Holly Schroeder, who has led the Santa Clarita Valley Economic Development Corp. for seven years, has taken on the added role of chairperson for the Los Angeles County Workforce Development Board. The board represents 50-plus cities, with Santa Clarita one of the largest. Schroeder has more than 25 years of management expertise at private companies, government agencies and nonprofits. She has been named one of the top Women in Business CEOs of the Year in the Santa Clarita Valley and an Icon of Influence by the Business Journal.


Question: How will your experience at the SCVEDC inform your role with the Workforce Development Board?
Answer: 
This is effectively a volunteer role; it has a strong tie to my current job. In 2014, Congress passed the Workforce Innovation Opportunity Act, which replaced the Workforce Investment Act. A big part of this switch is the new end really focused on more outreach to employers about what types of jobs they need and what training they need. In the previous act, one of the things that happened is you might have used training dollars from the federal act and it really didn’t prep people for the jobs that were the jobs of the future; WIOA tries to remedy that.

How does your expertise fit in?
We’ve been able to learn from (SCV employers) and hear what types of jobs they need. That effort to make more connections to companies about their jobs has been a priority since that shift from WIA to WIOA and certainly a priority for me on the board.

What has prepared you for this role?
I’ve been working with nonprofits for 15 years actively, as a dominant part of my job. Working as primary staff for a nonprofit and on a board, it’s really about bringing those diverse perspectives together. It’s about taking the best ideas from a whole bunch of different people and translating that into a plan that everyone can agree on, and then being able to execute on that.

What sorts of changes do you hope to bring to the board?
It’s a really interesting time. Circumstances for workers have dramatically changed in 2020. We went from one of our record lowest employment rates to surging unemployment rates, at the peak of the safer at home orders. It’s really disrupting the types of jobs, the types of entry-level, first-run jobs where people just need to get some experience. It’s forcing everybody to rethink how the workforce system supports those looking for work, and also the companies that are looking for workers to hire. 

How might COVID play into this?
People who work in the job centers around the county did a tremendous amount of work to adjust, just like every business did, to COVID. The system was really not designed to pivot like that; we weren’t set up for it and I think we need to continue to improve the system that can be responsive to changes. The chances that there could be another ‘dimming’ as the governor calls it, changes in the situation, while we certainly hope it doesn’t happen, we need to be able to respond on a dime. 

What about budget?
We’ll want to work on leveraging the workforce dollars that come through the feds to the state for workforce training. That is, to leverage how we reach out to workers in terms of utilizing county assets, real estate, libraries, community centers — really meeting people where they are and where they will be. County dollars are likely to be stretched because of the tax implications of the safer at home orders. We’re going to have to be creative about being efficient with that kind of spending.

How does it feel to represent the Valley within a County-wide organization?
It’s a tremendous honor that other members of the board have placed their confidence in me. Santa Clarita is a growing area with new businesses and expanding businesses. I think that gives me the opportunity to bring that business perspective, what businesses need. What businesses are experiencing here is not that different from what businesses across the entire area are experiencing. 

Why is it so important for the Santa Clarita Valley to be represented?
It helps dispel some myths about the Santa Clarita Valley. I think a lot of people across L.A. County still think of the Santa Clarita Valley as a residential, bedroom community, and the reality is that we have a tremendous growing business community. Those businesses don’t get the voice that they deserve, that they might need to solve problems and address issues. Having visible representation in the broader L.A. metro area, I think that really puts Santa Clarita in the conversations it needs to be in. Santa Clarita, the city, is the third largest in LA County. It’s not just a small town anymore.

What sorts of industries would you like to see move into Santa Clarita?
We’ve been focused on a strategic set of industries — manufacturing companies. L.A. remains a great manufacturing county despite what people say, and we have historically focused on aerospace. Medical device research and manufacturing are growing. More obviously is also filming; we’re in the 30-mile zone so filming digital media and supporting companies related to that. Our soundstages and movie ranches really distinguish us and they continue to grow and be filled. 

Has the downturn in filming hurt Santa Clarita?
Second quarter and beginning of the third quarter, we were dead. But we’ve seen a very strong rebound as soon as filming was allowed to resume. There’s continued interest in studios wanting to acquire additional soundstage space in the area.