Southern California's economic recovery is moving slower than predicted and the results are varying greatly from county to county.
That's the conclusion of a Southern California Association of Governments economic report discussed last week at a meeting of industry and government leaders gathered at the Sanitation Districts of Los Angeles County headquarters in North Whittier.
A SCAG committee, led by President Glen Becerra, a city councilman from Simi Valley, will use the report to lobby Sacramento lawmakers this week to relax stringent regulations such as the California Environmental Quality Act and focus on improving California's business climate.
Becerra said the mission will be to convince Sacramento that it needs to help businesses grow by adding jobs and convince those here to stay.
"How many Fortune 500 companies are here anymore?" he asked the group. "The companies that can move, they are long gone."
The report characterized the six-county region's economic growth and job creation as "slow, uneven and inconsistent" and said returning to pre-recession employment will take longer than originally predicted by its economists in 2010.
Los Angeles County won't recover fully from the Great Recession until 2018, two years later than SCAG economists had predicted, according to the report entitled "Accelerating Southern California's Economic Recovery.
"There's a lot of delay in terms of recovery (in L.A. County)," said Wallace Walrod, an economic advisor for the Orange County Business Council who presented the regional report.
"That is quite depressing news that we are looking at 2020 as fully recovering to where we were," he said.
L.A. County lost 400,000 jobs from 2008 to 2010, jobs that will not be replaced until 2020, he said. Its unemployment rate is 10.2 percent.
The outlook for San Bernardino County is similar, but more intensified. Although he predicts a best case recovery by 2016, it may not happen until 2018. Also, the unemployment rate is higher, at 10.8 percent.
About 1 million people are presently unemployed in San Bernardino and Riverside counties combined, the highest of any metro area in Southern California.
Nearby Orange County, on the other hand, is in the throes of robust growth.
"We've seen a broad recovery in Orange County," Walrod said. "Tourism and foreign visitors are two areas that didn't stop growing."
Service, construction, trade, financial, professional health services and leisure/hospitality all have grown in 2012, creating jobs and lowering unemployment in The O.C. from a high of 9.0 in 2010 to 6.8 percent today.
"The housing market in Orange County has turned around quite quickly ... it is doing well," Walrod said.
He said other counties can learn from Orange County by targeting certain industry clusters that will create the biggest bump in job creation.
Without a doubt, he said boosting construction should be the focus of cities across Southern California. Becerra said speeding up all construction - from homes to roads to trains - is the message of his team, which includes former governors George Deukmejian and Gray Davis.
"Caltrans says on average it takes 17 years for a project from start to finish," Becerra said. "If government regulators can shave just five years off that time, it would save $1.2 billion to $1.9 billion and you'd get construction jobs earlier."
Demand for new housing is so high in Southern California that building homes quickly would create jobs as well as grow the economy, Walrod said.
"In Orange County, we can use another 50,000 housing units just to meet demand. One of the key strategies to help Southern California recover is to get that construction engine going," Walrod said.
Housing growth in Riverside County's Coachella Valley is heating up, he said. Also, the Inland Empire has added 4,500 logistic jobs (warehouse) in the past 14 months. In outlying parts of the I.E. and in Imperial County, construction of wind and solar projects are also creating job growth.
Ventura County's economy is growing slowly and the county is not expected to see full recovery until 2018-2020, according to the report. "Ventura is becoming a Santa Barbara-like economy," he said.
In the aerospace and defense cluster, Tom Henderson with Lockheed Martin said his company is very worried about the effects of automatic cuts from the federal government known as sequestration, set to go into effect in March.
"Things are very much up in the air right now," he said, adding that his company is tentatively planning on laying off 75 employees from the Palmdale facility by March 31. "And once sequestration hits, more will come," he said.