Apr 1, 2022
Expanding The Success Of Community Engagement Through Local Business, With Kelly LoBianco Executive Director, Economic & Workforce Development at County of Los Angeles Episode 66
How do we unlock the potential of those that are already here in LA County? How do we support entrepreneurs in opening up businesses? How do we support them in growing? How do we inspire folks to enter that space? And then how do we drive investment in LA County that is a true job generator and bring good quality jobs to the region? And how do we advocate for businesses and industry that are here to do better for workers?
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.
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?
Hi, I'm Salvatrice Cummo, Vice President of Economic and Workforce Development at Pasadena City College, and host of this podcast.
And I'm Christina Barsi, producer and co-host of this podcast.
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.
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,
We believe change happens when we work together, and it all starts with having a conversation. I'm Christina Barsi-
And I'm Salvatrice Cummo, and this is the Future of Work.
Today, we hear from Kelly Lobianco, Executive Director of Economic and Workforce Development, a branch of the Los Angeles County Department of Workforce Development, Aging and Community Services.
Our host Salvatrice, talks with Kelly as she breaks down the many initiatives of this new department that is very busy building the infrastructure to combine old and new initiatives in the Workforce Development, Aging and Community Services. There are so many levels to this execution. So, with no further ado, here is Salvatrice Cummo and Kelly LoBianco.
Welcome back to another episode of the Future of Work. I am your host, Salvatrice Cummo. And with me today, I have the pleasure of speaking with Kelly LoBianco, Executive Director of Economic and Workforce Development, a branch of the LA County Department of Workforce Development, Aging and Community Services. Welcome, Kelly.
Thank you, Salvatrice. So happy to be here.
Thank you so much for making the time. We've talked a little bit before this call, but I feel like you've been here forever and you've only been here-
Four whole months.
Four whole months, and yet there's so much that has already had so much momentum with you here in our county. And we thank you very much for choosing our county to lead. And with that, I think it might not be a bad idea to share with our audience a little bit about yourself and your career path here, that led you to LA County.
Sure, thank you. And honestly, the privilege is all mine to work for LA County. I couldn't be more pleased. So, yeah, as I said, I'm four months new. I landed in LA County as a resident in November of 2020, and I started with the county in this department in November of 2021.
And a little bit about me: I'm a public servant through and through, and I've been in the economic and workforce development space for my entire career so far. But if I take it a step back further, like how did I even enter this field?
You know, I moved around a lot when I was growing up. I was, what I call a general motors kid, kind of mimics a military kid. We moved every two or three years to every city that you can think of locally and internationally, that had a car plant, an automotive plant.
So, my family and I, we had the great privilege of living and interacting and experiencing a lot of different communities, and calling those communities and those cultures my own home. And so, I'm very excited to make LA County my home and really set roots here.
But I was always politically interested. That was just something that was ... or to me, as a kid and throughout my life. In college, I volunteer interned for then, Senator Obama in Chicago. That's where I was at school. And that really gave me my crash course in constituent services and really seeing the challenges for our local residents and figuring out how to cover an ambulance ride with Medicaid, or helping a grandparent get a visa to get into the country. And that really spurred my interest in government itself and how government could really serve as a public good and serve our communities.
And so, I moved to DC and worked on Capitol Hill and I had a portfolio focused on education and labor and pensions and housing, a portfolio about people. And one of the things I was curious about from that very moment in my early twenties was how does all of this policy and partnership and the money, how does it actually work out for folks in the end?
You know, we were talking in lofty terms about what we wanted for our country and for our state, but how did it really work? And so, I found myself sort of going from the federal government to grad school and then to the state government, and then local government, and most recently, working at a community-based organization, and really trying to understand, like what were the individual barriers? What were the systemic barriers to helping an individual transform their lives or their family's lives?
And what could we do and learn to make those grander changes so that we really live in a more vibrant economy where there's equity for all, and that our businesses and our workers could fulfill their American dream, and really figuring out how to be part of that.
And so, that's sort of my origin story. But in the middle of the pandemic, I wanted to live the California dream like so many. And so, my husband and I figured out a way to do it and got in a car and just made this life change. So, we're here and I translated my interest in education and workforce development and economic development to my new community, got to know folks, and happened to land here at a time when the board of supervisors was doing something quite transformational and looking at how the county approached economic and workforce development, and started the process of a once in a century opportunity to create a brand new department that was focused on the very issues that I have expertise and experience and passion about.
And so, I'm so fortunate to be here now at a time to support the development of this new department, and that brings me to today. So, that's my story.
