Monday, January 4, 2010

Solano economy and market mirrors nation, with a few exceptions

Solano market mirrors nation, with a few exceptions
By Reporter Staff/
Posted: 01/03/2010 01:02:32 AM PST

To say that 2009 was a tough year for business would be an understatement.

From the housing crash to unemployment rates and business closures, the economic situation had a broad impact on national and local business.

There were some bright spots, locally, including the opening of a new hospital in Vacaville and programs to help with car purchases.

The following is a look at the top 10 local business stories of 2009 as voted by editors of The Reporter.

1. The U.S. economy, today just beginning to emerge in fragile ways from the deepest recession since the Great Depression, dominated national, state and local news in 2009. Highs and lows, from near-historic levels of unemployment and housing foreclosures to building slowdowns and the federal cash-for-clunkers program to federal stimulus packages and steep dives in assessed property values, marked the reports throughout the year.

2. Closely linked to the economy, of course, was the housing market. Construction and sales plunged as cautious and wary megabankers, whose largely unregulated derivatives-and-securities practices contributed to the financial meltdown that began in 2007, held onto their loan portfolios and were still trying to stop the foreclosure hemorrhaging nationwide and in Solano County, one of the top 10 foreclosure areas in the United States. At the beginning of the second half of 2009, the housing industry showed modest signs of a rebound, as local Realtors reported new home sales on the rise.

3. In media reports throughout the year, joblessness took center stage, as national unemployment topped 10 percent for the first time in nearly 30 years. In Solano County, the jobless rate climbed well above 11 percent by midsummer, but some states reported declining unemployment rates by the end of the year, with some employers beginning to hire temporary workers. Locally, there were plenty of efforts to help with the problem, through career fairs at Hampton Inn & Suites to a video resume event, led by Chris Burrous of KMAX TV's "Good Day Sacramento" program, in The Reporter lobby (Mike Ammann, President of Solano EDC appeared on "Good Day" talking about new job opportunities in Vacaville and Solano County using the Index and Life Sciences Cluster Report.

4. Kaiser Permanente in October officially opened a new full-service hospital next to its outpatient center off Vaca Valley Parkway, more than doubling the size of the facility. The four-story, 340,000-square-foot medical center houses a broad range of radiological and advanced diagnostic equipment, including a 24-hour emergency room and 64 beds for in-patient care.

5. Nut Tree Family Park in Vacaville, the site of the historic Harbison House and kiddie rides from the original Nut Tree, closed in January 2009, the victim of its off-the-street, out-of-sight location and resentment over its entrance fee that many adults and parents deemed too high, given that rides were additional costs. Westrust bought the center in July and a new park, featuring historic elements, was unveiled in August. The park's popular narrow-gauge train and carousel were relocated in an area in view of shoppers and vehicular traffic.

6. ALZA Corp., the Vacaville-based pharmaceutical and medical delivery systems firm, experienced more layoffs in 2009 and, in October, went on the auction block. A spokeswoman for the parent company, Johnson & Johnson, was unsure if the pending sale would mean more layoffs at the 117,000-square-foot Eubanks Drive plant, where some 550 employees work, making products such as Sudafed, Nicoderm, and Doxil, an ovarian cancer medication.

7. Auto sales sputtered in 2009, especially for American-made vehicles, and some dealerships, namely Ford in Fairfield and Vallejo, closed, leaving only four Ford dealerships offering sales, warranty and maintenance service in the area -- in Dixon, Davis, Rio Vista and Napa. The bright spot was the federal cash-for-clunkers program, which proved so popular that it ran out of its original $1 billion allotment and was extended. Sales at Vacaville dealerships on Orange Drive, domestic and foreign, jumped 10 percent to 20 percent during the program.

8. Solano this year saw its share of business closures, victims of the recession, unsustainable commercial mortgage rates and declining sales, among other factors. In Vacaville, Bowman's Stationers, a downtown fixture for several decades, closed its doors for good. United Rentals, on the frontage road off Interstate 505 in Vacaville, also shuttered its doors. T.G.I. Friday's, a popular restaurant, closed when its Sacramento-based owner fell into financial woes.

9. Seeing a new energy future, several large Vacaville-Fairfield businesses went "green," installing solar panel arrays. They included Mariani Packing Co., the State Compensation Insurance Fund, Anheuser-Busch and Novartis. Company officials called government incentives the key. NorthBay Healthcare, which owns and operates VacaValley Hospital in Vacaville and NorthBay Medical Center in Fairfield, joined the list of businesses reducing their carbon footprint by switching on three cogeneration facilities at their sites. And near Rio Vista, enXco' dedicated its Shiloh Wind Project, 75 wind turbines cranking out two megawatts each on a 6,100-acre wind farm.

10. A Vacaville institution, Diggers Deli celebrated more than 30 years of business at 860 Alamo Plaza. Owners Sharon and Paul Herriott said the secret to their success and longevity is two-fold: respect for and knowledge of their customers, many of whom the couple have known by their first names and their preferences since the deli's doors opened May 31, 1978.