done either.

00:26:41            Salvatrice

That's right, that's right. I love that. There's never a done. Well, sadly, our time here has come to sunset a little bit. And I know that this is going to be an evolving conversation with you and myself and other leaders and professionals in this space. And for those who are listening, Larry, and who want to connect with you, what would be the best way they can connect with you? And we'll be sure to enter those in the show notes.

00:27:06            Larry

Yeah, well, I'm on Twitter @lfholt. I'm on LinkedIn as well. Feel free to email me directly at

00:27:17            Salvatrice

Excellent, excellent. Alright, well thank you so much. It's been a pleasure and we'll chat soon.

00:27:23            Larry

Well, this was fun. Thank you for the invite. I had a good time.

00:27:25            Salvatrice

You're very, very welcomed.

00:27:26            Larry

I love talking about the great things we're all doing, so thank you.

00:27:30            Salvatrice

You're very welcome.

00:27:31            Salvatrice

Thank you for listening to the Future of Work Podcast. Make sure you're subscribed on your favorite listening platform so you can easily get new episodes every Tuesday. You can reach out to us by clicking on the website link below in the show notes to collaborate, partner, or just chat about all things future of work. We'd love to connect with you.

00:27:53            Salvatrice

All of us here at the Future of Work and Pasadena City College wish you safety and wellness.