Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Latest Solano economic news both good and bad

FAIRFIELD — Solano Economic Development Corp. President Sandy Person found some good news amid the economic data released Tuesday by her group and Solano County.

Then again, she also concluded that challenges and difficult work remain ahead.

“This document reflects the sobering realities of the Great Recession as well as some glimmers of hope . . . that the worst may be behind us,” Person wrote in the 2011 Index of Economic and Community Progress.

“Glimmers of hope.” “Black clouds for almost every silver lining.” Person’s introduction to the numbers in the report used some well-known images to depict the county’s economic state.

Person was at a conference Tuesday and unavailable for comment. She summed up her viewpoint in a Solano County press release and said the optimistic signs that have arisen mainly over the past year won out.

“Our economy is moving and it’s moving in the right direction again,” Person said.

Solano County and the Solano EDC have been releasing the annual index since 2007. Their stated goal is to have more “fact-based information” to guide local public and private efforts to expand the economy.

About 189,100 Solano County residents had jobs in 2010, compared to 188,100 in 2001, the report found. That at first glance would seem to be good news or, at least, hardly horrible news.

But the labor force expanded dramatically over this time at a rate far exceeding job growth. As a result, the number of unemployed residents rose from 9,100 in 2001 to 25,900 in 2010. To put that in perspective, 25,900 is close to the population of Suisun City, leaving the county with enough jobless to fill a city or medium size.

The report sliced up the labor figures in one more way and found some short-term good news. From December 2010 to December 2011, the number of unemployed residents fell by 3,000.

Solano County’s inflation-adjusted gross domestic product increased from $11.1 billion in 2000 to $13.9 billion in 2010, a 24.8 percent rise, the report found. But the big gains took place during the first five years of the decade, when the economy was still doing well. From 2005 to 2010, the gross domestic product fell from $14 billion to $13.9 billion.

Gross domestic product is the sum of consumer, government and business spending.

The report seeks to measure the standard of living in Solano County in inflation-adjusted dollars. It found that from 2001 to 2009, per-capita income rose from $36,082 to $38,670 and that median household income fell slightly from $65,251 to $65,079.

Sources of personal earning shifted, the report said. Social transfer payments, including military and public sector retirement incomes, increased almost proportionately to the reduction in workplace earnings, it said.

Foreclosure activity seems to be leveling off, but at a rate 300 percent higher than in 2000, the report found. A significant number of homeowners have homes with values less than the remaining mortgage balance, it said.

“While the decline in the rate of foreclosure activity is a positive sign, it may be a misleading indicator at this time due to the high degree of uncertainty and unknowns in the housing market,” the report said.

Supervisor John Vasquez in a press release gave his view on what the many numbers of the report add up to for local economic policies.

“The report reaffirms that our strategy to diversify Solano County’s industries has built some resiliency into our local economy,” Vasquez said. “It also shows we need to diversify even more.”

Reach Barry Eberling at 427-6929, or