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Santa Maria Sun / News

The following article was posted on May 14th, 2014, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 15, Issue 10 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [] - Volume 15, Issue 10

Economists say Northern Santa Barbara County's growth is 'slow, but steady'


Local business owners and community leaders listened to economists predict Northern Santa Barbara County’s economic future on May 9 while dining on a continental breakfast of coffee, eggs, and toast at the Santa Maria Radisson Hotel.

Peter Rupert, executive director of the UCSB Economic Forecast Project, told audience members the county is seeing “slow, steady growth and output,” especially in farming in North County and information/technology in South County.

The county’s overall unemployment rate dropped to 6.3 percent in April. Many North County cities saw a drop in unemployment, too, but the individual rates are still significantly higher than the county’s and the state’s rates, with Santa Maria at 10.1 percent, Guadalupe at 11.1 percent, and Lompoc at 11.4 percent.

“Lompoc suffered tremendously during the recession,” Rupert said, with an unemployment rate as high as 15 to 16 percent.

He said that when seasonally adjusted, the number of jobs in the county is rising steadily. The adjustment helps average out spikes in employment in such seasonal industries as tourism and hospitality and farm work.

He and fellow speaker Michael Bryan with the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta said well-paying jobs are still in high demand.

“The unemployment rate is falling faster than anyone projected,” Bryan said, adding that the drop is somewhat misleading because “a lot of the unemployed appeared to have exited the workforce” to go back to school—or have simply stopped looking for work.

“It’s putting a lot of pressure on wage growth,” he said.

Economists are predicting a 3 percent growth in the gross domestic product (GDP), just as they have for the last three years, but to no avail.

“Just in case, look to manufacturing, retail spending, and job growth for confirmation,” Bryan said.

The jobs predicted to have the biggest jump in numbers are farm work and labor, personal care aides, registered nurses, retail associates, and landscapers.

However, all of these jobs—except for registered nurses—are lower-paying jobs that typically make $30,000 to $40,000 per year.

“We all want to create high-wage jobs, however, most jobs aren’t high-wage jobs,” Rupert said. “Typically, there’s only one CEO and everyone else works. I’m not saying CEOs don’t work.”

On a more positive note, the North County home foreclosure rate, which exploded during the early days of the recession, has fallen significantly, and northern cities, such as Santa Maria and Nipomo, now have some of the lowest mortgage default rates in the county.

Other speakers at the event included Allan Hancock College President/Superintendent Kevin Walthers, Sean Reilly with the SpaceX program, and Bloomberg View columnist Megan McArdle, who talked about the importance of allowing children—the future workforce—to take more risks in life.

“The universe is a complicated place, and there’s no way to predict what’s going to work,” McArdle said.

She gave the example of children playing on the monkey bars and the sense of accomplishment they feel when they’ve climbed their way to the top without any help.

That kind of independence, she said, needs to be nurtured more in schools in order for future generations to compete in all workplace sectors.

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