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Long Beach Innovation Offices Wave Goodbye to Two Leaders as End of Funding Looms

The California city is preparing to move onto the next phase of innovation.

Both of Long Beach’s city innovation leaders are moving on.

John Keisler, director of Long Beach’s Bloomberg Philanthropies-funded innovation team, is taking a position as head of the city’s economic development department. Ryan Murray, the mayor’s 

Ryan Murray, Long Beach

innovation deputy (pictured at left), has taken a job with New York City where he’ll be working on procurement innovation.

The movements underscore a fluid innovation environment at the city predicated on a finite amount of funding: The $3 million Bloomberg grant that established the i-team will run out at the end of 2017. After that, what happens at the city is uncertain — mostly, it will come down to what the City Council and mayor decide.

“We have funding for the team through the end of 2017, and we really start planning now to sustain the effort,” Keisler said. “So we have some survey work to see what other cities have in place to sustain their innovation teams, their structure, their budget, their organization and then their mission, and we’ve reported some of those models to our city leadership.”

The drying up of Bloomberg Philanthropies funding will be an issue for several cities in the next year. Long Beach was one of 12 that joined the program at the end of 2014, and all of them — from big cities like Los Angeles to smaller ones like Peoria, Ill. — signed onto the same three-year limit.

So Long Beach still has a ways to go before it needs to transition, but there is already appetite in the city to continue on with staff dedicated to innovation post-Bloomberg.

“We’re looking for ways that we would be able to create some kind of innovation office while being mindful that we won’t have the tremendous support we’ve had from Bloomberg in the past,” said Tom Modica, assistant city manager.

Under Keisler’s leadership, and at the direction of the mayor’s office, the i-team has focused on economic development. The team led an effort to map the experience of business owners seeking permits from the city and used those insights to develop a business portal in hopes of cutting down the number of days it takes to get through the system. Long Beach’s “biz port,” as the team affectionately calls it, launched in October.

But the i-team was always meant to have more than one focus area. So when Keisler moves to the city’s Department of Economic and Property Development, he’ll be bringing the i-team’s previous work with him.

“The i-team, by design, is not really supposed to do implementation,” Modica said.

So instead, city officials are shaping up what will be the next focus area for the group. They aren’t quite ready to announce it yet, but Mark Taylor, the mayor’s chief of staff, described it as an area many cities around the country are focusing on.

“When we do go public with it I don’t think you’ll be surprised, because it’s a high-priority area,” Taylor said.

The city is already well into the process of finding replacements for Murray and Keisler. The city manager’s office has been conducting interviews with candidates to lead the i-team for two weeks, according to Keisler, and the mayor’s office is actively recruiting potential innovation deputies.

Regardless of what the future of innovation looks like in Long Beach, officials at the city feel the i-team will make a lasting impact. The kind of approach embodied in activities like user experience mapping, Taylor said, have introduced a new way of thinking to the municipal government.

“I think it’s brought some new approaches that will last beyond the innovation team — user-centered design and data-driven thinking,” Taylor said.

Ben Miller is the associate editor of data and business for Government Technology. His reporting experience includes breaking news, business, community features and technical subjects. He holds a Bachelor’s degree in journalism from the Reynolds School of Journalism at the University of Nevada, Reno, and lives in Sacramento, Calif.