John Bishop, president and CEO of MemorialCare Long Beach Medical Center and Miller Children’s & Women’s Hospital Long Beach, is the incoming chair of the Long Beach Area Chamber of Commerce. He is the fourth CEO of these hospitals to serve in this role. The Business Journal sat down with Bishop to discuss his priorities for the chamber and his thoughts on its role in the city, as well as his views on the business climate in Long Beach.
LBBJ: What are your priorities as chair of the chamber?
Bishop: The focus and emphasis is really on supporting small businesses. I firmly believe that small businesses are the engine of any city’s economy. There has been a good amount of work around supporting small businesses at the chamber, and this will be the third year that our Small Business Council will be having an expo in October where we will bring in small businesses to share with them best practices. This year, in particular, there is going to be an emphasis on what we call “the good life,” which is healthier living. We [MemorialCare] have had very significant success in reducing our employee health insurance costs by having a healthier workforce. And that includes everything from making unhealthy things like French fries more expensive in the cafeteria to having walking challenges. We have gyms at all of our campuses. We have seen a noticeable impact through our good life program.
LBBJ: So this is something you’re going to be informing small businesses about?
Bishop: Yes. The Small Business Council will sponsor an expo, and it’s going to have a health care focus. If you want to have a healthier employee base, reduce your costs, reduce your sick days, reduce your leaves of absence, these are things that have been proven to work.
LBBJ: How can small businesses practice that? Those sorts of benefit programs are more common among larger companies because it can be hard for smaller businesses to have the resources.
Bishop: Well some [strategies] are smaller. Employees get their 10-minute break; encourage them to go on a walk. You can do simple things, like have fresh fruit available. You should encourage your employees and let them know that as an employer you are interested in their health. It’s not a grand plan. It’s just a lot of little things. You know, having people take the stairs instead of the elevator.
LBBJ: How do you feel about the chamber’s relationship with city hall?
Bishop: Obviously they work very closely together because the chamber can be influential, whether they support or oppose something that the mayor and the councilmembers are bringing forward. The city council is maybe a little bit less conservative than the chamber – the chamber is purely pro-business. They are sometimes at odds around some of the initiatives that come forward, because the chamber is exclusively focused on business growth. And that can at times be at odds with some of the city council’s initiatives, particularly as it relates to labor unions and other social programs.
LBBJ: Do you think that the chamber has fairly good standing with the city and elected officials?
Bishop: I think they do. To my knowledge, they work together very collaboratively. John Keisler, the economic development director, came and spoke at our retreat to talk about all the things going on in the city. He attended the annual board meeting. So it’s collaborative, but some times folks have to agree to disagree.
LBBJ: What is your impression of the makeup of the Long Beach City Council? Do you think overall they’re business friendly, or not?
Bishop: I think the council has a lot of competing priorities, and they can’t afford to be as focused on any single aspect to the overall benefit of Long Beach. So it’s more challenging for them to always see eye to eye with the chamber. I think they have done an awful lot of things that have been extremely impressive, and they were actually the inspiration for my theme this year, which is “the road to success is always under construction.” I have lived in this city for almost 25 years now, and it’s completely different. Downtown has been revitalized. The number of projects that are ongoing – the Queen Mary revitalization, the Aquarium [expansion]. There has been so much that’s happened that it’s really elevating our city. Long Beach is a city that is uncommon in that you have so many generations living here. You have grandparents, parents, kids, grandchildren. That creates a sense of pride in the city that truly is uncommon.
LBBJ: So with this theme ‘road to success is under construction,’ were you inspired by the actual construction going on around town?
Bishop: Yeah. It matches our philosophy here in health care. You’re either continually improving or you’re moving backwards. We’re very strong advocates of a vision that says you need to get a little bit better every day because if you stop and rest on your laurels, you’re likely going backwards. So it matched up not only our hospital’s vision, the MemorialCare vision, but it matched up with what the city council was trying to do.
