Launching the Inland Empire Outlook: A Conversation with its Founders

On a recent afternoon, the leaders of a brand new, CMC-grown product gathered for a round table discussion about their new publication and Web site: the Inland Empire Outlook. By no means vanilla in its print and online presentations, the Outlook is a timely and sophisticated analysis of the economic and political trends shaping California’s fastest growing region: the Inland Empireknown as the ’909′ to many but, more officially, the combination of Riverside and San Bernardino counties.

The Inland Empire Outlook is a joint production of The Lowe Institute of Political Economy and the Rose Institute of State and Local Governmenttwo prominent research institutes at Claremont McKenna College. By bringing together its founders (CMC’s Ralph Rossum, Marc Weidenmier, Ken Miller, and David Huntoon), research assistant Abhi Nemani ’10, who played a key role in the design of the publication and Web site, asked them to hit on some of the obvious topics: Why a new product? Why now? Why the Inland Empire? And, what’s next?

The following is a transcript of that dialogue, as well as answers to those questions, and more.

**WHO**: Inland Empire Outlook round table participants:

Abhi Nemani ’10, Rose Institute Student Manager

Professor Ralph Rossum, Rose Institute Director

Professor Marc Weidenmier, Lowe Institute Director

David Huntoon, Rose Institute Fellow

(*Associate professor of government Ken Miller was unable to participate in the round table.)

**DISCUSSION BEGINS**

Abhi: I understand that this is a partnership between two research institutes at CMC, the Rose Institute and the Lowe Institute. What does each institute focus on?

RR: The Rose Institute focuses on state and local issues, and in particular we work in Southern California and focus on four different kinds of issues: demographics and geographic information systems related to redistricting; survey research; fiscal and economic impact analysis; and regulatory and legal analysis, primarily focusing on tribal issues.

MW: The Lowe Institute specializes in political economy issues. We look at issues ranging from looking at the economic determinants of terrorism, to looking at the energy policy of the United States, to looking at governmental regulation issues such as health care reform issues.

Abhi: Have you any previous experience researching issues in the Inland Empire?

MW: Traditionally not. However, the existing faculty have expertise that lends itself to this type of analysis in other venues in other parts of the United States that we can take and use those techniques and skills and apply them to the Inland Empire. So, for example, I’ve written many papersI have a few papers studying U.S. business cycles (it’s a forecasting class at CMC)and I can take those skills and techniques and apply them directly to modeling the behavior of the economy in the Inland Empire.

Abhi: Does the Rose have expertise that lends itself to this project in the Inland Empire?

DH: Certainly. We’ve done quite a bit work in the Inland Empire. We’ve done fiscal analysis of the governmental entities, we’ve done quite a bit of economic impact studies both for governments and for tribal associations (both individual and regional), and we’ve done economic impact studies for the Claremont Collegesthe whole consortium. We’ve been working in the Inland Empire, with quite a bit of our focus in the Coachella Valley, for about 15 years now.

Abhi: So why the focus now in the Inland Empire?

RR: I think what we have here is a new director at the Lowe who has an interest in focusing on the IE, this very large economic engine in Southern California that no one else has really been focusing on from an economics perspective. And here’s an opportunity for the Lowe Institute with its specialized faculty and experts in a variety of methodologies to work with the Rose Institute, which is already established in the Inland Empire, in ways that will compliment the work of the two institutes.

One of the themes that has always been with our 10 institutes at the College is that we ought to find ways by which they can work together and collaborate on matters of common concern. And the Inland Empire Center has now become the perfect vehicle by which the Lowe and Rose can work together, and not on a one-shot deal as often collaboration is, but ongoing.

Abhi: Let’s talk about that collaboration. So, it started lasted semester, right? What was the project we worked on last semester?

MW: Last semester we produced a publication called the Inland Empire Outlook, and basically we plan initially to publish the Outlook twice a year, perhaps increasing it to four times a year, and the basic idea is to focus on economic and political issues with each issue.

