Economic growth strategies are always plausible before implementation. There is hope in rebound and revitalization. On Oct. 5, at the 48th Annual Business Outlook Conference at the Ronald Reagan Library, the focus was on the future of manufacturing, technology and innovation in Ventura County.
For the last couple of years, Matthew Fienup, executive director for the Center for Economic Research and Forecasting at California Lutheran University, said that Ventura County’s economic growth has been “anemic,” and in 2016, the county even experienced a recession. To stimulate growth, business leaders and legislators are working together to develop a workforce that is capable and ready to enter the manufacturing field. That includes programs and courses at the college level and apprenticeships at local manufacturers.
Gino DiCaro, vice president of communications of the California Manufacturers and Technology Association, highlighted the cost of doing business in the state versus elsewhere, including the fact that energy costs are typically about 45 percent higher than other states. He talked about how manufacturers are getting smaller and how they are unable to allocate resources for training programs. He also pointed out that career tech enrollment is down. Assemblywoman Jacqui Irwin, D-Thousand Oaks, spoke from not only a legislative position but also her engineering background and how critical proper workforce development is. She also discussed the importance of affordable housing and the sheer lack of it in Ventura County.
There are also other aspects to consider, including rural America’s poverty and need to bring jobs to its regions. Any state that has fewer regulations and available affordable housing is an obvious hindrance to luring manufacturers to Ventura County. Further, the manufacturing industries of both durable and nondurable goods have seen mainly stagnant growth in California from 2015 to 2017, given the ebbs and flows over those two years. Ventura County numbers were not readily available.
According to the Employment Development Department for August in Ventura County, the highest number of job ads were: retail salespersons (406 ads), security guards (344), registered nurses (315), first-line supervisors of retail sales workers (288), bookkeeping, accounting, and auditing clerks (252), customer service representatives (236), first-line supervisors of office and administrative support workers (204), first-line supervisors of food preparation and serving workers (156), industrial engineers (145) and vocational education teachers, postsecondary (135). Job demand in manufacturing is not obvious in Ventura County and competing with other regions to lure these jobs seems like a monumental task.
While California legislators passed Senate Bill 1, the gas tax (which is currently up for repeal via ballot initiative) that is designed to improve roads and consequently business-related transportation needs, the real struggle is in quality of life and affordability. Various websites that evaluate average salaries show a range of median incomes in the field of manufacturing. They show that manufacturing engineers make over $80,000 while technicians make less than $40,000. But a manufacturer needs to employ a range of skillsets and to move to a place where only the high-wage earners can survive but lower-level employees will barely squeak by seems counterproductive to relocation.
The overall focus for any person devoted to economic growth is to get a handle on the housing crisis that we simply don’t have time to build ourselves out of. Given that housing prices have not gotten better over the last decade, despite new construction and over 16 years of net negative migration to Ventura County, there has to be another way to address the issue. We look forward to more thoughtful discussions on how to change the status quo in Ventura County. The “sky ‘s the limit” for housing costs is not a good approach when it comes to an absolute essential.