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Old 12-30-2009, 02:57 PM
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Default Recession wiped out seven years of Inland Empire job growth

Recession wiped out seven years of Inland Empire job growth

Andrew Edwards, Staff Writer


The recession erased tens of thousands of San Bernardino County jobs gained during the boom years of this decade and at least one economist predicts it could take more than five years to get them all back.

At the low point of the current recession, San Bernardino County had 747,359 jobs in September. That's the fewest jobs since September 2002, when the county had 744,476 jobs, government statistics show.

While unemployment rates are more closely watched as a barometer of the health of a job market, the loss in total jobs illustrates the severity of the latest economic downturn.

"We are well aware, as is every other city, the county and the region...that we've lost a lot of jobs in the net," San Bernardino Mayor Pat Morris said.

Indeed, the City of San Bernardino had fewer jobs in September than at any point since September 2002.

Job totals in the city and county peaked in December 2006. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports there were nearly 79,000 jobs inside the city of San Bernardino at that time, and more than 841,000 jobs for the county.

But the federal figures also show the city - and San Bernardino County as a whole - suffered precipitous drops in total employment since 2006.

Next year may be better than the past three, one economist said.

Brad Kemp, who studies the Inland Empire for Beacon Economics, said he expects the local labor market will begin a slow turnaround in the summer or fall of the coming year.

"We're not going to return to 2006 job levels until after 2015," he said.

"California's going to struggle along a little bit longer than the rest of the nation. The Inland Empire more than the rest of California. The Inland Empire and Central Valley, you're going to be in it for a while."

Government numbers also confirm that throughout the Inland Empire, tens of thousands of construction jobs vanished when the housing boom ended.

The construction industry employed about 130,000 people in the San Bernardino-Ontario-Riverside area in late 2005 and early 2006. That fell to just about 68,000 jobs in November.

But on the plus side, Kemp also said the Inland Empire still possesses the same assets the region had at the start of the recession - a large potential workforce and "affordable dirt."

He recommended that future employment growth could be improved with strategies focused on attracting durable goods manufacturers who make products for export. Such firms could provide more or better jobs than distribution centers or retailers, he said.

Government figures show the Inland Empire's recent job losses were less severe in the manufacturing sector than construction. As of November, the area had more than 92,000 manufacturing jobs, down from about 123,000 jobs in 2006.

Nick DeMartiz, business services supervisor for the San Bernardino County Workforce Investment Board, agreed with Kemp's forecast for a gradual turnaround to take place in 2010.

"We have seen a couple indicators that show we maybe have bottomed out," DeMartiz said.

County officials are attempting to attract employers in five target industries, he said, including advanced manufacturing, health care, logistics, aviation and green technology.

DeMartiz said he was optimistic that an undisclosed manufacturer would begin operating in the county and hire 85 employees in the next five months. There are also talks with another potential employer who could bring 500 jobs to the county, he said.

"Without revealing (names), we have a few irons in the fire," he said.

Morris has often said that he would like to see environmentally focused manufacturing take root in the Inland Empire.

He said the city and county are participating in an effort led by Redlands officials to increase use of solar panels and environmentally friendly technologies.

"One of the problems we have right now in getting the green industries off the ground is capitalizing the infrastructure," Morris said. "Going green, to use that well-worn phrase, is part of our future."
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