SLO’s economic recovery isn’t looking so slow anymore.
Jordan Levine, director of economic research at Beacon Economics, said at a Nov. 9 forecast that San Luis Obispo County is leading California’s financial recovery. The road is still bumpy, but there are there are a handful of notable bright spots for the region’s economy, Levine said at the 2013 Central Coast Economic Forecast, held at the Alex Madonna Expo Center in San Luis Obispo.
Although California has had a few rough years since the Great Recession hit in 2008, the state was No. 8 in GDP growth last year, and it leads the U.S. in business services, IT and hospitality. And the key to the state’s hospitality sector, Levine said, is the Central Coast.
San Luis Obispo County was No. 1 in the state last year in economic growth, with a 3.4 percent increase in its GDP and 3,300 jobs added from September 2011 to September 2012. Real estate and construction are both contributing to the growth, but leisure and hospitality is “a huge driver,” accounting for one-third of the total new jobs in the county last year. The county saw 3.1 percent growth in its total hotel-room occupancy for the year, a number that makes San Luis Obispo the third most-improved hospitality market in the state.
Levine said there’s been a “legitimate, genuine improvement” in San Luis Obispo’s employment picture. The county’s unemployment rate is 7.5 percent and shrinking, personal income is growing and delinquent loans are down, especially in the commercial and industrial sectors.
Another bright spot are the two large solar plants in the northern half of the county. Those two plants — Topaz Solar Ranch and California Valley Solar Ranch — will employ about 1,500 people between them.
In terms of commercial real estate, growth was strongest last year in the area surrounding the airport and for the wine business.
One risk of the major growth, Levine said, is that there may be a shortfall in housing supply for the region’s new workers due to difficulty obtaining permits. And with home prices up 10 percent for the year — a good sign for the region’s economic recovery, but a downfall for would-be home buyers — housing may be tricky in the coming years.