February 23, 2024
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Crazy proposals in other states leave California as the saner option


Henry Dubroff

Henry Dubroff

While jobs, minimum-wage hikes and the future of work are making headlines, something else is happening on the ground in the Tri-Counties.

That something is this: There are now more people employed in parts of our region than at any time since the Great Recession. As Chris Thornberg of Beacon Economics notes in his latest report on the Central Coast economy, San Luis Obispo County’s labor force reached 105,800 people at the end of last year, finally exceeding the previous peak of 105,100 in April 2007.

The broader household survey shows that employment hit 137,164 at yearend, far above its prior peak of 120,710 in 2009. Although we don’t have the same level of detail for Santa Barbara and Ventura counties, the growth rates for jobs across the region of 1.3 percent to 1.6 percent suggest that the rest of the region will hit a new peak — if it hasn’t done so already.

Where this growth is coming from is clear: The private sector. Business services, professional services and financial services are all on the rise, so much so that nervous bankers are no longer calling me asking if I know where there might be a job opening. Instead, bank presidents are calling asking me if I know of good candidates who can help them fill vacancies.

The rebound in the labor market is not uniform. The drought put a crimp on hiring in agriculture, and we’ll have to see if the rainfall this spring is enough to reverse that trend or if we face a permanently diminished agribusiness sector. Business confidence still has not returned enough to get companies to invest heavily in plants and equipment, which means that loan demand remains weak.

Corporations lend clout to big issues

From climate change to immigration to human rights, it’s been impressive to see that larger corporations increasingly are not idle bystanders on the big issues of our time.
While the political process is gridlocked on these big issues, much of corporate America is taking steps to tackle the problems it can and move on. As of press time on Feb. 26, it appeared likely that Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer would veto Senate Bill 1062, a piece of legislation that would allow companies to refuse to serve gay or lesbian customers on religious grounds. The list of companies urging the veto is large and broadly based.
Pressure from Intel, Apple, American Airlines and many other corporate powerhouses will hopefully be influential in pushing Brewer to veto the measure. Apple, for example, has made its proposed plant in Mesa, a Phoenix suburb, a poster child for its decision to return manufacturing to the U.S.

While Arizona stumbles through a political drama that will almost certainly dent its image as a business-friendly environment, California looks less and less like the anti-business basket case it was just a few years ago.
Meanwhile, fast-growing Colorado is reaping a $200 million windfall from taxes on recently legalized pot sales, but there are worries about the state’s overall image and longer-term concerns about juvenile smoking, driving while inhibited and personal privacy impacts.

And the Texas governor’s race has had enough cringe-worthy drama to tarnish the Lone Star State’s image, at least as far as public-sector leadership goes.
The bottom line is that California is no longer America’s economic wreck. And right now it is poised to benefit from stumbles and quirky behavior in states that once feasted on luring companies to leave the Golden State for greener pastures.

The longer-term question is whether without more major reforms — including in pensions, restrictive housing policies and business regulation — California can lure back the companies and talent it lost during the recession years.

• Contact Henry Dubroff at hdubroff@pacbiztimes.com