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VENTURA COUNTY NEWS

Forbes Labels County Dynamic Economically

May 19, 1999|COLL METCALFE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Long recognized as one of the safest urban areas in the nation, Ventura County now has another distinction to revel in.

Forbes magazine has ranked the region the fourth-most economically dynamic metropolitan area in the country.

In an analysis ranking 162 of the most successful and business-friendly metropolitan areas, the latest issue of Forbes lists Ventura County between Dallas and Oakland as one of the nation's most economically vibrant areas.

"The tendency is to think of it as a bedroom exurb of Los Angeles, and, while that's certainly part of the story, there has also been significant growth there," said Tim Ferguson, the magazine's Los Angeles bureau chief. "Where Ventura County really stood out was in wage and salary increases and job growth. . . . That has been really impressive."

Using statistics compiled by the federal government and analysis by the Santa Monica-based Milken Institute, the magazine examined some of the most populous metropolitan areas and ranked them according to economic success and business potential.

Leading the list was Seattle, followed by Austin, Tex. At the bottom of the list were areas including Akron, Ohio, and Shreveport, La.

Ventura County Supervisor Frank Schillo, who has worked with various groups to make the county more attractive to business, said he was pleased with the Forbes article.

"This is a great piece of news," he said. "For a while now, people have looked to the county as a place to do business because it's one of the safest areas in the country. . . . We've got a lot of good things happening here."

The magazine used eight criteria for its analysis: breadth of technology clusters, overall concentration of high-technology output, growth of technology output through the decade, growth of technology between 1996 and 1998, wage and salary growth between 1993 and 1997, wage and salary growth between 1996 and 1997, job growth between 1993 and 1998, and job growth between 1997 and 1998.

"The objective going in was to do something drawn from hard data to get a sense of what areas are doing what," Ferguson said. "It's a momentum story."

Indeed, the 1990s have been very good for Ventura County.

Since the early part of the decade, county employment has grown at a steady rate of 3.5%. The county's median family income also increased from $57,900 in 1995 to $63,100 in 1998.

Nonfarm employment, the indicator of overall economic activity and health, has posted consistent increases since the statewide recession of the late 1980s and early 1990s.

Since its low of about 223,000 jobs in December 1991, employment has increased to more than 270,000 jobs, with unemployment hovering at a near-historic low of 4.1%.

The county has also earned marquee status among high-technology manufacturers, many of whom have relocated to the area to take advantage of its competitive land prices, educated labor pool and quality of life.

"Ventura County has a lot going for it," said Jack Kyser, chief economist for the Los Angeles Economic Development Corp. "It has certain advantages that other places simply don't, which make it attractive for those creative types in the technology industry."

Ventura County's high ranking in the magazine's analysis surprised a few, including Kyser, who believed that it did not take into account a number of factors.

"It's nice, but these kinds of stories should always be taken with a grain of salt," he said. "It doesn't tell the whole story."

Specifically, Kyser said the magazine's analysis failed to account for such things as cost of living, availability of jobs for family members who follow others to the county, and capital investment.

Mark Schniepp, director of the UC Santa Barbara Economic Forecast Project, had similar reservations about Forbes' listing, saying that some conclusions didn't mesh with his analysis.

"Four of the criteria they used measure technology growth, and, while there has been some, it hasn't been as great as they seem to be saying," he said. "They also say the county has two major airports, and I'd never label Camarillo [Airport] as major."

Despite such criticisms, the Forbes story may bode well for the county's future, causing companies and financiers to consider the area and its economic potential.

"It might spark some interest in Ventura County among people and companies that have never heard of it," Schniepp said. "But a story itself isn't going to sell them."

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