That's quite a story, and super brave to just get in the car and drive across country and come into LA. Well, listen, we're really thankful and grateful that you're here. And I wonder in LA County or LA in general and New York, relatively different, we think that they're the same, but they're very different. And so, in this transition, from New York to LA, has there been anything where you're just like, "Wow the way LA approaches economic workforce development is very different than New York or vice versa?"
What has been kind of a surprise to you both in a positive way, and maybe an opportunity for us to do things or think of things a little bit differently?
Yeah, it's hard to think of two cities in the United States and even beyond, that have the size, the diversity, and the complexity of both LA and New York. So, in that sense, they're similar. But when you look at the geography, the people, the culture, the personality, the governance structures, they're very different. They're very different playing fields.
And so, the way I really have been internalizing this is there might be similar goals for the county here and for the city in New York, as we think about an equitable recovery or an inclusive growth, or just a future that really puts sustainability and resiliency at the forefront. And many of the economic and workforce development levers and tools are the same. And even the funding streams are often the same, but the local assets and needs are very, very different.
And so, I think that that has really been my learning here too, which is like, how do you deploy city's trusted and true funding streams and levers and strategies in a very different environment. And particularly, one that is still very much in a pandemic and on a path to recovery.
So, some of the things that are different - I'll point to the governance structure, first of all. I mean, when you're looking at economic and workforce development specifically, there's seven workforce development local areas in LA County alone over the 4000 square miles. You have these seven different groups, including LA County and LA City who are the sort of largest workforce development boards overseeing these areas. And we're all collectively trying to provide universal, job training and job connection services to workers.
We're trying to provide incentives and in a qualified pipeline of workers to businesses in a consistent and quality way and doing it with a bunch of different government entities and a bunch of different CBOs. I think that's a complexity in and of itself that is very unique to LA.
But it is also an opportunity because there's a ton of really invested folks who have local know-how and connections that can help us do this work better. And then I'd also say part of the impetus for this new department is that economic development, at least, within LA county was decentralized over a number of different agencies.
And so, there's an effort to centralize that work under one umbrella and have a more countywide and by its very nature, a regional strategy for economic development. And so, that is not a surprise, but it's a challenge to sort of make that integration happen and figure out the opportunities for optimization.
Yeah, I think that I would say that those are the biggest things. And then ultimately, with this sort of new department, I think there's a paradigm shift underway to really connect economic and workforce development. And I would say every municipality or county or region in the country is sort of grappling with how to really connect those two streams of work and really see them with economic opportunity at the end of both.
And so, help me understand: so there's a new department, new office, and you built in a new office and integrating components of the county into this new office. So, there's new programming, but there's also existing programming that you're braiding through this new office.
I have to imagine that's not an easy task, having done it myself. And I can only imagine how it is for the county. And how are you working through just work life in general and kind of unifying these components of workforce development that are now being restructured into this new office?
Well, not alone for sure. I think that's the first thing. It's a real group effort and I'm so grateful for the talent that I have with me. I mean, this is credit to the board of supervisors and the CEO. They knew that creating a new department, actually two at the same time, because we're actually creating two new departments out of the department of Workforce Development, Aging and Community Services: one that's focused on economic and workforce development, and one that's focused on aging and community services and disability services. They are doing this in a phased approach. And so, I can tell you a little bit about the three phases.
So, the first phase that we're in and we're still in it, is the branch phase. So, I'm here, I joined the team in November. Laura Trejo, who came to us from the city with years of expertise in the aging space is overseeing the other branch within the department.
And we are overseeing the program teams. So, we have sort of these mini-departments within a larger department right now. And on my side, we've brought over teams from the CEO's Economic Development division who've been doing policy and strategy for many years in this space. We've brought over Los Angeles County development authorities, economic development unit who work on business improvement and capital development, and small business loans.
And we've brought over the Department of Consumer and Business Fair, Office of Small Business and Small Business Commission who do everything from entrepreneurship support to small business services and business certifications, so that small businesses can leverage the purchasing power of the county.
So, those teams came over to us. So, that was a big part of our phase one. And right now, we're in the process of bringing these teams together, figuring out where our admin teams go between the two new departments and preparing our name and our brand, and our identity, and our website, and all that good stuff for our department launch on July 1st, 2022.
So, that's coming this summer and that's phase two. In phase two, we'll launch the new departments and it requires an ordinance with the county, and all of the legal rigmarole to make it happen. And then in our new departments, we're really going to be looking at how do we collaborate better among the new units that are with us today? How do we start to create an organizational structure that makes sense? And how do we start to identify the gaps in our economic development strategy and our workforce development strategy.
