January 29, 2023
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Experts say Ventura County’s economy lagging behind state


Alex Kacik

Alex Kacik

Ventura County’s economy is lagging.

Its businesses are downsizing or defecting while the state’s economy is growing. A lack of new housing, new companies or existing business growth has translated to fewer jobs, high industrial vacancy, and rising home prices and apartment rental rates. Strict development regulations may continue to stifle the region’s growth.

Those were some of the points raised at the recent 2015 Ventura County Entrepreneur Economic Forecast.

“Ventura County is disconnected from the California economy,” Mark Schniepp, director of the California Economic Forecast, told the Business Times. “The workforce-age population is leaving, the job creation isn’t the same as the state.”

He said Ventura County has one of the highest office vacancy rates in the country.

Doug Scott, principal at Santa Barbara-based commercial real estate mortgage banking firm the Alison Company, said Ventura County’s Save Open Space and Agricultural Resource Initiative limits new building.

“It will constrain the supply and increase the cost of commercial space in West Ventura County,” he said.

On the bright side, demand for retail and industrial space is growing. Even though the industrial vacancy rate is still relatively high at 8.9 percent, space utilization has accelerated and average lease rates are rising. Vacancy has decreased by 0.3 percent since the first quarter and rates increased 67 cents per square foot, said Paul Farry, vice president of Camarillo-based commercial real estate company CBRE.

“Given the tight market of the San Fernando Valley, businesses are starting to look elsewhere and Ventura County is an ideal location for some of the larger tenants in the market.”

The minimum wage hike increases in both Los Angeles city and county have also resulted in businesses interested in relocating to Ventura County, Brian Gabler, assistant city manager in Simi Valley, previously told the Business Times.

The Ventura County office market fell to 19.3 percent vacancy in the second quarter, a 3.5 percent drop from the prior year.

Retail vacancy decreased in the west county from 7.8 to 8.9 percent but that was eclipsed by higher vacancy rates in the east county.

“Financing for office, industrial, retail and apartments is widely available with life insurance companies, banks and commercial mortgage-backed securities lenders becoming increasingly flexible in their loan terms,” Scott said.

The increasing presence of regional banks with more lending capacity could be good for the area’s small and mid-size businesses, he said.

“There is more lending capacity in the area than there has been in recent memory,” Scott told the Business Times.

Santa Paula wins

Santa Paula can still build on 7,586 acres of unincorporated canyons north of the city.

The Ventura Local Agency Formation Commission voted in a recent meeting to retain Santa Paula’s sphere of influence, meaning land it could annex and develop, over Adams and Fagan canyons.

The city is only 3,550 acres, so annexing the unincorporated land would triple its size. Development supporters argued that the canyons would bring revenue to the city while others warned about urban sprawl and water management.

The city has yet to outline how it will use the land, what will remain open space and where infrastructure will go.

Santa Paula plans to include those details in its general plan, which it is currently working on.

Santa Paula-based agribusiness Limoneira is awaiting final approval from the city for its Santa Paula Gateway project, which would bring 1,500 new homes, a new elementary school, sports parks and about 650,000 square feet of commercial development.

Limoneira recently inked a deal with the Lewis Group of Companies, a Claremont-based real estate investment firm, to help develop the “transformative” project. The move will provide $20 million in cash when the project is expected to clear its final planning hurdles with the city in November.

The 530-acre project will be built in three phases and houses will likely be ready for occupancy come 2018. It will take eight to 10 years to complete.

• Contact Alex Kacik at akacik@pacbiztimes.com.