You might call it the Ventura County conundrum.
By many measures, Ventura County has recovered nicely from the recession with relatively low unemployment at 5.3 percent, steady job growth and a nascent boom in the travel and leisure sector.
But a deeper dive shows some disturbing trends. Jobs have not recovered to their pre-recession peak, there’s been a steady decline in “head of household” job categories like manufacturing and tech sector growth has been anemic at best. On reports where the county routinely ranked among the top in the nation, it has fallen to the bottom of the pack.
From this second perspective, Ventura County has underperformed Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties for overall job growth. It hasn’t participated in the tech boom of San Francisco or even the late tech surge in Los Angeles.
Which raises important questions. Is Ventura County merely experiencing a deep cyclical downturn in industries like manufacturing? Was it simply too dependent on two major employers — Countrywide/Bank of America for mortgage processing jobs and Amgen for jobs in biotech? Or is it in the middle of a structural change where the county, which looked attractive to baby boomers for decades because of its open space and good schools, now is losing out to millennials who want an urban experience?
To get at least a preliminary look at answers to these questions, the County of Ventura has launched a series of “Economic Vitality Summits” to create the framework for a strategic plan for the county. It’s a bold move that involves gathering key business stakeholders, chambers of commerce and municipal representatives from across the county.
A Nov. 18 meeting at the County Education Office in Camarillo launched the process of identifying untapped assets and opportunities, threats to economic progress and giving the County of Ventura some feedback as to what its role might be in improving economic vitality. The summits are part of a broader research effort by The Natelson Dale Group, a consulting firm that’s worked on previous research projects in the region.
The first session, led by Deputy County Executive Paul Stamper, began to provide a bit of a framework for moving forward. There was a broad consensus that county leaders needed to think more deeply about the startup culture in urban environments that are attracting young professionals. And there is more that can be done to leverage major assets such as Naval Base Ventura County, the Port of Hueneme and the county’s universities and community colleges.
The bottom line is that many of the attributes that made Ventura County an economic superstar of the 1990s and the early 21st century are not working the same way they did decades ago. Creating a new vision for Ventura County is not going to be easy but it likely will pay big dividends down the road.
In a country that seems more divided politically, ethnically and even geographically than any time in recent memory, it’s easy to forget that we have traditions to uphold and institutions that have survived war, depression and centuries of strife.
That’s why we encourage you and your families to take time out this week and enjoy the Thanksgiving holiday. It’s one of those great and truly American events to be celebrated just for what it is.