Ventura County was already in an economically vulnerable place when the pandemic hit, according to the latest report from California Lutheran University’s Center for Economic Research and Forecasting.
CLU CERF presented its research and findings in a live webcast on Nov. 5, focusing on where the county has been, where it is now and where it is going. The center’s economists also asked almost a dozen experts to weigh in on topics like the election, where the county was before and where it will be after COVID-19, what the road to recovery will look like and what the future might look like for the nation, state and county.
Matthew Fienup, CERF’s executive director, said the county’s population has been declining since 2016. More people have been leaving Ventura County than coming into it, and that trend became especially pronounced in the wake of the Thomas and Woolsey fires in 2017 and 2018.
Economic opportunity in the county was also decreasing. Ventura County’s labor market has been experiencing a loss of high-paying jobs, including goods-producing jobs, for almost 12 years. These jobs have been leaving the county and often the state to find places where the cost of business is lower and the environment is friendlier.
However, COVID-19 may have flipped the trend on its head. Dan Hamilton, the director of economics for CERF, said he has seen a recent housing boom. In September, the county’s housing market saw sales jump more than 20%, reaching a volume he said the county has not seen in more than three years.
It was the best September since 2006, during the housing boom that preceded the Great Recession. The county’s median home price value, $664,000, is now at an all-time high.
Homes are also spending less time on the market, typically about a month on the market, and the Ventura County housing market only has about two months of available inventory. Hamilton said the data gives weight to the idea that people from Los Angeles are willing to spend a little more time in traffic and relocate to Ventura.
“It could be the case that city managers and county policy makers are sitting on the edge of a golden opportunity,” Hamilton wrote in his report. “With urban flight apparently coming our way, the demand for economic development and the demand for residential and industrial real estate development could be a way to jump-start economic activity. If we do not take advantage of this situation, slow growth and high home prices will continue.”