Valley thrives in booming economy

Economist brings message to outlook conference that future looks so good, ‘it’s boring’

Rebecca Neipp

News Review Staff Writer

Valley thrives in booming economyDr. Mark Schniepp addresses attendees at the IWV Economic Outlook Conference — Photo by Laura Austin

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“I could not find a better time economically in our history. This may be the best time we have ever known.”

Dr. Mark Schniepp of California Economic Forecast gave the audience at last week’s IWC Economic Outlook Conference an overview of federal and state economic trends, as well as local and regional indicators that our economy will continue to be strong through 2019.

Schniepp was the keynote speaker at the EOC, an annual conference sponsored by Ridgecrest Chamber of Commerce to bring together leaders and stakeholders for updates in defense, government, industry and other economic drivers in the IWV.

“Job openings have never been higher in the history of the universe,” Schneipp said during his overview of national trends. “We have not had employment this low since the 1960s. This is a rare occurrence in the state of the labor market.”

What does that mean? “It’s extraordinarily difficult to hire right now. Anyone who wants to get a job, can.” Employees should be at full-time employment and on their second or third raise in the last few years. “If you are at all dissatisfied with your current job, this is the time to change. Opportunities have never been better.”

Unemployment rates in Ridgecrest are also at their lowest in 20 years, he said.

The challenge to a tight labor market, he said, is that job recruiters have a more difficult time hiring skilled workers.

Looking at the demographics of the valley, he noted that the population in the greater Ridgecrest is higher than it’s been in decades, at 35,710 residents.

Some of the attractions of living and working in the area include a higher-than-average median household income and a lower-than-average cost of purchasing a home.

He noted during his slide presentation that hallmarks of Ridgecrest include our hot summers, our naval installation at China Lake and a location that he said makes us “the last stop to get beer before going to Death Valley.”

Federal jobs associated with China Lake have also soared from just more than 2,500 in 2006 to above 4,300 in 2019. His statistics showed that these numbers also parallel Department of Defense spending, which is still on the rise.

Thanks to the professional level of jobs available, salaries at China Lake average above $90,500 annually (well above median household incomes of just under $60,000).

Although China Lake still accounts for the vast majority of employment, other top employers include Ridgecrest Regional Hospital, Sierra Sands Unified School District, Searles Valley Minerals and Cerro Coso Community College.

Other industries that continue to thrive locally are filming and tourism. The hospitality industry benefits from travelers who make Ridgecrest a stop-over, or even a home base, for trips to attractions such as Death Valley, Mammoth, Trona Pinnacles and Red Rock Canyon.

Some of these backdrops also draw in film crews with extended stays in hotels and visits to local restaurants and stores.

Schneipp also noted that as the national rate of growth subsides (with percentages falling from 3 percent growth in 2018 to 2 percent in 2019 to a projected 1 percent in 2020), “Look for a slow-down in the economy.”

When the growth rate hits 1 percent, “That moves the U.S. into a vulnerable position. Any little show or unanticipated event — whether that comes from ISIS or North Korea or tariffs — could knock us into the negative,” said Schniepp. “We are watching this scenario very carefully.”

Still, he forecast a positive 2019. “This is going to be another year of positive economic growth. More of the same. A boring economy, if you will.”

Story First Published: 2019-03-08