LBBJ: What do you view as areas the chamber needs to improve upon?
Bishop: That’s an excellent question. I think any chamber can continually improve, which means finding a way to improve their influence, whether it’s with the elected officials with respect to legislation in Sacramento, or locally to improve on the traction that they get supporting the business community.
LBBJ: Is the chamber much involved with issues and legislation in Sacramento?
Bishop: They are. We generally take positions. There is a government affairs committee that is a delegated committee of the board that assesses issues and legislation, both locally and in Sacramento, that could potentially impact the Long Beach business environment. They take positions and then present them to the board. And then we will discuss whether there is any dissention. But generally speaking, they take issues that are pro-business, and it’s a small business-dominated board.
LBBJ: How is the chamber doing with membership? Is that something that needs to be worked on or grown?
Bishop: Well, you always like more members. There are always a few that leave every year, whether it’s for financial reasons or maybe they don’t see the value. But there are always new ones that come in. To me, what’s really encouraging and speaks to the quality of the chamber is that you have so many long-term members who are members at a higher level – it’s called the chairman’s circle – because they are seeing the value that they are getting from the chamber.
LBBJ: What is your impression of the current business climate in the city of Long Beach?
Bishop: I think it’s a thriving business environment. It continues to improve. It can be challenging though for small businesses, because as the economy improves and the prospects of businesses improve, rents go up. It can be challenging if you have a business model based upon rent at a certain level and suddenly the rents in the area go up. It either causes you to grow or change your business model, or there is going to be a new business that’s going to come in.
LBBJ: What would you say are some of the main challenges the business community is facing in Long Beach?
Bishop: Many small businesses have relatively low margins, and so as the minimum wage increases [and] health care costs increase, it becomes more challenging just to maintain an adequate margin and to stay in business.
LBBJ: What is your view of the Chamber PAC? Should the Chamber have an affiliated PAC and make endorsements?
Bishop: The chamber is very selective in who they endorse. It is not intended to be a political chamber, but it’s one that judiciously supports candidates based upon their pro-business platforms. . . . I think it’s a benefit to have a PAC to consider when they should lend their endorsement. And the best decision may be not to endorse anyone.
LBBJ: Are you involved with the PAC at all?
Bishop: I am not.
LBBJ: How would you describe the chamber’s role in Long Beach?
Bishop: It’s a very important part of the business environment because it is exclusively pro-business in Long Beach, and it has demonstrated its value over the years by its membership and its long-term members. Many of the events, like the State of the County, grow every year. And it just continues to have an increasing influence on the business community every year.
LBBJ: Are there any areas you’d like to see the chamber become more active?
Bishop: I think the chamber is headed in the right direction. In talking with [President/CEO] Randy Gordon and his successor, Jeremy Harris, they realize that they need to continue to grow and expand their influence, and they are committed to doing that.
LBBJ: Are you going to be the last chair under Randy?
Bishop: I am Randy’s last chair, which is quite an honor.
LBBJ: You going to throw some parties?
Bishop: [We’ll] send him on his Kobe Bryant farewell tour. [laughs]
LBBJ: What are the Long Beach business community’s greatest needs?
Bishop: There are many different areas of Long Beach that have different needs, and certain areas are ahead of others. So I think trying to ensure that business growth isn’t targeted to any one area of Long Beach, but to Long Beach as a whole.
LBBJ: What have you gotten out of your chamber membership?
Bishop: I have gotten exposure to many very impressive entrepreneurs who help me appreciate their perspective on the economy, on the challenges that they are facing. And it has been a very rewarding relationship from that perspective.
LBBJ: Is there anything you would like to add or emphasize?
Bishop: I would just like to add that I am very proud to be Randy’s last chair, and also very excited about Jeremy Harris coming in. He is very experienced, and had the experience to study under Randy’s tutelage for six years now. I think the chamber’s impact is going to continue to increase.