So with respect to the Inland Empire, we know that logistics is very important, and that when trade comes through the Port of Los Angeles, much of it ends up in the Inland Empire and in warehouses. So we had articles on logistics trade. We also had articles on unemployment, which is a serious problem in the Inland Empire.
And so the goal of the joint venture is then for the Rose Institute to focus on the hot-button political issues in the Inland Empire at that time, and for the Lowe Institute to focus on important economic issues.

Abhi: What important political issues were covered in this last issue?

RR: Well one big issue is the fact that April 1, 2010 is Census Day. And we were looking at, on the basis of Census projections, where in the state of California there would be a shift in population enough so that some areas would get more congressmen and others, less. And there’s been enormous growth in the Inland Empire: there will be at least one new congressional district in the Inland Empire. We did a piece that uses our mapping software and the like to spell out in very easily perceived terms the shift in political power in Southern California. That was one piece.

Another was an interview with perhaps one of the most successful city managers in all of California: Greg Devereaux, city manager of Ontario. Ontario is so important is because that’s where all of the logistics for goods movement and the majority of warehouses are. We have the airport there. And we have a city manager who really brought this city to life, so we had an extensive interview with him focused on the city of Ontario. We felt a little bit prescient because just a few weeks after the release of our report, Greg Devereaux was named the county administrative officer for all of San Bernardino County, and so he’s going to be able to take the great talents he’s demonstrated in the city of Ontario and bring them to bear in all of San Bernardino County.

Abhi: So, who did all of this work, and were you conducting these interviews yourselves?

DH: This work was done by students of both institutes under the careful guidance and supervision of faculty members affiliated with the two institutes.

Abhi: I know the Rose has a fairly large staff. Does the Lowe Institute also employ many students?

MW: Yes, in any given year we employ approx 50-55 students; about 10-15 of those students will be working on the Inland Empire initiative.

Abhi: So they would be the ones doing the research and writing it with the direction of the faculty?

MW: Yes.

Abhi: Why is this collaboration between the two institutes meaningful?

DH: Well I think that some 75 percent-plus of the students at the College major in either economics or government or have that at least part of their majorsthey may have dual majorsand that means that we have some very talented students in the two disciplines and that also means we have large departments in both of those disciplines and world-class faculty to work with the students. So we’re in a unique position to be a one-stop shop if you will for economics and public policy analysis, and we feel that applying that to the Inland Empire is a good way to go.

Abhi: There’s a hope to formalize this partnership with a new center. I’d like to talk a little bit about that. Why would you want to add a separate center to focus on the Inland Empire?

MW: Well we think it’s a really good way to sort of market a brand-name product when talking to the media or dealing with the economic and political issues that deal with the Inland Empire. We think that if we have one big center, it sort of becomes the umbrella brand name. Basically, this is the center, the place where you come to get information on political and economic analysis in the Inland Empire.

Abhi: So I know this is still being worked out, but how do you envision this Center functioning? Would there be a new staff? A new building?

RR: Well, one of the advantages of this collaboration through a center rather than say a new institute is that we keep down overhead costs. We use the current staff, students, and leadership of the two institutes, each largely supporting their half of the operation, and you are able to bring together something that’s greater than the sum of its parts because it’s all now coming under that banner of the Inland Empire Center and being published in the IE Outlook. So we see it as a way of allowing two institutes that still will be doing other things to come together on a consistent, ongoing basis and focus on this huge economic engine right on the edge of the campus.

Abhi: What’s the target audience for this center? Who are you trying to reach out to?

DH: We’re trying to reach out to government officials, both elected and staff, we’re attempting to reach out to businesses, to nonprofits in need of the kinds of information we’re generating. We think there’s a very broad audience for this sort of information.

Abhi: Aside from the Inland Empire Outlook, is there any other publication the center may produce?

