Ventura County's unemployment rate remained relatively stable last month at 5.2%, as local economists differed on how hard the national economic slowdown will hit here.
"We know things have slowed down, but nothing has really gone negative," said regional economist Mark Schniepp. "I expect Ventura County to maintain."
Overall, 200 jobs were added in Ventura County in September, bringing the total to 297,100. That accounts for some job losses in county and local governments and a small expansion in the retail sector, probably because of the reopening of The Esplanade in Oxnard.
That doesn't mean the county has not been affected by the national slowdown. Last month, for instance, eLabor.com, a Camarillo-based developer of online work-force management software, laid off about a quarter of its workers.
"For us, it was really taking a look at our costs and having to deal with the economy," said Kristen Bruner, the company's head of human resources. "We lost some great people. . . . [But] we suffer from the same economy as everybody else."
Diverse Economy Protects County
For the most part, however, Ventura County's economy is doing better than that of the rest of the country, and it may be awhile before residents see any significant problems here, economists said. The county and surrounding areas have a fairly diverse economic base, which should protect them for some time.
"[Ventura County is] not a primary producer," said Bill Watkins, director of the Economic Forecast Project at UC Santa Barbara. "I don't see us going [down] as fast as the rest of the state."
The local economy depends largely on consumer confidence, and economists have differing views on the psychology of shoppers.
Watkins argues that the terrorist attacks and anthrax scares have dampened local willingness to visit the malls, and he expects a slow holiday season.
Differing Forecasts for Holiday Sales
"If they're worried about their jobs, they won't be spending money," Watkins said. "Tourism will be a little weaker, and that will affect retail sales."
But Schniepp said it looked as if retail jobs were at an all-time high for the month of September, and that most people--if concerned about world events--are still relatively optimistic about their own job prospects.
Although growth has slowed to below 1%, there haven't been overall job cuts.
Furthermore, he said, a feeling of generosity stemming from the attacks could translate into Christmas buying.
"Everyone's into giving," Schniepp said. "I think it will roll right into Christmas. The county's been very strong through this national weakness. There's still a lot of income, and they'll be spending it."
Over the year, total Ventura County employment, including farm jobs, has increased by about 4,800 jobs, with strong growth in retail and moderate growth in construction, finance, insurance and real estate. Transportation and manufacturing have lost jobs over the course of the year.
Ventura County's unemployment rate of 5.2%, down from 5.3% in the same month last year, compares with 5.8% in Los Angeles County and 2.8% in Santa Barbara County.