Economic Forecast Shows Uneven Growth for Region

By HOWARD FINE
Staff Reporter

Los Angeles and Southern California dodged the recent national recession, but face a year of choppy growth, according to an economic forecast report to be released Sept. 16 by the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corp.

The five counties of Ventura, Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino added a net 22,900 jobs so far in 2002 and should add another 133,500 jobs next year, according to the LAEDC forecast.

Los Angeles County, which was the only one to actually lose jobs in 2002 as payrolls declined by 23,600, should also see modest economic growth next year, creating 60,000 jobs, for a growth rate of 1.5 percent.

But the forecast says the recovery will be uneven.

"You've got problems in certain industries," said Jack Kyser, chief economist for the LAEDC. "Tourism will continue to be lackluster as people are still afraid to fly, are unwilling to deal with the hassle factor and international tourists stay away."

The defense industry will see mixed performance, with the commercial side continuing to see a slide in jobs while the military side should add jobs, Kyser said. The red-hot residential real estate sector should cool somewhat as interest rates rise over the next year. And the film industry, while it should be off its employment lows of the last 12 months, will still be sluggish, Kyser said.

The biggest risk to the region and the national economy as a whole is the threat of war against Iraq. "If we go to war and consumer confidence plummets, things are precarious enough that we could slip back towards recession."

The LAEDC report also takes a snapshot of the region's demographics and infrastructure. It forecasts the five-county region, which now has 17 million people, will add more than 5 million residents by the year 2020. Much of that growth will be internally generated as more people are born than die or move out.

Accommodating this growth will be the region's biggest challenge in the next 20 years, according to the LAEDC report. It recommends more regional cooperation in land use and transportation decisions, securing more funding for expanding infrastructure.

"We have a fundamental problem in that the job growth, the housing growth and the population growth are all occurring in different places and are not being balanced out," said William Fulton, president of Ventura-based Solimar Research Group and publisher of the California Planning and Development Report.

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