And so, that's sort of phase two, and then phase three is really the sort of never-ending phase, which is optimization, where we want to think about economic and workforce development is not even limited to the four departments that are coming together in this space in LA County. There's a ton of different departments within LA County, like our Arts and Culture Department, Regional Planning, Public Works, Internal Services, Department of Public Social Services.
These folks all do some element of workforce and economic development. And that doesn't even include our partners like the community college, our CBO partners, our labor partners and beyond. So, there's going to be a long phase of really figuring out how to develop a comprehensive and regional strategy. But we have a little bit of time at least into late 2022 before the optimization phase, but we're excited and we're on the path. And we have a few short months until we launch
That sounds a lot. It sounds like a lot.
I have a good team.
Yeah, for sure, for sure. You certainly do. Aligning the three branches and the way you explained out in those phases: phase one, phase two, phase three - there is an overarching strategy that I'm sure you're working on. And perhaps that's the first strategy. The first strategy is just breaking it out in phases.
Of those three phases, are there key priorities that you're saying, in phase one, we've really got to hit this? Now, you're leading into phase two come summer. So, maybe we talk about that. Is there a key priority lean into summer of that phase?
Yeah, I would say the immediate work that's happening outside of just the infrastructural changes of creating a new department are we're focused on making sure we're delivering continuous services throughout the transition. That's important to us. You know, there's a lot of shifting that the customer needs and the community maintain.
We have the lucky and also, giant duty of rolling out our American rescue plan funds. Right now, we have over a hundred million dollars coming into our department right now in our first phase of recovery where we're building new high road training partnerships, we're creating a worker equity fund. We're creating legal aid services for small businesses. We're thinking about street vending carts and the like. And so, really making sure that we are being responsible and responsive, and getting those dollars out into the community in an expedited way.
This is all happening right now, even as we launch. And we're in the process of redesigning our urban job centers of California right now. We have an RFP that will be coming out this summer, sort of in line with our new department launch. And our charge is really to modernize the system: conceptualize how to make that large public workforce infrastructure work better for workers in businesses in LA County.
And so, we're thinking about our priority populations, our sector approach, amping up the way we look at outcomes and accountability, thinking about how to integrate community voice. So, those are some of our top priorities in phase one.
And do you foresee any barriers to addressing those key priorities? And if so, what are some creative ways or some ways that you're thinking about approaching those potential barriers to the work?
Yeah, so it's a lot fast in the short time, and then we can talk about priorities for the department more broadly. But the key thing is communication with our partners and leveraging our partners. You know, the county has the ability to bring in some of this resource and has the ability to convene many partners and bring the right folks into the room.
But really, leveraging our community colleges, leveraging our trading providers, our small businesses, and others to help us design and deploy these programs quickly. And I think that the pandemic has showed us that we can be nimble and innovative in ways we didn't even imagine. And we're going to continue to need to do that.
The other challenge that we've been thinking a lot about is how to be as friendly to businesses and workers as possible overall, but also during this time. So, how do we make it easy for those who we want to put the cash in folks pockets or programs and services at their door, how do we make it easy to access? And so, part of that is like what is our outreach and communication strategy?
How do we build out street teams and technical assistance that can make sure that we can get to folks at all reaches of the count? And what sort of platforms do we need to develop and partners do we deploy so that whether it's a program or a service people have access to it, or whether it's a contracting or a subcontracting opportunity that CBOs and small businesses can access as well.
You and I have had some time to do a quick chat about the community colleges and the regional consortia. As you know and I'm sure listeners are slowly figuring out that Pasadena is leading the regional consortia of community colleges - 19, to be specific, and we too are in phase one of the infrastructure design and trying to understand where our priorities are specifically in phase one, as it relates to partnerships. Operations, processes - those are the typical things that a consortum or a body or city, organization focuses on during their first phase.
And as I'm hearing you speak, I wonder if there might be anything specific that we could support you in your phases of development, not only as a body of community colleges or as an individual, or as just a single college. Might there be something on your agenda that you're saying, "Hey, Salvatrice, like this is where kind of magic happens, is when we can leverage you in this way or leverage the consortium or the college in this way." Might there be something kind of in the immediate that we could help you with?
Sure, yeah. So, thank you for that question too, because our county, even the department that I'm in right now, we've worked together with many of the colleges in the consortium for many years and have done really good work.
So, like we've got some of our American Job Center affiliate sites on campuses with Wast LA College and LA Southwest College. We are running programs even with some of our American Rescue Planned Funds with schools.
So, for example, we are running careers for a cause program with LA Southwest College and expanding to County College in East LA. And that's really focused on supporting individuals with lived homelessness experience, connecting to training, and then jobs in the homeless and social services sectors, where there's a lot of influx of money and new jobs being created.
