The city of Long Beach in California has come a very long way since the early 1990s, when, in the words of current Mayor Bob Foster, it was experiencing “depression-like conditions”. Today Long Beach has something to tempt every visitor and millions of visitors come to the city annually.
Until the early 1990s the economy of Long Beach – California’s seventh-largest city – relied totally on the U.S. Navy (the city was the home of the U.S. Navy’s Pacific Fleet for decades) and on the aerospace industry.
By the 1990s Long Beach had a very long association with aviation that stretched back to the early years of the century. In keeping with Southern California’s status as a leading center of U.S. aerospace production, the city had also boasted a strong aerospace-manufacturing presence for decades.
Long Beach Harbor was where Howard Hughes’ mighty H-4 Hercules ‘Spruce Goose’ flying boat had flown for the first and only time on November 2, 1947, with the eccentric billionaire – a noted pilot – alone on the aircraft.
(After decades in storage elsewhere, in 1980 the huge aircraft was moved to Long Beach Harbor to be housed in a specially built dome – now used mainly by Carnival Cruise Lines as its Long Beach Cruise Terminal – right next to the RMS Queen Mary, eventually being transported again to the Evergreen Aviation Museum in McMinnville, Oregon in 1993.)
But when Long Beach lost more than 50,000 aerospace jobs in a decade from the early 1980s as manufacturers left the area, downsized or failed completely, and then the Navy deserted Long Beach for San Diego in 1994, the city’s then-mayor and council realized the medium-sized coastal metropolis had to reinvent itself.
The city’s authorities were willing to work hard to transform Long Beach into a different kind of city, making the most of its attractive seaside location, sunny climate and its pre-World War 2 history of attracting visitors – many of them well-heeled – who wanted to relax by the shore.
For the past two decades, Long Beach has beavered away – spending well over $1 billion in the process on development – in an effort to become a magnet for convention business and leisure tourism.
At the same time – fortunately for the economy of Long Beach – the massive boom in containerized shipping transformed the Port of Long Beach less than two miles west of the city’s downtown area into a massive container port, as U.S. imports from Asia soared. Long Beach leaders made sure the transformation was accountable to strict environmental standards, making the modern container port a model of responsible stewardship.
Today, visitors to Long Beach can clearly see the city has been successful in its efforts. Its Convention Center and Arena – all newly renovated and modernized, at a cost of $35 million – attract dozens of mid-sized conventions and association meetings each year.
Long Beach now boasts more than 5,000 hotel rooms – most of them occupied for much of the time – in a range of hotels which offers options to suit all budgets. Some 3,000 of the rooms are within walking distance of the convention center.
Meanwhile, together with the even larger sister Port of Los Angeles next door to its west, the Port of Long Beach forms a core part of the United States’ largest and busiest container-port complex. According to Foster, together the two parts handle over 40 per cent of the entire containerized cargo coming into the United States.
Since the mid-20th century the waters of Long Beach Harbor and the two ports have been protected by the world’s largest series of man-made breakwaters, providing calm-water anchorages for ships waiting to dock but creating environmental headaches – largely to do with blocked run-off from the Los Angeles River – which are not yet entirely resolved.
The Port of Long Beach itself generates about $100 billion in trade annually and is directly responsible for some 30,000 jobs in Long Beach. Indirectly the port supports more than 315,000 jobs throughout Southern California. Lest this seem a digression, the earth and rock quarried out to create today’s Port of Long Beach was used to transform the waterfront round the city’s downtown area by creating a large landfill area south of the former shoreline.