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County Job Picture Remains Good

Economy: Though employment fell slightly in January, the region is faring better than the rest of the state and country.


Ventura County's jobless rate rose slightly to 4.4% in January, a stronger showing than for both California and the nation.

Despite rising statewide energy prices and a slowing high-tech sector nationally, the county's economy remained robust, analysts said.

In the last year, the county added 12,100 jobs--a 4.3% increase--to 295,000. Most of those jobs were in nonfarm industries, such as business, services and government.

The numbers support predictions made last week during the annual UC Santa Barbara Economic Forecast Project, in which experts said this area was not entering a recession.

"The slowdown is not very slow in Ventura County," Mark Schniepp, director of the Center for Regional Economic Research in Santa Barbara, said on Monday. "The labor market is still creating lots of jobs."

Schniepp said the county has one of the most durable business sectors in the state and benefits from the so-called "101 corridor," a cluster of technology and biotech businesses that line the freeway from Ventura into the San Fernando Valley.

"The national trend is pockets of weakness [in places] with lots of industrial sectors," he said. "We don't make a lot of refrigerators in Southern California. We make a lot of semiconductors, motion pictures and high-tech communications devices. Those things are still doing very well."

Compared with January of last year, farm jobs are up 3,200, manufacturing jobs increased by 1,500, and 1,900 jobs were added in business services.

Looking at January compared with a month earlier, employment in the government sector fell by 400 jobs, while the transportation, public utilities and services categories fell by about 300 jobs each.

Because many industries, including farming and construction, have seasonal hiring patterns, analysts warned against making predictions about the overall economy based on those monthly changes.

The county's unemployment rate rose from the previous month mainly because people were let go after the holiday season, analysts said.

"We've heard all the gloom and doom with the economy and the energy crisis, and yet the Ventura County economy still has momentum," said Jack Kyser, chief economist at the Los Angeles Economic Development Corp.

Despite fears that California's energy crisis would cause numerous businesses to go belly-up, a lot of areas such as Los Angeles have municipal power plants that insulate them from rate hikes.

"So far, the meltdown has not put the state into a recession," Kyser said.

But the loss of jobs is very real in certain industries. The number of retail jobs dropped 10.5% to 9,400 in January, compared with the previous month, and there were 800 fewer construction jobs, down 5.2%.

In terms of job creation, workers in farm services saw a 62.3% boost in jobs to 8,600 in January, compared with the previous January; and those working in apparel and other textile products saw 25% more positions, to 1,000.

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