You know, we're working on other high-road training partnerships in transportation and the green economy with various colleges. And we have programs that are even pipelines to county jobs. Like for example, we have an Appraisers Assistance Program that we're working on with the LA County Assessors Office as well as Rio Hondo, East LA, and West LA College.
So, there's a lot of exciting partnerships already brewing. And one of the things I was thinking about as you asked that question, is we're already sort of like pinpointing opportunities that are hyper-local and that meet a very specific business or community need in the short-term. And I think like in our partnership with LA County and the consortium, is how do we take our support of hundreds of students together to really leveraging the fact that we know that our system serves thousands of individuals and how do we scale up some of those hyper-localized efforts and optimize and scale, and take some of the models that are working on the road and get it to more parts of the county together.
And so, I think that there's some models that we're already working on that we could look at and bring to the consortium, and talk about how to expand those efforts, where there is that employer need and make sure that we're getting folks that high-quality education and training, and building in the support services and the stipends and the work-based learning experiences, and actually getting folks into those jobs.
I think that that's the other area, and we have talked a little bit about this in our time knowing each other so far, is we're both in the process of like creating strategic plans right now. And how do we make sure that the goals that we're setting for education, for training, for economic and workforce development broadly, and the funds that we're leveraging are really in sync.
And then even specifically, we're all thinking about high-growth sectors and opportunity sectors, and creating very specific plans within those sectors to support qualified pipelines of talent - local homegrown talent, getting into growing local industries with high-quality jobs. How do we sync those efforts? So, it's not just sort of one training program, but a plan together.
And then the last thing I'll say, beyond just workforce development, which is where our teams have really collaborated in the past; we have an opportunity with a lot of our new teams joining the shop. Like how are we thinking about entrepreneurship or capital development or other sort of placemaking exercises?
I think that there's sort of other elements of economic development that I would love to work with the community colleges as real anchor institutions throughout the county to build up together.
I love that, I love all three. And so, count us in for all of that Kelly, because we're in the same situation. And the beauty of all of this really is, is two things/well, three things: the first is workforce development is so fluid. I mean, you kind of touched on it earlier that although maybe not all the departments are under our purview, but workforce development is threaded throughout our organization, our county, our city. It really just depends what lens we're looking through.
And secondly, our county is its own country. It's massive. And what I really love about now is a couple of things; is yes, the pandemic shared quite a bit with us. It shared what we would tolerate and what we would not, where there were gaps, where we were probably spending too much of our energy on with less return, meaning less impact.
And so, now, we're in a position where not only are we seeing a shift economically and a shift in the opportunities economically, and thinking it through and re-imagining really what workforce development is. And we needed a pandemic to kind of do that for us. I mean, I hate to say it that way, but it almost feels that way because part of me feels that if we weren't forced to really reexamine workforce development, we'd kind of be in the same spot we were about five years ago.
And the other beauty is that we have leadership that some are new leadership like yourself and myself, but also existing leadership is saying, you know what, it's okay to do things out of the usual, and it's okay to not do business as usual. I think that's what I really want to say.
And it takes a lot of drive and perhaps maybe courage to use those words. And our leaders are finally saying, "Look, let's shake it up a little bit. Let's do things differently. Let's test. It's okay to test." And entrepreneurship, we're in the Mecca of all of that, we're right in the center of all of that. And so, why not? Why not test in an environment that allows us to test.
But I think that sometimes - and you and I have had these conversations about our systems and system alignment, and what is it going to take really for us to create not only optimizing, but scaling? Those two priorities, those two holistic priorities for you is optimizing and scalability. And what is it going to look like? And I think that that's where the fun happens, where you talk about the strategic planning, you talk about really kind of mapping this out in a way that's never been done before.
So, I'm really excited about that. I'm excited for you, I'm excited for us. I'm excited for our county because gosh, what a gem this county is, and wouldn't you agree? I mean, we've got incredible leaders. Our employers alone, I mean, if we took a scan of the employers here and our anchor employers here in the county, I mean, it's just impressive. It's something you don't see it across the country.
Anyhow, sorry, I went on my little rant about how great LA County is. But it really is about acknowledging where we are, where we've been, and where we wanna go. And it's only until we do that through those measures that you've shared, is where we're going to create some traction and momentum. And so, thank you for sharing that, and thank you for allowing us to be a partner in your work, and please call on us.
For sure. So, we said all of that, and I'm going to challenge you, Kelly-
Is there one thing, one thing that you really want to bring home this year in your one-year role? If we have a chat a year from now, what would that one thing you'd want to accomplish in all of the complexities that we just talked about in our arena?
