Airport helps boost Inland Empire economy

The Inland Empire economy is being helped by the expanded service at Ontario International Airport, analysts said. In this photo of a press conference in 2015, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and Ontario City Councilmember Alan Wapner show their enthusiasm about the transfer of Ontario International Airport to the City of Ontario. (Herald News photo by Alejandro Cano)

The Inland Empire is fast approaching 300,000 jobs created since 2011, led by continued strong gains in logistics, health care and construction, a new report shows.

The analysis, by Inland Empire economist John Husing, shows that by year’s end, San Bernardino and Riverside counties will have more than doubled the 140,650 jobs lost during the economic meltdown of 2008-2011. By the time 2018 arrives, the I.E. likely will have added 292,496 jobs since 2011.

“Looking at the rest of 2017, there is every reason to anticipate growth levels will be sustained given the forces impacting the key sectors that make up the inland region’s economic base,” said Husing, who prepared the report for the Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG).

For the Inland Empire, while the availability of housing remains a concern, Husing noted that residential costs are a bargain compared to Southern California’s coastal counties -- a fact workforce development officials point to as a competitive advantage when it comes to attracting employers and workers.

Housing also has emerged as a direct economic driver for the Inland Empire as construction activity picks up. Through the first six months of 2017, building permits for single-family homes in the two counties were up 50 percent from the prior year’s pace. Add in an increase in commercial construction, the building sector is forecast to add 13,700 jobs in 2017, Husing reported.

----- AMONG OTHER key employment sectors:

• Logistics: Jobs in goods movement and warehousing grew by 4.2 percent during the first eight months of 2017 and should close the year 6,800 above the prior year’s total. Husing said continued high trade volume through the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach and the expansion of fulfillment centers in the Inland Empire should sustain employment growth in the years ahead.

• Healthcare: A shortage of healthcare workers, a growing -- and aging -- population and an increased number of insured people as a result of the Affordable Care Act have made this one of the fastest-growing career fields in the two counties. The sector is on track to have added 3,700 jobs by the end of 2017.

• Manufacturing: Though still well below its pre-recession peak, manufacturing employment should increase by 1,500 jobs in the Inland Empire in 2017. Husing said the I.E.’s “sub-par” performance in manufacturing is indicative of a bigger statewide challenge. Since 2010, California has accounted for only 5.9 percent of all manufacturing jobs created in the United States. Factors include high energy costs for manufacturing facilities and an unfriendly regulatory environment in the state.

• Professional, management and scientific work: Rising educational attainment, a migration of qualified workers into the region and a growing need for professional service providers to support other industries has increased employment in this higher-paying segment. At its current pace, the sector is expected to add 1,000 jobs in 2017.

The report notes that challenges remain for the Inland Empire, notably high poverty levels and income disparity. In 2016, 16.4 percent of the two-county region’s population -- and 23.5 percent of those under the age of 18 -- lived below the poverty line. Compounding the problem is the fact that even with recent gains, educational attainment in the Inland Empire lags behind the rest of Southern California: 47.6 percent of adults in San Bernardino County and 45.2 percent in Riverside County had a high school education or less in 2016.

“Unfortunately, a marginally educated population tends to correlate with high levels of poverty given the direction that technology is taking good paying jobs in the 21st Century,” Husing said.

Alan Wapner, Mayor pro Tem of Ontario, said the report reaffirms the Inland Empire’s standing as an economic engine for Southern California and the state as a whole. With more than 4.5 million people, the two-county region ranks as the 13th largest metropolitan statistical area in the United States.

“Our transportation infrastructure, relative affordability and quality of life make us an attractive landing place for businesses and their employees. We have our challenges, no question, but we’re seeing real progress on so many fronts,” Wapner said.

He said expanded service at Ontario International Airport since the transition to local control late last year will be an economic catalyst for the region.

“ONT is emerging as a regional and international gateway, creating economic development opportunities around the airport property and opening up new markets for businesses throughout the Inland Empire and San Gabriel Valley,” said Wapner, who also serves as president of the Ontario International Airport Authority.

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