Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Economic outlook bright in Solano

Economic outlook bright in SolanoArea growth outpaces rest of the Bay Area, a new study asserts By RACHEL RASKIN-ZRIHENTimes-Herald staff writer

Sunday, February 20, 2005 - Solano County is economically outpacing the rest of the Bay Area, according to a recently released study, which shows much of the region is "lagging in a slow recovery."

The Association of Bay Area Governments' (ABAG) Regional Economic Outlook report for 2005-06 shows Solano County besting other counties in nearly every area measured.

Solano County still has the region's lowest average annual income and the highest unemployment rate, but the gap is closing, the study shows.

Solano County Economic Development Corporation President Mike Ammann, said the report's results don't surprise him, but he can't adequately project the changes coming to Vallejo in particular.

"In the next three to five years, there will be a dramatic change in Vallejo. With downtown revitalization, what's going on on Mare Island - there's a medical school (Touro) with some 500 students and growing - with Triad, with the Mills Corporation's (Fairgrounds) project. I see all kinds of things happening.
"People who aren't paying attention, will look up in a few years and say, Wow, what happened to Vallejo?' " Ammann said.

Countywide, Solano's 20 percent general growth between 2002 and 2003 far exceeded any other Bay Area counties, with Napa coming in a distant second at less than five percent growth. The other counties registered declines, with Santa Clara reporting a nearly 30 percent drop.

The study shows Dixon experiencing the greatest progress, at nearly 100 percent change between 2002 and 2003. Vallejo, Fairfield and Vacaville showed about 20 percent growth, and were among only a handful of cities that hadn't lost ground. Ammann said much of this is explained by Dixon's shift from an agricultural-based economy to a more commercial one with new housing development.

Ammann attributes Solano County's relatively good ABAG showing to its diverse economic base, as opposed to the more technology-dependent areas like Silicon Valley. In fact, the charts indicate that the farther a city is from Silicon Valley - "ground zero for the IT bust," the better they're doing, Ammann said.

Even Solano County's higher-than-average unemployment rate can be seen as a positive, because even with a fast-growing population, it's remaining stable at about 5.5 percent, Ammann said.

"It means we're creating jobs," he said. "Solano is the only Bay Area county with a net overall increase in jobs in 2004."

The report shows that Bay Area incomes are expected to grow slightly more than inflation in the next two years.

"But look where we've come in the past 20 years," Ammann said. "We went from a primarily agricultural and military-dominated economy to a much more balanced one, which makes Solano County well positioned to withstand pretty much whatever happens, even if the governor blows up the box."

Karin Moss of the Vallejo Chamber of Commerce attended the recent Oakland conference at which the study's results were released. She said it made her even happier she's come to Vallejo.

"I'd gone to that summit two days before I started officially working for the chamber, and I came out of there with a thumbs-up, saying to myself this is a great time to be moving to Solano County,' " said Moss, a business recruiter for the chamber.

- E-mail Rachel Raskin-Zrihen at RachelZ@thnewsnet.com or call 553-6824.

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