OP-ED: 'KNX Business Hour' host remembers late economist

LOS ANGELES (CBS) — “The eagles have gathered.”

That’s what Los Angeles County Business Federation’s founding chairman, David Fleming, observed to me Dec. 2 at the Wilshire Grand Hotel in downtown Los Angeles where, at the invitation of well-known local economist Jack Kyser, I was asked to moderate an intense three-hour discussion focused on turning around Southern California’s economy. Some 300 “eagles” in the room included two former California governors, a state senator, and business leaders, city managers, mayors and city council members from all over the region.

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The meeting was convened promptly at 10 a.m. by Larry McCallon, president of the Southern California Association of Governments. He set the stage for a discussion titled Southern California’s Road to Economic Recovery and turned it over to Jack for an overview of the economy. Jack noted that no natural disaster in the state has resulted in the kind of economic disaster California has seen in the Great Recession. He also lamented the staggering number of jobs that have left California for other states, especially Texas. A SCAG report noted nearly 3,000 businesses have fled California for a net loss of 109,000 jobs over the past three years.

After his smooth, eloquent presentation, Jack then turned the program over to me and I announced that the meeting would be conducted as though we were on the radio on the “KNX Business Hour,” where every day we talk to the movers and shakers about the major business news of the day impacting Southern California. In this case, the big news was the plan presented by SCAG and the Southern California Leadership Council to urgently turn around the economy.

The proposals include: ask Gov.-elect Jerry Brown to declare an economic state of emergency similar to what happens after a natural disaster; ask lawmakers to turn down any bills that would adversely impact business for the next three years; and set up a manufacturing investment credit designed to help small manufacturing firms.

‘Economic disaster’

The next day I invited Jack on the “KNX Business Hour” to get his reaction to the November jobs report, which had just come out showing the nation’s unemployment rate moved up from 9.6 percent to 9.8 percent. He said, “It was a very, very soft report in terms of the number of jobs added over the month.” I also wanted to get his impressions of the big meeting we had attended the day before. He said: “It emphasizes what we want to do in Southern California. We want to do some things that can get the local economy to create jobs more vigorously.”

He added, “This is an economic disaster.” Jack called on small-business people to be more aggressive and start hiring people.

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He also noted small businesses are starting to hire again but it’s going to be a very slow recovery. He also predicted the unemployment rate in California, at last check, 12.4 percent, will probably go up despite hiring over the holidays.

That was on a Friday. I received a call the next Monday, Dec. 6, informing me that our dear friend Jack had died. Not only had I done his last interview, but I was probably the last person to talk to him. It was my sad duty to break the news on KNX that Jack Kyser had died at the age of 76.

Immediately, the tributes began from leaders of SCAG; the Los Angeles Economic Development Corp., where he had been the longtime economist; BizFed and others. We all were stunned to realize that we all had just suffered the loss of not only a personal friend but also a passionate advocate of economic development who was committed to making our region more business friendly.

In the time since his passing, the shock has turned to grief and pain. Many business leaders have shared with me that they understand the frustration Jack must have felt dealing with the political framework that we have in California as he watched so many businesses leave the area.

For years, he had sounded the clarion call and tried to wake people up to how severe the situation is. There’s no question that the state is in a fiscal emergency and an economic state of emergency.

What Jack Kyser accomplished with his first, and what turned out to be his final Road to Economic Recovery summit, was a major service to the business community. Some insiders have told me it took a lot out of him and may have in fact led to his untimely demise.

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But he went out working hard and passionately on behalf of the economy in Southern California just as he always had. As our dear friend Jack now eternally soars with the eagles, we must continue his exemplary work on behalf of all of us in Southern California.

Frank Mottek hosts the “KNX Business Hour” on KNX 1070.