Sure. Well, I'll give you a throwaway and then I'll give you my real one. I mean, the one thing I'm going to stand up this new department and that's going to be an amazing thing, and I think it's going to be this sort of culmination of a lot of momentum that has been in place for years and stirring for years among all the talent in LA County who wants us to do more in a more centralized and prioritized way in economic and workforce development.
But I think I'm going to like break your rule and I'm just going to say three. So, one's launching the new department. Two, I want to build, like I said, on that momentum of our new department and really clarify the roles and responsibilities of our department and LA County for businesses and workers.
I think it's really important to me that we are a community-friendly place. So, one that makes it very apparent that we're looking to community voice and lifting it up in our program design and our evaluation and our investments, and that we create spaces that are easy for workers and businesses to engage.
And so, I think that's going to be a big part of the way we set our brand and roll out communications about our new department and sort of our collective programs and services under our new umbrella. So, I think that like business and worker friendliness is really important to me.
And then the other piece is making sure we get as many resources as possible into LA County right now. There are opportunities from the American rescue plan. Like I mentioned earlier, there are all sorts of sort of untapped opportunities in the private space and other funding sources that would make us nimble and help us further our own sort of innovations and creative thinking that we haven't leveraged yet.
You know, we've gone even with Mt. San Antonio College, we applied for the EDA's Good Job Challenge in the film and digital media sector, so that we could really focus on alternative and diverse pipelines into that sector. So, I wanna make sure that as there's resources out there, which are at huge levels and focused on the equitable recovery, that they come - like you said, LA County is a country.
You know, we have been disproportionately hit by the pandemic, and I want to make sure that we're doing everything we can to get those dollars here, spend them intentionally and with a community focus, and get them into the pockets of those that need the most so that we come out of this pandemic focused on inclusive growth, focused on the future of work, and really delivering for this county in every single way. And so, I think that's my commitment and focus in the next year.
Fantastic, fantastic. I love that, I love that. Is there a way that we as listeners or as a body of partners can stay aware and involved in the initiatives that you've set forth both for the county and personally? Might there be a way that we can connect?
Sure. So, we've been talking sort of in vague terms about this new department. That's because it's not named yet. But it will be in the next few months. And so, I'm sad that I can't give you a website and social media handles.
But for now, I can connect you to our current department where our branch is set and our phase one state. So, if you want to learn about us, it's www. wdacs.lacounty.gov. Our handles are @lacountywdacs. And that's how you can learn about us. And it will be where we're going to be planting a bunch of new information about our programs and services and resources to date.
And as you connect with us there, we're gonna be pushing out new information about our new department when the time comes.
That's exciting. Well, I can't wait to hear it. I can't wait to hear. You promised to call me and I'll be the first one to know what it is.
You got it.
Perfect, perfect. Thank you so much, Kelly. This has been great. I think that we can probably go on for so much longer, and I feel that you mentioned something a moment ago about inclusive work, is that the phrase or ...?
Yeah, inclusive growth, I think is what I said, but yes.
I love that, I love that so much. We need to talk about more and what that looks like and what that means, and how do we do more of it? And how does that become a daily practice for practitioners like ourselves in this space.
For sure. And one of the ways I think about inclusive growth is how do we unlock the potential of those that are already here in LA County? How do we support entrepreneurs in opening up businesses? How do we support them in growing? How do we inspire folks to enter that space? How do we get workers onto career pathways that have real mobility and family-sustaining wages? There's so much talent, the assets here are incredible.
And then how do we drive investment in LA County that is a true job generator and bring good quality jobs to the region. And how do we advocate for businesses and industry that are here to do better for workers?
So, I think there's sort of every angle as we think about how to create a healthy and safe self-sufficient, and mobile economy. And that's where I think we can get to that inclusive growth when we're just focused on directing our resources to those that were hardest hit by the pandemic, are historically disenfranchised, and making sure that we level the playing field. So, there's a lot of work to be done. But also, a lot of momentum in this space and a lot of good partners at the table.
It is. Thank you. Thank you very, very much, and happy to problem-solve all of that and ideate around it and see what is possible. Thank you very much, again, Kelly. You've been wonderful and I know you have a ton of things on your plate right now.
Thank you for carving the time out. It's a very special moment and very special time for me. And we look forward to seeing you again soon, and we'll be sure to enter the information that you've shared - the website and things in the show notes. And as the name evolves and the website becomes live in the summer, we'll update that as well.
For sure. Thank you so much. It's been a great pleasure for me too. I am so happy to be here.
Very good. Very good, great. Thank you.
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