Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Report on county receives enthusiastic response

Report on county receives enthusiastic response

From page A1 | March 14, 2015 |
 FAIRFIELD — Robert Eyler received an enthusiastic response in reporting on the health of Solano County during a Solano Economic Development Corporation breakfast event Friday in Fairfield.

There’s been a shift from recovery to expansion; with growth in jobs, housing and income, Eyler said in presenting his 2014 Index of Economic and Community Progress.

Eyler, principal of Economic Forensics and Analytics, offered a point of view on the difference between recovery and expansion.

“Once you start to go beyond recovery, it’s like a gigantic cruise ship,” Eyler said. “It’s tough to turn around, which in this case is good, since it’s going up.”

With news of growth comes some concerns, however, he said. Those concerns include increased traffic and housing costs, with a decline in affordability, he said.

“So, we’re seeing that on the small negative side of the positive growth,” Eyler said.

His presentation also included positive news about the community, with a decline in foreclosures and graduation rates in Solano County that rose above the statewide levels.

There was also an increase in domestic immigration into the county, from places inside the United States; which outpaced foreign immigration to Solano for the first time since 2009. It’s a sign of attraction toward jobs and businesses, Eyler said.

His annual report also indicated the county is following a trend with regard to its aging population.

Solano’s population continues to get older, along with that of other Bay Area counties and the state, the report said.

“Generally speaking, it’s all good news, expect for some of those traffic and housing issues, which are just byproducts of growth,” Eyler said of the report. “And Solano County’s still a real good place in terms of opportunity, because wages are still relatively low here, commercial space is still relatively plentiful and housing prices are relatively low compared to the rest of the Bay Area or to the rest of Northern California.

“So, Solano is a good place to do business,” he said. “If you add all those parts up, 2015 and 2016 look pretty good for Solano County.”

Rep. John Garamendi, D-Walnut Grove, who was in attendance at the breakfast Friday, commended members of the Solano Economic Development Corporation for working together for economic growth.

“You’ve got to do it as a group, as a community,” he said.

Fairfield Mayor Harry Price echoed that point.

“I’m just thrilled that the seven cities and the county working together has been a very proven strategy for continued economic development and sustained growth,” he said.

Price said news contained in the report reflects well on the city and the county.

“I think it bodes very well for the city of Fairfield and Solano County in general,” he said. “It’s encouraging to know that our land use policies are paying great dividends now. And the idea that we can improve our transportation network to make it easier for people to get to and from work, whether it’s in the county or outside the county, is great.

“The fact that the train station is ready to come on-line and that ground breaking is now scheduled for late in May,” Price said. “That bodes very well for those who want to live where the quality of life is much better, but work elsewhere. It means we’re going to get some of those folks coming our way.”

Vacaville Mayor Len Augustine was also pleased with information contained in Eyler’s report.

“I think it was good news, obviously,” he said. “Coming from an expert like this, it’s good to hear.”

Augustine did, however, outline future concerns for his community.

“We find in Vacaville, that things are improving,” Augustine said. “However, we have some issues that we’ve got to take care of in our city on a way of expenses, not just income. That is, we’ve got these unfunded liabilities, which concern me greatly. If you look into the future on pension and health care costs and so forth, you’ve got to make up a lot of income to do that or else you’ve got to cut expenses somehow.

“Even though it looks rosy county-wise, I’m cautiously optimistic that the next year or next two years will provide enough impetus to carry us through in the long term,” he said. “That’s where the problem lies. In the short term we had Measure I and M that passed and it allowed us to catch up. But if you go out five years, you’ll see that there’s a sharp decline after Measure M goes away and as a result of that there’s going to be a lot of expenses that we will have to bear in order to stay whole.”

Measure M, approved by Vacaville voters in November 2012, imposes a quarter-cent sales tax on the purchase of goods and services within Vacaville for a five-year period.

Augustine indicated, meanwhile, that he is looking for increased activity in Vacaville.

“The housing market has not heated up,” he said. “It’s potentially there. We haven’t really started seeing the number of housing permits, as an example.”

While Vacaville has received good news in terms of commercial growth, Augustine says more is needed.

“We do have a couple of things happening, with Icon (Aircraft) coming in and Genentech expanding,” he said. “Those are good things, but we still need more.”

Augustine pointed to a concern about the ratio of housing units and jobs in the county.

“I think the biggest thing we face in Solano County is the jobs/housing balance,” he said. “We have less than one job per housing unit. The Bay Area, when you see San Francisco’s numbers, they have six jobs per housing unit. That’s a big difference. Somehow we’ve got to entice those businesses to come out our way. They’re still not coming in great numbers.

“It’s a very complicated system,” Augustine said. “I’m looking forward to the next couple of years. I think we’re going to do better. But as far as doing great, as you heard, we expect slower growth not rapid growth and that’s going to be a concern.”

Reach Kevin W. Green at 427-6974 or kgreen@dailyrepublic.net.