Unemployment in Southern California is finally declining and home sales are generally rising, all signs of a reviving economy. But what's it like in the trenches? JAMES BLAIR asked workers, employers and social-service providers what they're seeing.
Actor/restaurant manager, North Hollywood
Restaurants are a direct gauge of how people feel about the economy. If they feel comfortable, they'll go out to eat. If they don't, they'll stay home and cook leftovers.
The quake and the government cutbacks have affected the restaurant business. Last summer, business dropped off. But it's beginning to pick up. People are becoming a bit more confident.
As far as the acting business, I've noticed that it's coming back to California. There's always been so much originating here, but they get a project started and take it on location or to a right-to-work state like Texas or North Carolina. More production is remaining here now. And new technologies, like CD-ROM, have opened up more job opportunities.
Real estate broker and former utility company executive, Diamond Bar
I saw what was coming: cost cutting. I started going after my real estate agent's license, as well as a broker's license, in anticipation of my termination.
The real estate business looks very good. Property is moving again. The amount of time it is on the market is down significantly. I'm very excited about my prospects down the road, although I see some rough times ahead financially as I still have a couple of kids in college. I recognize that I am going from a regulated industry into a very competitive one. But it's very stimulating. People get their just deserts: They work hard, they get paid.
I think I'm on the fringe of the new economic environment where you will be changing careers several times during your life. I've certainly used myself to demonstrate this to my kids--that they should not look to a corporation for their livelihood but develop expertise they can use to sell themselves at different levels in the economy.
President, Coatings Resource Corp., Huntington Beach
We manufacture nontoxic paint for the toy industry--the paint for Barbie's lips, for example--also coatings for electronic enclosures such as television sets and coatings for furniture. There's a lot more furniture being produced in this state than in the past three years.
A lot of people that had projects on the back burner are moving forward with them now. We are in an expansion mode.
We were trying to hire more technical people. The last couple of years there were more resumes going around than you could shake a stick at. The first of the year, when we thought we would begin hiring, the availability of applicants wasn't there. It was a surprise.
SERAPHIMA HONG LAMB
Architect with offices in Burbank and Marina del Rey
My experience is a little different than most people. When the recession hit, I opened another office.
Seven or eight years ago, I was working for private developers. Then I started to worry about what would happen if a developer didn't have anything to build. So I intentionally geared my business toward institutional work.
I think that was the right direction because people who were working for private developers were having an awful time during the recession. We are prime architects on three MTA stations. We've been doing prison projects for the California Department of Corrections. We're also doing a lot of seismic retrofits.
I just don't believe in a "bad" economy. There's always a way. You have to change with the times, change the paradigm.
MARY L. GIMENEZ
Executive director, Harbor Interfaith Shelter, San Pedro
We are not seeing an upswing in the economy, evidenced by the number of families we turn away every day. That averages between five and 10 because we just don't have the room to accommodate them.
We have all walks of life go through our shelter, from high school dropouts to those who are college educated. I just did a statistical study of our residents. It's 46% Hispanic, 30% African American, 20% Anglo, 2% Asian and 2% Native American.
The government is talking about cutting aid to the poor by $39 billion. If that's indeed what they intend to do, we might be turning away hundreds. They are also talking about raising the minimum wage to a little over $5 an hour. But when you have a two-bedroom apartment that costs between $500 and $800 a month, children to feed, clothe and provide for, the minimum isn't going to make it without assistance.
PETER C. COLLINO
Co-founder, EPG International Environment Products, Anaheim Hills
The economy is definitely improving. Around us, most of the buildings that were vacant as of six or seven months ago are now filled.
Our business--we deal with water filtration--is gearing to set up turnkey retail operations. We've had an enormous surge since the beginning of the year, almost quadruple last year's rate.
We just remodeled our facility to add manufacturing space. Because of this surge we are looking at computer equipment, which we will probably buy locally, as well as vehicles and some manufacturing equipment.
We find that the minority community is the better growth area compared to mainstream California. Not only the Hispanic community; my partner is Vietnamese, so we're dealing with the Vietnamese community. We have the luxury of speaking multiple languages. We go into the Laotian and Cambodian communities and lately we also see an interest from the Chinese and Taiwanese.
Any business person who wants to get out of the doldrums really should look at the group that's the first generation here from another country. It's a definite plus for them to penetrate that market.