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A light in a dark economy

Posted: December 9, 2008 10:55 p.m.
Updated: December 10, 2008 4:59 a.m.
It's the slimmest growth in Santa Clarita Valley's job market since 1996, but in the midst of a shrinking economy, record layoffs and job cuts all over the country, the positive number stands out, regional economists said Tuesday.

"The stars have lined up, so (there) hasn't been a real labor market loss in Santa Clarita," said Mark Schniepp, director of the Santa Barbara-based California Economic Forecast Project.

The forecast recently reported an increase of 950 total wage and salary jobs in the Santa Clarita Valley in 2008, representing a 1.1 percent growth since 2007, according to the firm's research.

The firm found the largest job gains in 2008 occurred in support and waste management (531 jobs), local government (405), professional, scientific and technical (365) and health care (289).

The forecast conducts an employment survey of the largest employers in Santa Clarita Valley by telephone every November.

The firm found employment increased throughout the education sector, which includes the William S. Hart Union High School District, the Saugus Union School District and College of the Canyons.

"We are still, at this point, a growing district," Hart district spokeswoman Pat Willett said. "We've been able to open new schools and we've continued to grow. That's been a saving grace for us."

The district is growing at a much slower rate, however, with student population growth in the hundreds in 2008 as opposed to 800 to 1,000 annually during the past decade, Willett said.

Forty-five staff members replaced those who moved on or retired in 2008, Willett said. The permanent employee count stands at 1,858.

Employment increased by nearly seven percent at the College of the Canyons, the forecast reported.

"We've had double-digit growth in our student enrollment for many years," COC spokeswoman Sue Bozman said. "Last fall student enrollment grew by 18 percent."

The only way the college can serve an increasing student population for a growing community is by adding full-time and part-time faculty, Bozman said.

"We haven't been cutting and we're hoping we won't have to cut," she said. But if budget cut proposals made by the governor pass, Bozman stressed, the situation could change.

"We have to be able to receive the funds," she said.

While the firm found the largest job losses in manufacturing and construction, Schniepp said an additional reason for the growth is an absence of major layoffs, particularly in the mortgage sector.

Because there hasn't been a surge of residential building in several years, there wasn't a need to layoff excess construction workers, Schniepp said.

"There's also been a large building of office structures so that's kept construction workers going," he said.

But if the positive job growth is a spark of light in a dark economy, the spark is predicted to fade to a dim glimmer in 2009.

"I see the momentum carrying it down - especially in some of the areas that were able to hold on, particularly in the retail area," Schniepp said. "Consumers aren't spending; the retailers will get a hit.
Tourism is also starting to weaken."

The employment forecast predicts a loss of 950 jobs in the SCV in 2009, followed by the annual average creation of 2,300 new wage and salary jobs between 2010 and 2013, according to the firm.

As for the Hart District, Willett doesn't see employment numbers turning negative despite flat or declining student numbers.

"A number of schools across the state are in declining enrollment and, of course, that's always a problem," Willett said. "But we probably won't have layoffs because of some attrition, some (staff) will enter retirement and some will just leave."

The firm predicts that education, leisure and hospitality, wholesale distribution, health care, professional services and government sectors will create jobs or remain relatively stable in 2009.


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