Friday, February 10, 2006

Things are looking up / Many Bay Area companies plan to hire workers

Things are looking up / Many Bay Area companies plan to hire workers: "

Things are looking up
Many Bay Area companies plan to hire workers

- Carolyn Said, Chronicle Staff Writer

Wednesday, February 8, 2006

Bay Area business leaders are increasingly confident about the local economy and a significant number plan to add jobs during the next six months, according to a survey to be released today by the Bay Area Council.

"The signs are about as bright as they've been for a long time," said Jim Wunderman, chief executive officer of the council, which represents hundreds of local companies employing more than 490,000 workers, one-sixth of the Bay Area private-sector workforce. "We've got the highest confidence in hiring that we've seen since we started doing the survey, with the biggest spread between employers planning to hire and those planning to diminish their workforce."

The group surveyed 549 CEOs and other top executives in January. Fifty-six percent of them said they think the Bay Area economy will improve in the next six months while 9 percent predicted worse conditions.

The local job outlook was strong, with 42 percent planning to increase their Bay Area workforces during the next six months and 5 percent planning reductions.

Anticipated job growth was strongest in Marin, Sonoma and Napa counties, where 62 percent of executives said they will expand payrolls. San Mateo County brought up the rear with only 23 percent of executives planning increases, although in similarly tech-centric Santa Clara County, 42 percent anticipated expansion.

The leisure and hospitality industry showed the strongest projected job growth: 75 percent of respondents said they will increase their Bay Area workforce in the next six months. The advent of spring and summer tourism might account for some of that growth. Retail trade had the least projected job growth, with 25 percent of executives planning to add workers -- perhaps reflecting the seasonal slump after Christmas, Wunderman said.

Construction is strong

In construction and manufacturing, 59 percent of CEOs said they plan workforce increases.

"Our outlook as a construction company for the next two years is very, very positive," said Andy Ball, CEO of Webcor Builders in San Mateo. It employs about 1,000 union laborers, carpenters, cement masons and operating engineers, as well as 400 managers and engineers. Ball said the company plans to add a couple hundred workers -- a 14 percent increase -- in the coming six months. About 40 of those will be supervisory positions and the rest skilled trade jobs paying $40 to $70 an hour.

The company has broken ground on several major San Francisco construction projects, including the new Intercontinental Hotel at Moscone Center, a 60-story condominium at 301 Mission St., a 10-story office building, and a condominium complex at Spear and Folsom streets with two 40-story towers and two 10-story towers, as well as the new California Academy of Sciences in Golden Gate Park.

Ball said last year was slow in terms of construction starts, although construction demand increased and his company signed several major agreements.

In the financial activities sector, 37 percent of executives said they plan increases. Deanna Berzins, a vice president at the Mechanics Bank, which is based in Richmond and has 29 branches in Northern California, said it plans to add 10 to 15 people to its workforce of 600.

"We are hiring more people on the retail side because we're opening new retail offices and also more on wealth-management -- trust officers, a senior estate planning consultant, a senior financial planner," she said. "For the greater Bay Area, we are seeing more hiring, so people are able to find higher-paying jobs, which helps our business."

At Craigslist, a popular online site for classified listings, CEO Jim Buckmaster said the number of Bay Area help-wanted ads in January was up 64 percent from last year. That number reflects both an improving economy and continued adoption of the Internet for classifieds. The strongest growth was in skilled trades, with a 110 percent increase; Internet jobs increased 97 percent; health care, 81 percent; engineering, 78 percent; and software, 72 percent.

Confidence grows

The Bay Area Business Confidence Index, which distills the overall sentiment of businesses in the region, rose to 61 on a scale of 100, up six points from last quarter. Wunderman said concern over the impact of Hurricane Katrina might have depressed the last quarter's results, but "it appears that was a momentary blip."

The surveyed executives expressed strong support for two initiatives being considered in Sacramento. Seventy-two percent said they support Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's proposal to increase the minimum wage from $6.75 an hour to $7.75, while 28 percent oppose it. The strongest opposition is in the manufacturing industry, where 59 percent of respondents are against the idea. The strongest support is among education and health-service companies, with 91 percent in favor. Support is stronger among large companies than small ones.

The governor's proposed infrastructure bond measures also won favor with the group. Seventy-eight percent said they support the bonds, while 61 percent are willing to support a statewide quarter-cent sales tax increase to help pay for them.

The full report is at

Assessing confidence
Who: 549 local executives were surveyed.

Outlook: 56% said they expect the local economy to improve in the next 6 months; 9% predict worse conditions

Hiring: 42% plan to increase local workforces; 5 percent plan reductions

Source: Bay Area Council

E-mail Carolyn Said at

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©2006 San Francisco Chronicle

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