Friday, January 25, 2008

Solano County's Economic Picture Is Blurry

Solano County's Economic Picture Is Blurry
By Barry Eberling | DAILY REPUBLIC | January 24, 2008

FAIRFIELD - Solano County civic and business leaders on Thursday heard plenty of bad news about Solano County's economic scene -- along with some bright spots.

About 300 people met at the Fairfield Hilton Garden Inn for the Solano Economic Development Corp.'s 25th annual meeting. San Francisco Chronicle business writer Sam Zuckerman gave the keynote speech.

Zuckerman wrote a front-page Chronicle story on Nov. 18, 2007, that contended Fairfield is the perfect place to see how the housing bust is affecting Bay Area businesses. The headline read, 'Fairfield balances on the edge as housing prices plunge.'

Today, the United States is on the edge of a recession, Zuckerman told the crowd Thursday.

'That's certainly true in Solano County,' said Zuckerman, who added it is fair to say Solano County and California are well on their way into recession.

Zuckerman recited a long list of Solano County woes. Among them were a steep jump in foreclosure activity and a 15.8 percent drop in the median housing price in the span of a year. The unemployment rate rose from 5.4 percent to 5.8 percent in December 2007.

The county has been disproportionally affected by the housing bubble, Zuckerman said. Land availability and other factors put it in the center of the housing boom a few years ago. Now it is more vulnerable to spillovers from the housing bust into other business sectors, he said.

And yet, Zuckerman said, 'It's hardly accurate to call Solano County a disaster area, even with the grim statistics.'

The industrial and office sectors are holding up, he said. That has kept construction employment reasonably high, despite the state of the housing market.

And then there are such local businesses as the well-known Fairfield trio of Anheuser-Busch, Clorox and Jelly Belly.

'Downturns like the one we're in don't dampen the demand for beer, bleach and jelly beans,' Zuckerman said.

Also, the county has a strategic location, relatively affordable housing -- Zuckerman joked that it's getting more affordable even as he spoke -- and a diverse economy. He cited a University of the Pacific Business Forecasting Center prediction that job growth should rebound in a couple years.

'In the meantime, you have plenty to sustain you,' he said.

Sedcorp. President Michael Ammann reminded the crowd about the positive signs. He talked of 2007 success stories ranging from new restaurants to major business expansions and major business proposals in all seven cities.

Amman expects to share more good news when he recounts 2008 a year from now, he added.

Also at Thursday's meeting, S. Scott Reynolds of the law firm Gaw Van Male became the 2008 chairman for the Sedcorp. Board of Directors.

Reach Barry Eberling at 425-4646, Ext. 232, or at

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