Sharp increases in manufacturing and business-service industries have helped continue Ventura County's brisk economic growth, analysts said Friday, with unemployment rates continuing their slide to pre-recession levels.
State Employment Development Department figures released Friday show a one-month increase of 500 manufacturing jobs and 200 jobs in the finance, insurance and real-estate services industry.
"It's a big deal," said UC Santa Barbara economist Mark Schniepp. "That's normally the whole increase for a year."
But the state reported a decline of 100 construction jobs since January--for which analysts blame El Nino--as well as a loss of 100 government jobs and 200 retail jobs between January and February.
Still, Ventura County's unemployment rate now sits at 6%, down from 6.3% for the same month the year before, the report said.
The figure represents the lowest February unemployment rate for Ventura County since 1990, state figures show.
Most encouraging for the local economy are the yearlong employment gains, which analysts consider a more reliable indicator than month-to-month comparisons.
All told, nonfarm employment in the county rose 3.2% compared to the previous February, to 245,800 jobs.
And despite heavy February rains, farm employment decreased by just 1% over the same period, to 11,900 jobs.
Since February 1997, 3,200 new jobs were added in Ventura County's services industry, and there were gains of 2,400 new jobs in durable and nondurable goods.
Among the most significant gains was a one-year increase of 1,400 jobs in the manufacture of industrial machinery, including farm and garden, construction, mining and oil-field machinery, said Dee Johnson, the county's labor market analyst with the state employment office.
Employment in the business and health-services industry saw gains of 1,000 jobs and 400 jobs, respectively, over the same period.
A 10.4% increase also was reported in the communications and public utilities sector, where 500 mostly telecommunications jobs were added in Ventura County during the past year, Johnson said.
"The increase in manufacturing is a real strong indicator," Johnson said. "I think that Ventura County really looks good in its growth patterns. I see a lot of growth in jobs that are meant to last."
Schniepp agrees that such figures are encouraging, considering that durable goods manufacturing and business services often represent high-paying, stable jobs.
However, he said what Ventura County needs most is to see an increase in housing construction, with median housing prices beginning to climb.
(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)
Ventura County Jobless Rate
February 1998: 6.0%
Source: California Employment Development Department