MW: We might issue a quarterly publication giving updates to the Outlook, and we’re also discussing producing a similar publication, but focusing just on the Coachella Valley, for the Palm Springs area, which would largely be the same as the Inland Empire Outlook with a few small changes.

Abhi: Would there also be an opportunity to host events and conferences of some kind?

RR: We have at the Rose Institute in the past done a series of conferences, especially in the Coachella Valley. Now, the thought is that these ongoing activities of the Rose can now get merged with the capacity of the Lowe to do much larger conferences that would focus on political and economic forecasting and draw attention in the Inland Empire to Claremont McKenna College as an institution and to our two institutes in particular. This should help us become a dominant presenceas Dave described ita one-stop shop for information that matters to government, business, and the social sector in the Inland Empire.

Abhi: When you’re working with students on this project, do they seem interested in this kind of analysis and work?

MW: I think they seem very interested. We basically have students knocking down our doors to work on the Inland Empire project, so we have no problems from an economic standpoint staffing students to work on various issues, whether it’s housing issues or logistics or employment issues in the Inland Empire.

DH: As you know in your role as a student manager at the Rose, our students have been involved in working on public policy issues for some time with real-word clients and having the opportunity to deal with those clients on an ongoing basis. So we’ve always had enthusiasm among our students working on projects of this nature.

Abhi: Have you seen any evidence at that there would be a strong audience for these events in the Inland Empire? Have there been a large number of people coming to these kinds of conferences in the past?

MW: Well we’re thinking somewhere in the neighborhood of 400-500 people from the private sector and government show up to these conferences. That’s our goal, and we’ll whether we can fill the seats.

Abhi: How many copies of the Inland Empire Outlook were sent out?

MW: About 2,500

DH: Hard copies, but we also made it available on the web site and e-mailed a larger audience with links to the site.

MW: Considering the online distribution, it’s more likely it reached 10,000.

Abhi: Has there been much press pick-up to the first issue that went out?

MW: Yes, the Daily Bulletin newspaper has, for example, quoted Professor Keil, an economics professor who does a lot of the work with the students on economic issues in the Inland Empire, several times in the past few weeks.

RR: Dave Huntoon has been quoted repeatedly in the Daily Bulletin, San Bernardino Sun, and Press Enterprise. So we were very gratified by the media coverage that we got with the launch of the Outlook.

Abhi: Is there early work going on in the next issue?

MW: Yes, from an economics side, the plan is to introduce three new economic indices. The first is on economic activity. The idea is that you have a group of variables that can help forecast economic activity in the Inland Empire. This portion is modeled basically on what the Conference Board does for the United States as a whole. The second indicator is real estate. With respect to real estate analysis, we tend to concentrate on two sectorswe have two indices in the real estate area, one will be on commercial real estate and the other on residential real estate. And then the third is a logistics index. As we discussed earlier today, a lot of the import trade that comes through the Port of Los Angeles ends up in warehouses in Rancho Cucamonga and Ontario. What we’re doing right now is building a tonnage index that is an indicator of logistics in the IE.

Abhi: Are there indicators like that right now for the IE?

MW: Not that we’re aware of.

Abhi: So this would be the first of its kind?

MW: Yes. I mean there are some indicators in terms of managers’ purchasing indices, some data on prices, and there’s the governmental data. But we’re trying to take things to another level and assemble some new data that will be released monthly and closely track economic activity and future economic activity in the Inland Empire.

Abhi: And what has the Rose been working on for this next issue?

DH: We did an analysis of congressional races in the first issue. This time we’ll take a look at the state senate and state assembly races within the region. We’re going to look at some issues that affect the tribal governments within the region, and we’re also going to look at the effect of the state budget on municipal governments within the region.

Abhi: When do you anticipate releasing the next issue?

MW: We hope to have all the articles in mid- to late-April.

Abhi: In terms of publications and handling that, are students involved in that aspect as well?

MW: They’re involved in every aspect of the publication.