The Inland Empire's traditional reliance upon construction and the availability of cheap land helps explain why the region lags behind coastal areas in recovering from the Great Recession's job losses, a University of Redlands professor said.

"These advantages are not there, or not in demand," said professor Johannes Moenius of the university's Institute for Spatial Economic Analysis.

Moenius and another business professor, Bing Bai, co-authored a brief analysis of state unemployment and U.S. Census data showing job growth has been faster along the coast.

Breaking job statistics down by ZIP codes, the professors show coastal communities have experienced job growth at rates better than 3percent, while much of the San Bernardino-Riverside county region has a flat job market or areas where employment fell when data for April is compared to the same month in 2010.

The Inland Empire's job losses in the "bread and butter" sectors of manufacturing and construction are key to the region's overall employment problem, Moenius said.

State Employment Development Department statistics for April show the Inland Empire fared worse than Los Angeles County in the key sectors of construction and manufacturing.

Year-over-year, construction employment in Los Angeles County dropped 5percent, but it fell 7.9percent in the two-county region.

Los Angeles County gained a slight - 0.3percent - amount of manufacturing jobs, but manufacturing employment in the Inland Empire fell 2.1percent when April 2011 numbers are compared to the same month one year prior.

No job gains in the "bread and butter" sectors mean retailers and others won't be able to do enough business to hire new employees at their businesses, Moenius said.

Whereas Los Angeles County's retail trade employment increased 0.5percent in April, the Inland Empire's retail employment dipped 1percent.

The Inland Empire is likely to continue to lag behind its coastal neighbors until its real estate is again in high demand, Moenius said.

But that could take a long time.

"(Housing) prices cannot get to the point where developers can make a profit until the mortgage crisis is over," said John Husing, a longtime commentator and the Inland Empire Economic Partnership's new chief economist.

Absent some kind of major federal action, such as what might have occurred in 2009 if the Senate had passed a bill allowing bankruptcy judges to adjust mortgage terms, the housing market will be in trouble for three to four more years, Husing said.

In his new role with the IEEP, an organization formed to advocate for business interests in San Bernardino County, Husing delivered a speech May 19 in which he, as others have before, called for educational reforms to give Inland Empire children the teaching necessary to prepare them for careers in science and engineering.

Until it has a more highly educated work force, the Inland Empire will continue to depend upon blue-collar employment to drive its job market, he said.

andrew.edwards@inlandnewspapers.com

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