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County Sees 2% Increase in Sales After 1991 Plunge : Economy: Figures for 1992 give officials and business people hope that a recovery from the recession is under way.


After suffering a 4.4% plunge in wholesale and retail sales in 1991, much of Ventura County has began to show signs of recovery from the recession with a 2% increase in sales, said a state report issued Friday.

The State Board of Equalization's annual year-end report for 1992 shows taxable sales in Ventura County rose from $5.4 billion in 1991 to $5.5 billion in 1992, and some cities enjoyed increases in sales of up to 8.4%.

The numbers sparked tenuous optimism in some officials and business people, who said they hope the trend continues.

"It's hard for me to tell because I so hope that it's improving that I see any positive sign as an indication that we're turning around," said Ventura County Supervisor Maggie Kildee. "The figures are solid ones and that's encouraging. Even 2% would be a help."

After sales in Ventura County increased steadily each year from 1987 to 1990, 1991's sudden drop came as a shock, she said.

Marshall Milligan, president of the Ventura County-based Bank of A. Levy, said the figures surprised him a bit because he had expected a slight decline for 1992 and flat sales tax figures for 1993.

"But it's like I've been saying," Milligan said. "When you are in a long, shallow recession like this one, it takes a long time before you realize you are in a recovery."

While Thousand Oaks and Santa Paula showed the most robust market growth, buoyed by aggressive marketing campaigns and the influx of new businesses, Fillmore and Ventura's businesses sold less in 1992 than in 1991, due to several hard-to-control changes in their private marketplaces.

Santa Paula's businesses sold $118.9 million worth of goods and services in 1992--up 8.4% from 1991 sales of $109.7 million, after an increase in the previous year of just .06%

Santa Paula Mayor Margaret Ely attributed the sales jump to the opening of a new K mart store and the local Chamber of Commerce's Shop Santa Paula campaign. The city also recently appointed an economic development director, she said.

"I'm delighted," Ely said. "We can use the money."

Thousand Oaks' economy also rose on a wave of strong self-promotion. Its businesses sold $1.16 billion worth of goods and services in 1992--a net increase of 6.8% over 1991's sales of $1.08 billion.

City Manager Grant Brimhall credited the gain in part to the "buy-local campaign" pushed heavily this year by the city's business community. But he said the increase may also be due to construction on the Civic Arts Plaza, because builders were asked to buy materials locally whenever possible.

"There were a great variety of things that came together to make this good thing happen," Brimhall said.

He said the city was fortunate that its 6.8% sales tax revenue increase over 1991 squared with projections city officials made when they planned their two-year budget in the spring of 1991.

"Many cities in the state are not going to meet their projections," Brimhall said. "We were pretty close to what was projected, but more than what was expected as the California economy started to go into the trash can."

The buying public, tired of holding back purchases and waiting for the recession to end, instead went to market, said Gary Heathcote, chairman of the Conejo Valley Chamber of Commerce board of directors.

Heathcote said that while some communities with heavy manufacturing bases have lost jobs to other regions and states, Thousand Oaks has succeeded in attracting businesses to the area.

He pointed to the new Baxter HealthCare facility now under construction and a new Blue Cross office site in Newbury Park, as well as the expansion of Amgen, a biotechnical firm.

However, Barbara Teuscher, manager of The Oaks mall, said that despite a 6.8% rise overall in the Thousand Oaks sales tax revenues in 1992, sales were flat at mall stores last year.

"You'd have to go back to the late 1980s before you'd find a good year for retail," she said.

At Mazda of Thousand Oaks, sales have almost doubled in the past six months, said general sales manager Brian Umansky. "We're getting later model trade-ins, which means people are buying on wants, not needs," he said.

Moorpark also enjoyed an increase, from $76.8 million in taxable sales in 1991 to $79.9 million in 1992, a net increase of 4% that followed an increase the previous year of only half a percent.

"Economic development has really been a prime focus of this city for a year and a half," said City Councilman Scott Montgomery.

He predicted Moorpark's 1992 sales figures will pale in comparison to the sales hoped for in 1993 and 1994, after a new K mart and a number of new small businesses open.

Waxing and waning taxable sales can indicate changes not merely in the economic health of each city's private sector, but also in the amount of pay-back cities can expect for helping to support their local economies.

Upon collecting sales taxes, the state returns a portion of the money to the cities--worth about 1% of taxable sales.

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