migrant center tour

Bonnie Preston, acting regional director for HHS region 9 speaking to city officials during the tour of the Long Beach Convention Center where migrant children found at the border without a parent started being temporarily housed in Long Beach Thursday, April 22.

The temporary migrant shelter that opened at the Long Beach Convention Center on Thursday, April 22, for children who were found at the border without parents could be a financial boon for the community, experts say.

An analysis that two local economists published this week found the effort could contribute up to $40 million to Long Beach’s economy.

Robert Kleinhenz, the principal economist at Kleinhenz Economics, and Seiji Steimetz, research director for Cal State Long Beach’s Office of Economic Research, found that government employees, volunteers and family members of children at the shelter will significantly contribute financially to the city. In addition to spending money in local restaurants — the federal government’s per diem for workers here, for example, is $66 — folks coming here because of the shelter operations will also need up to 900 nights of hotel stays.

Altogether, the economists found, the shelter will generate about $22 million in direct spending and another $18 million in indirect spending.

And that doesn’t include the money the U.S. Health and Human Services Department will pay to the Convention Center to use the site.

The contract between the U.S. and the facility, which was released Friday, showed that the federal government will pay about $23 million total to the Convention Center, which Long Beach owns, including $9 million for rent, $11.6 million for support services and $2 million in contingency funding. HHS is also estimated to reimburse the Convention Center $12 million for meals, snacks and water for the children and for staff, though that number relies on an estimate of 1,000 kids and 400 workers, which could change.

Taken together, the shelter could be just what the city needs to kick the economy back into gear after a year of coronavirus-induced closures, Steve Goodling, president and CEO of the Long Beach Convention & Visitors Bureau, said Friday.

“Most cities would have taken advantage of this opportunity,” Goodling said, “because it’s a quick jumpstart to the local economy.

“I can tell you how great it is that the feds chose Long Beach because all these people are going to restaurants at night time, just like when you travel for business,” he added. “Local restaurants will be visited, and they’re going to be enjoying Long Beach while they’re working here.”

The timing works out well, Goodling said, because the shelter is breathing life into the Convention Center, which has sat vacant for the past year because of the pandemic. But operations will also close just in time for Long Beach’s first post-coronavirus conventions.

The city is already gearing up to bring back tourists, Goodling said, and the shelter will ensure the economic infrastructure is in place to welcome travelers when they arrive.

Even when Long Beach officials assumed the facility would be primarily staffed with local residents, which would not have brought as much money into the city, Goodling said, offering up the Convention Center for the humanitarian effort was still the right call. But the potential economic impacts of the final agreement were a welcome surprise.

“I mean, seriously, no one expected it,” he said. “But this was an added benefit, and fortunately, it’s going to bring a lot of people back to work very quickly.

“It’s a great opportunity for us,” Goodling said, “and all because we did a good thing.”

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