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Inland Empire could gain 250,000 new jobs, forecast says

The Riverside-San Bernardino economy appears to be growing faster than most other California areas, a new business forecast says, indicating a reversal of the Inland Empire's slow recovery from the Great Recession.

The region could gain a quarter-million new jobs over the next five years, according to a new forecast out this week from Beacon Economics, an independent economic research firm.

Jordan Levine, director of economic research at Beacon Economics, predicted the Inland area's economy would grow at about 3 to 3.5 percent per year.

The prospect of new Inland-area jobs is welcome news to Niki Chambers, a mental health specialist who works with at-risk youth and their families in San Bernardino.

"To get some type of employment would be wonderful," for the families she counsels, Chambers said.

Unemployment in the region was at 8.7 percent in August, down from 10 percent one year earlier. However, employment gains are spread unevenly throughout Riverside and San Bernardino County. Pockets of high unemployment remain: The City of San Bernardino had 16.6 percent and Moreno Valley had 13.9 percent in August.

"We're finding that a lot of families are not unemployed, they are under-employed," Chambers said,  So the quality and wages of new jobs matters as much as the number of jobs.

What industries are growing? Warehousing and trucking are expanding, including two enormous new fulfillment centers. Warehouse jobs pay about $41,000 per year, about 9 percent more than the region's private industry average, the report said.

Employment is also rising in the health and tourism industries, and among professional services. The report forecasts better retail sales (seven new car dealers have opened in the past year) and rising home prices. Levine said more of the new jobs are full-time rather than part-time positions, which also helps the region's economic stability.

"Overall, economic activity indicators are heading in the right direction for the Inland Empire, and the economy is poised for further growth," the report said.

What's lagging? Homebuilding and non-residential construction are increasing, but  have yet to recover to their pre-recession numbers. Government and retail jobs are also growing more slowly than other sectors of the economy.

Employment in the Inland Empire remains below its previous peak of seven years ago, even as the region's population has continued to grow, said University of Redlands economist Johannes Moenius. The region would need 150,000 additional jobs right now to match the labor force participation rate that existed before the Great Recession, he said.

Moenius, who attended an event at which the forecast was discussed, cautioned that the rosy jobs forecast assumes continued low interest rates for growth in construction and low energy prices for expansion of trucking and warehousing.