Tuesday, March 08, 2005

County adds 2,000 jobs!

By RACHEL RASKIN-ZRIHEN, Times-Herald staff writer

The number of jobs in Solano County has grown over the past year, though you might not know it from how many jobs the same area lost in the past month.
Cynthia Solario, this area's labor market consultant for the state's Employment Development Department, said Monday that Solano County lost 3,400 jobs between December and January, but still gained nearly 2,000 jobs over the year.

"The jobs lost between December 2004 and January 2005 are primarily due to seasonal factors and is typical for this time of year," Solario said. "There was a decline in retail jobs coming out of the holiday season and in construction, due to the weather. There was also a drop in local education jobs, mostly due to winter break.

"The good news," Solario added, "is the year-to-year changes between January 2004 and this past January, when Solano County gained almost 2,000 jobs. That's an excellent sign."

Solario said the construction industry alone gained about 1,700 jobs in that period, "a good sign that building is going on." Another industry that gained jobs was professional and business services, which includes employment agencies. Health care and social services also gained jobs, as did leisure and hospitality, "a positive sign the economy is turning around," Solario said.

Sandy Person, vice president of the Solano County Economic Development Corp., said the job gains are spread throughout the county.

In Vallejo, office, retail and construction jobs saw the largest increases, due mostly to the city's new State Farm Insurance Co. office, the new Kohl's Department Store and the recent building boom, Person said.

Benicia reported the largest gains in manufacturing and construction jobs, mainly because of the Valero refinery and the new Al Zampa (Carquinez) bridge, she said.

Fairfield has seen gains mostly in manufacturing and office jobs, and Vacaville, mostly construction, manufacturing and retail jobs, Person said. Dixon's growth has been primarily in the retail and services sector, she added.

"Solano County has a higher commute shed than many other counties, with a relatively large number of our talented labor force leaving the county for work.

"Having some success bringing more and diverse industries to the area, we're tapping into that talented labor pool, and at the same time, reducing their commute times," Person said.

"We get to put the labor force that lives here to work here, and that's a win-win for everybody."

Solario said this is the first time the employment figures have been developed for Solano County separate from Napa County, with which it's been grouped for years in a Metropolitan Statistical Area for research purposes. The newly configured statistical areas helps local economists get a more accurate reading of each area, she said.

The number of jobs in Solano County hit a peak in 2002, after reporting the lowest number in the region the previous year, Solario said. The numbers dropped some in 2003, but not to the 2001 lows, she said.

"The 2004 levels look like they're running at a healthy increase. They haven't reached 2002 levels again, but they're close," Solario said. "Construction, in particular, really took off beginning in April, 2004. Employment services are also seeing healthy growth, which usually indicates employers are experiencing expanded needs."

Solario said her agency doesn't predict the future, but offers an analysis. "The job picture is stabilizing and looking healthy for Solano County," she said. "Only time can tell how that projects into the future."

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

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