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Ventura County

County Adds 1,000 Jobs During May

Economy: The growth comes mostly in nonfarm sectors and helps the unemployment rate fall to 4.2% from 4.5% in April.

June 15, 2002|DARYL KELLEY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Despite a tepid national recovery, Ventura County's strong economic rebound continued last month with record-setting job gains and declining unemployment.

"The Ventura County economy is amazing," said Bill Watkins, director of the Economic Forecast Project at UC Santa Barbara. "It's just a real job machine."

A gain of 1,000 jobs, mostly in construction and manufacturing, pushed county employment to 308,500 in May, the highest in history. It also drove local joblessness down to 4.2%, compared with 4.5% in April and January's peak of 5.5%.

By comparison, California's unemployment rate in May was 5.9%, and the U.S. rate was 5.5%, without seasonal adjustments.

"Ventura County's location between Santa Barbara and Los Angeles puts it in a prime spot," Watkins said. "And the growth of its high-tech and biotech sectors means it's likely to continue to do well."

The number of county residents employed here and in other counties also rose in May, to 405,800, the second-highest in history. That trails only July 2001, when there were 300 more workers living here.

Besides suggesting the overall strength of a balanced economy, the May figures showed the county had rebounded completely from a slowdown that brought two straight months of job losses early this year. About 8,500 jobs have been added since January.

And unlike the previous three months, when most job gains were due to an expanded strawberry harvest, the May momentum came in nonfarm sectors.

While farm jobs remained steady last month, nonfarm employment increased by 400 jobs in both construction and manufacturing and 200 positions in retail trades and services.

The 4.2% May jobless rate compares with 3.4% a year ago, just as the recession hit and before the Sept. 11 attacks sent the economy into a tailspin.

Still, employment last month increased by 800 jobs from May 2001, thanks partly to a jump of 700 positions in finance, insurance and real estate.

That reflects bustling business at home mortgage firms as low interest rates and a dwelling shortage fueled one of the strongest housing booms in county history.

"Part of that job gain is Countrywide [Home Loans]," Watkins said. "That company is just creating an awful lot of jobs."

Countrywide added 1,578 jobs to its Simi Valley operation last year, leading all local businesses. Biotech giant Amgen added 931, Watkins said.

The U.S. Navy and Ventura County government are the biggest local employers, with 17,000 and 8,000 workers, respectively. Amgen has about 5,400 local workers and Countrywide has 4,668, ranking third and fourth overall, he said.

Ventura County's unemployment rate was tied for 11th-best of 58 counties in the state, and on par with Southern California, which has weathered the recession far better than the Bay Area.

San Luis Obispo County had the state's lowest jobless rate, 2.6%. Of the large counties, only Orange and San Diego had lower rates than Ventura's, at 3.6% and 3.7%, respectively. Los Angeles County had a 6.5% rate, unchanged from April.

Watkins, in a presentation to the Ventura Chamber of Commerce on Friday, noted the county's economic strength. But he said business leaders need to build more high-quality office buildings to draw more well-paying jobs to the west county.

"We have a very wealthy community that lives here but drives somewhere else to work," he said in an interview. "About 9,000 are driving to Santa Barbara each day."

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*--* Ventura County Unemployment Figures are for the month of May Year Jobless workers Jobless rates 2002 17,900 4.2% 2001 14,100 3.4% 2000 15,200 3.7% 1999 15,000 3.8% 1998 17,300 4.5% 1997 20,800 5.5% 1996 22,400 6.0% 1995 24,600 6.5% 1994 26,300 6.8% 1993 29,000 7.7% 1992 26,200 7.1% 1991 21,800 6.1% 1990 15,600 4.2% Source: State Employment Development Department

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