Inside the Inland Empire
Corona Leads the Fastest Growing Region in California
by John L. Fleming
Exploding on to the Southern California economic scene, the Inland Empire is poised to become the premier development area for a new boom in business market expansion and housing market growth. Over the past decade, this region has established itself as the fastest growing area in the state. Generally extending westward from Palms Springs, the Inland Empire stretches through the San Bernardino and Riverside valley corridors extending to Los Angeles and Orange counties. The City of Corona is an indicator of the region’s strong rebound from the recent recession.
Bordering Orange County and advantageously located on both the I-91 and 15 freeway corridors, the City of Corona has contributed significantly to the Inland Empire’s success by serving as an economic gateway. In the last 10 years the city has led the region in building activity, and in 1996 out paced all local cities with $335 million in building permit activities while industrial vacancy rates have continued to plummet to below 2 percent. Corona’s population has grown 31 percent in the last five years to over 100,000 residents in 1997, placing it 37th on the California city population list while having the fastest growth rate of all cities, with populations of 80,000 or more, in the state over the last decade.
In an increasing parallel to the 1980s prosperous real estate market, Corona has increased housing starts every year consecutively since 1992, and is expected to build 1,600-1800 new homes in 1997.
Internationally renowned Fender Guitar will be breaking ground this year in Corona with a 200,000 square foot state-of-the-art manufacturing facility, and city officials are in discussions with Fender regarding the formation of a Fender Museum Association which will raise private funds for a one of a kind museum featuring classic guitar innovations and inventions. Successful business expansions in Corona continue with Watson Pharmaceuticals who employ 550 personnel, and will be completing a new 500,000 square foot plant in 1997. A boom in recent business growth has resulted in 2,000 additional employees to the city in 1996, and accounted for 22 percent of all new workers to the Inland Empire Region.
With inflating population requirements driving commercial and retail sales, Corona exceeded one billion dollars in annual taxable sales for the first time in 1996. As Orange County spills economic development over its borders to Corona, the “gateway” of the Inland Empire, concentric rings of economic success will reach eastward that will benefit and strengthen the entire region.
If it was stacked up against state population sizes, the Inland Empire with 3,000,000 people would rank 30th between Oregon and Iowa; the region also exceeds 18 other states in annual income with $52 billion. This amount accounts for over 13 percent of the total income generated in Southern California. In addition, per capita income, after adjustments for inflation, is expected to experience a 14.5 percent growth rate between 1993 and 2005.
The Inland Empire also grew by one million people between 1985 and 1995 and will expand by another one million by 2005 according to estimates by the Southern California Association of Governments, which will bring the total population up to approximately four million. A phenomenal growth rate of 36 percent in the Inland Empire will help drive new housing starts and additional industrial and commercial development through 2010, and will ensure the respect and affiliation of California’s global marketplace.
Higher than average unemployment rates have provided some drag to the local economy, and has slowed the complete recovery of the Inland Empire from the recent California recession. In 1993, the region peaked with an 11 percent unemployment rate, as compared to a seven percent unemployment rate nationally, and in 1997 still lags one-half percent behind the State of California at about 7.5 percent. While impeding complete economic recovery, this higher than average unemployment rate is providing employers with an available labor force that is often more highly trained and educated at a lower personnel cost.
While the region lags slightly in employment rates, its’ economic growth continues to match or exceed the national average in both job growth and total income. The Inland Empire features the lowest costs in labor, housing, business space and land costs in Southern California, and at the same time industrial development is heating up. While over 81,000 new jobs have come to the region since 1990, the Inland Empire still offers the most affordable housing among 10 major metropolitan areas surveyed, and ranks second behind Salt Lake City, Utah in lowest housing costs across all 11 western states.
With the brunt of California’s recession behind, new business growth in Los Angeles and Orange counties is beginning to spill over into surrounding counties for the first time in five years. While cities like Ontario, Riverside, and Temecula are benefitting from Southern California expansions, the city of Corona may be the premier example of the Inland Empire’s potential for a second economic boom in as many decades by emerging as the strongest economic sub-region of the area.
John Fleming is the Economic Development Coordinator for the City of Corona. He also served as the Economic/Redevelopment Associate for the City of Colton from 1993-1996. Corona is a member of Inland Empire Economic Partnership, Team California, and the California Association for Local Economic Development.