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AV job prospects remain uncertain

Construction is down...but not out

Merdies Hayes | 1/24/2014, midnight

The aeronautics and construction industries have traditionally been the backbone of the Antelope Valley economy. The losses at Lockheed-Martin, Northrup, Boeing, et. al. are permanent and have been since the early 1990s. The local construction industry has been hit hard during the six-year economic decline, but there has been a rebound, according to David Weinberg, a California economist who spoke with the publication American Public Meeting Marketplace last summer. “Part of the problem is that there’s hardly any residential construction over the past seven years. Meanwhile, the population has grown steadily, credit standards and loosening, and unemployment in California is dropping faster than the rest of the country.”

Weinberg studied a two-man team, a real estate agent and a contractor, who held on to a small plot of land in Lancaster even after some of their other land investments had turned sour. After seven years, the vacant lot is getting developed with funding from private investors. The real estate agent told Weinberg that, sometime this year, he expects to sell out the 44 homes being constructed, his forecast based on current sales trends. “This activity is a sign that a new construction boom is coming to California,” Weinberg said.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported this month a slight decline in employment in the construction industry for December 2013 (-16,000), specifically jobs involving nonresidential specialty trade contractors who lost 13,000 jobs, reversing small gains made since Fall 2013. The Antelope Valley, since 2009 has felt the brunt of the state’s decline in construction which dropped off by 60 percent from 2005-2009; until then, the region was a mecca for new-home building and residential immigration from greater Los Angeles County, San Bernardino County and Ventura County.

Somewhat contradicting this report was the 2013-2014 mid-year economic forecast from the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corp. (LAEDC) which has predicted an increase in housing and construction, but conceded that improvement in the regional economy is uneven across counties and industries. While private-sector expansion is on the uptick, improvements on the labor front remain at a “lackluster” pace. The report indicated that housing starts are showing signs of life, and many planned infrastructure projects will come online. All told, the construction industry could add as many as 33,000 jobs by the end of 2017, producing an average annual growth rate of 5.4 percent.

“The private sector will build upon the gains of 2013 with nearly all sectors expected to demonstrate job gains this year and next,” said Robert Kleinhenz, LAEDC chief economist and the forecast’s lead author. But Kleinhenz stopped short of predicting a return anytime soon to pre-recession employment levels. “Los Angeles County won’t likely return to those levels until 2015 or 2016 at the latest,” he added. Kleinhenz found that the industry with the largest expected new job creation potential in L.A. County is the administrative support services industry, which is expected to add 63,790 jobs by 2017. Health care and social assistance positions will follow with about 61,610 expected jobs. Taken together, the report found, the top 20 industries locally are expected to add more than 350,000 new jobs through 2017.