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A year of rapid job growth for Southland

The region surpassed expectations by adding 152,700 positions, many of them high-paying.

March 03, 2007|Lisa Girion | Times Staff Writer

Southern California's job engine performed much better than previously believed last year, with a good portion of the growth in skilled, high-paying positions, according to revised state figures released Friday.

On the strength of global trade, tourism and professional services, the five-county region including Los Angeles County added 152,700 jobs in 2006, which was 53,600 more than monthly employer surveys had suggested.

"We're very bullish," said Ali Reza, a corporate vice president at Exponent, an engineering and scientific consulting firm. "It's been growing very rapidly in Southern California for the last five years."

The figures are part of a revised payroll data report for 2006 that was released by the state Employment Development Department. The report is based on actual payroll data and often varies from the preliminary job picture, which is based on monthly surveys of a sample of employers.

The revision added 70,000 jobs to the statewide tally, most of them in Southern California.

Also Friday, the monthly payroll survey showed a loss of 4,500 jobs in January, following a revised December gain of 24,200 jobs. A separate survey of households showed the state gained 67,000 jobs in January. The difference is thought to reflect off-the-books and casual working arrangements that are picked up in the household survey but not reported by employers in payroll data.

The unemployment rate held steady in January at 4.8%.

Seven employment categories added jobs in January, with trade, transportation and utilities showing the biggest gains. Despite an ongoing slump in the housing market, the construction sector also added jobs, fueled by commercial activity.

Losses were reported in four categories: manufacturing, information, professional and business services, and leisure and hospitality.

In the revised annual report, Southern California staged a bit of a rebound, creating 55.7% of the 274,100 jobs added statewide in 2006. A year earlier, the region -- including Los Angeles, Orange, Ventura, Riverside and San Bernardino counties -- generated 46.7% of all jobs created in the state.

Los Angeles County gained a revised 68,300 jobs, up from a preliminary 46,400, in 2006. Riverside and San Bernardino counties added a revised 49,000 jobs, up from 31,000. Orange County gained 29,100 jobs, up from 16,900. And Ventura County posted 6,600 new jobs, up from 5,100.

The sectors that grew the fastest in Los Angeles County, including accounting, scientific and technical consulting, and engineering, strained an already tight labor market for highly skilled, high-wage workers.

"We are short of professional engineers, architects and program managers," said Dick Newman, chairman of AECOM, a Los Angeles-based provider of professional, technical and management support services. "We're just not graduating the numbers that are needed for the growth."

Jim Ridings, director of staffing for Parsons Corp., a Pasadena-based engineering firm, agreed.

"Soon we'll all be in the education business," he said. "We've got to start at the 6th or 7th grade level. They are just not creating enough engineers."

Economists and labor force experts said the revised 2006 payroll report augured particularly well for Los Angeles.

"We're adding some temporary jobs and retail jobs, which tend to be lower paying," said Ross DeVol, director of regional economics for the Santa Monica-based Milken Institute. "But now we're seeing jobs that pay higher wages were growing at a higher rate than was previously perceived."

DeVol also noted a 6% uptick in hiring during the last year by Los Angeles-based Internet service providers and Web-search companies for jobs that pay $75,000 to $100,000.

"Overall, I see this revision as a very positive one for the future of where L.A. is going," he said. "I think the L.A. economy overall is still creating high-end jobs."

Much of the demand for highly skilled workers is being fueled by public infrastructure projects, from rail lines to schools, said Jack Kyser, chief economist for the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corp.

The revised employment picture also reflects the broad base of the region's economy, Kyser said. It's far more diverse than it was two decades ago, when it was dominated by aerospace, defense contractors and industrial manufacturing.

"Now you have the international trade sector going like a house on fire," Kyser said. "And it was an extremely strong year in travel and tourism."

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lisa.girion@latimes.com

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