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Job Growth in O.C. to Outstrip Population

Forecast: County should add 873,400 new positions but 609,200 residents by 2020.

June 21, 1996|JOHN O'DELL | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Freeways into and out of Orange County will stay crowded and its housing prices will remain among the highest in the nation as its job growth continues to outpace population for the next 25 years, according to a new study released Thursday.

The county, one of California's wealthiest and most populous business centers, should add 873,400 new jobs but only 609,200 new residents by 2020, Cal State Fullerton's newly formed Center for Demographic Studies reported.

In a county where local business executives for years cited traffic congestion as a major block to business growth and a good argument for moving away, the thought of more commuters is unsettling.

Transportation specialists say that projects to widen freeways and build additional traffic corridors has started to relieve some of the rush-hour crush and should help keep commuters moving, albeit slowly, into the 21st century.

Little, however, can be done to change the county's legacy of high housing costs. Tight land controls, high development fees and the continued willingness of buyers to pay huge premiums to live in Orange County combine to keep the county's sales and rental prices among the state's highest.

The study projected a total of 2,114,300 jobs in the county by 2020, a modest average growth rate of 2.25% a year. But that rate still would outstrip population and housing growth, estimated at less than 1% per year, said William Gayk, author of the forecast.

Gayk, formerly chief demographer for Orange County, said the county's December 1994 bankruptcy has had little impact on the job and population figures. However, he expects that a soft general economy and continued downsizing by big corporations means the self-employed will continue to make up a significant part of the county's total work force. He estimates that about 10% of all workers in Orange County are self-employed.

"That might even be a bit too cautious," said Jack Kyser, chief economist for the Los Angeles Economic Development Corp. "The way things are moving, we see self-employment continuing to grow because this is a region with a lot of highly educated people and a nice living environment." The two combine, he said, to encourage people to eschew working for major corporations and to set up their own businesses.

The job growth pace spelled out in Gayk's report Thursday is much the same as in the previous 25-year forecast he prepared in 1992 and updated last year as a county employee, he said.

The big difference is that employment growth in Orange County is shifting away from the geographic center as Irvine, long the crown jewel in the county's economy, becomes more expensive and thus less attractive to new businesses, Gayk said.

He predicted that Irvine will have 190,552 jobs in 2020. That's a 50.5% growth rate--well below the 70% rate predicted for the county as a whole.

But growth in other parts of the county will make up for the slack in the middle.

Redevelopment in areas of the old industrial and agricultural centers of Anaheim, Buena Park, Fullerton, Santa Ana and Cypress is expected to create a multitude of new jobs in the north and north-central parts of the county. Growth in south Orange County will occur in developing and expanding communities such as Rancho Santa Margarita and San Clemente as well as in and around the soon-to-be-closed Marine Corps Air Station in El Toro.

Most new jobs will be created in the areas of business, health care and financial services; health products; retail and wholesale trade; and high-technology manufacturing, Gayk said.

While Thursday's report looks much further into the future than have other projections, the demographic research center's findings don't differ significantly from the annual Orange County economic forecasts issued by researchers at Chapman University, Cal State Fullerton, UCLA and First Interstate Bank.

All of them to date have suggested that the county--indeed, the entire Southern California region--is looking at a sustained but fairly pedestrian growth pace over the next decade or so.

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