An economist known throughout the Tri-Counties for meticulously documenting the region’s financial state of affairs painted a not-so-rosy picture at the 2007 Ventura City Economic Outlook breakfast hosted by the Ventura Chamber of Commerce.

At the June 8 event, Bill Watkins, the executive director of the University of California, Santa Barbara’s Economic Forecast Project, told a meeting of about 150 people that Ventura’s growth has grown at an anemic pace since 2003, with little hope for change foreseen at least into the beginning of 2009.

“In many measures Ventura is actually going backwards,” Watkins said.

The city is growing older faster than the rest of the county and nation because fewer high-quality jobs exist to entice 25-44-year-olds to move to Ventura, where the median age has reached 38.52 years. That is three year’s older than the county average. Ojai is the only city with a higher average age.

What’s more, the gap between the rich and poor is widening. Although fewer people are living in poverty in Ventura than have over the past decade, the figure is declining slower than the national average. At the same time, the number of very rich people in the county is rising faster than the national rate. With the emergence of a service-based economy, it will become more difficult for wage-earners to live in the city.

“[Ventura] is creating an underclass population in a very expensive place to live,” Watkins said.

According to Watkins’ statistics, the city’s gross product is growing less than 2 percent a year. On the other hand Ventura County’s growth rate is about 4 percent each year. That means that Ventura’s share of the county pie is shrinking. In 2008, Watkins predicts that the city will claim only about 14.8 percent of the county’s gross product. A decade ago, the city represented more than 20 percent of Ventura County’s economy.

Despite the bad news, Watkins said forecasts of doom and gloom don’t mean the city will soon become a ghost town.

“The world has never ended,” he said. “Therefore, predicting the end of the world is bad business.”

In addition to Watkins’ presentation, the breakfast also featured a discussion of agriculture from John Krist, a senior editor at the Ventura County Star, and a look at some of the city’s upcoming plans from Nelson Hernandez, Ventura’s community development director. n