Modest Job Growth Forecast for Valley

Times Staff Writer

The number of people working in the San Fernando Valley is likely to grow modestly this year, suggesting a slow economic rebound from state budget woes, a sluggish national economy and unrest overseas, a local economist said Wednesday.

Jack Kyser, chief economist of the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corp., said several factors could slow the region's momentum -- from a protracted war with Iraq to unresolved domestic issues -- but remained optimistic that employment figures could rise by 1.8% this year.

"By the end of the year, we will feel a little bit better," Kyser said. "In 2004, we will feel optimistic, but it will take a lot of hard work on the part of business owners."

Despite troubles elsewhere, Kyser said total employment in the San Fernando Valley should grow by 11,950 jobs, for a total of 724,900 jobs this year.

Kyser attributed the Valley's positive economic outlook to a major expansion in the entertainment industry between January 2002 and February 2003, measured by the launching of 10 projects with an investment value of more than $1 million each or a facility of at least 20,000 square feet.

The entertainment industry is recovering from a job decrease in late 2001 and early 2002 that resulted from production companies' worries that striking actors and writers would leave media outlets with a scarcity of programming, Kyser said. That scenario failed to materialize, leaving production companies with a backlog of programming to get through before hiring for new jobs.

The report shows that entertainment industry jobs reached a high of nearly 145,000 locally in 1999 before dropping to about 120,000 in 2002. Kyser anticipates that the sector will add 7,000 jobs this year.

Other local economic stimulants include major expansions in the technology, manufacturing and finance/insurance sectors between January 2002 and February 2003, Kyser said.

Job growth could be tempered by a high dropout rate, a lack of housing and the high cost of doing business in the state, particularly for transportation, energy and land, Kyser said.

The best thing that business owners can do to protect their prosperity, the economist said, is to press their elected leaders for legislation and policies favorable to businesses.

In solving the state budget crisis, Kyser advised elected officials not to damage the long-term economic vitality of the state. "The small- and medium-sized business community is a constituent that must be recognized."

The report, along with three other studies measuring housing, charitable giving and public sentiment in the region, was presented at Wednesday's "Info Summit 2003: The State of the San Fernando Valley" sponsored by the Economic Alliance of the San Fernando Valley.

"These four distinct, unrelated reports all sounded a recurring theme," said Bruce Ackerman, alliance president and CEO. "Increased housing and improved education has a direct impact on the region's job growth and economic health."

At the session, the nonprofit economic development and marketing group released its annual survey measuring Valley residents' opinions about overall quality of life and other issues such as transportation, crime, environment/waste, growth, Valley cityhood, education, immigration and elected officials' performance.

The study, conducted by the Rose Institute of State and Local Government at Claremont McKenna College, found that 71% of the 800 Valley residents surveyed rated their communities' quality of life as excellent or good.

Another finding was a decrease in support for Valley cityhood, with 28% of respondents saying they supported secession compared with 54% in 1999.

Valley residents gave overwhelming support to improved transportation through widening or double-decking freeways, increased rail service and "super streets" with synchronized signals and high-speed traffic. Yet only half were willing to pay higher taxes to improve streets and freeways while one-third were willing to pay more for rail and bus service.

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