Slower job growth and tepid construction activity are among the major factors that will shape Orange County’s economy during the rest of 2017, according to the latest economic report from Chapman University economists.
A key factor is unemployment, which is low at 3.2 percent, according to the 2017 Economic Forecast Update released by the University’s A. Gary Anderson Center for Economic Research. But the other side of nearly full employment is that there is a scarcity of new workers to enter the workforce, said Chapman economist and President Emeritus Jim Doti, Ph.D., who delivered the annual report to a crowd of nearly 800 business and community leaders at Musco Center for the Arts on Wednesday, June 21.
And the high cost of housing will make it difficult to grow a workforce in a county with an aging population, Doti said.
“Unfortunately, it’s not a great picture. We’re losing a major engine of job growth – construction, with not a whole lot of evidence suggesting it’s going to come back,” he said. “Housing prices seem to keep on climbing, and we’re pretty confident they’ll keep on climbing through the rest of the year.”
Given that scenario, educators, elected officials and businesses should retool the county to be a hub for high-tech industry, fields that lend themselves to higher paying jobs that can support the high cost of living and housing, Doti said. He listed architecture, engineering, computer system design, along with legal, financial and marketing services, as ideal industries for the region’s future.
“If we don’t do something like this, what Orange County is moving toward is a place where the economy’s based on a bunch of old people buying and selling existing real estate to each other,” he said.
Doti noted that strategies are being studied by Chapman’s Center for Demographics and Policy, and were discussed in a research brief titled OC Model: A Vision for Orange County’s Future.
The report also addresses state and national economic growth. Among its highlights is a predicted 2.3 percent growth in GDP nationally for 2017, a mild continuation of one of the longest economic recoveries in the nation’s history, according to the report.
A summary of the complete forecast is available at the A. Gary Anderson Center for Economic Research website.