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Inland Empire: Hiring Signs Popping Out All Over

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Forecasters calling for boom

By Chris Levister

In this hard scrabble section of San Bernardino where straddling the economic fault lines is a daily pastime is there anything better than walking by a construction site and hearing the sound of jackhammers, nail guns, cement mixers?

Okay, if you’re living next to that construction site it might not be such a good thing but for long time unemployed workers KeyShawn, Matthew, Jessica and Michael signs of construction, any construction is a good thing.

At this O’Reilly Auto Parts store under construction in the Stater Bros. shopping center off Baseline Street the sound of jackhammers, nail guns and cement mixers is nothing short of Christmas in February.

KeyShawn Ferguson who rose to become an assistant manager at a competing auto parts store was laid off in 2011. He says while his college degree and experience make him a perfect match for a management position, he’s not being picky.

The optimal word is compromise. “It’s really bad out here. I’m prepared to start at the bottom of the ladder and work my way back up,” he said.

“The scent of work,” said Michael Buchanan pointing to the plumes of dust and odors wafting from demolition of the former Big Lots store. “It means a paycheck.” Something he hasn’t had in two years since losing his auto parts delivery job in Temecula during the height of the Great Recession.

Hiring signs like the one posted at the O’Reilly location are popping up at fast food restaurants, discount chains, beauty supply stores, health facilities and more.

“It’s like spring flowers,” says Jessica Williams-Akers, an experienced retail cashier. “All of a sudden hiring signs are showing up everywhere.”

Consumer confidence is on the upswing, while the unemployment rate seems to be trending downward, but it can still be very difficult to find a job.

Or at least one that pays as much as one earned before being laid off.

"I notice everybody is paying less and demanding more because of the economy," said Matthew Terry, a jobseeker looking for an opportunity to resume his career in bookkeeping.

Terry of Ontario said he has 7 years' worth of experience in the hospitality and manufacturing industries, but having a hard time finding a job opening with pay and responsibilities to match.

"The only thing I'm finding is entry-level and I have vast experience in bookkeeping," said Terry.

Terry, who was interviewed while attending a job fair during the Christmas holidays, said he has worked as a freelance bookkeeper for about one year after being laid off from his job at national distribution chain.

Terry was one of dozens applying for jobs at the O’Reilly Auto Parts store.

The Inland Empire’s economic rebound is expected to accelerate this year with employers generating 25,000 jobs, about 3,000 more than in the previous two years combined, predicted Chapman University economists in January as part of an annual forecast.

The pace of economic recovery for the inland region — comprised by Riverside and San Bernardino counties — has been disappointing in recent years, but in 2013, the region will benefit from other positive forces, said economist Esmael Adibi, who compiled the forecast with a team of analysts and professors at A. Gary Anderson Center for Economic Research.

“This recovery will be broad-based and, with the exception of the federal government sector, all sectors are forecast to show positive job growth in 2013,” economists said in the forecast.

The fastest-growing sectors this year are expected to be construction, professional and business services, wholesale trade, transportation and warehousing.

“Construction is growing 2.3 percent (year-over-year) in the Inland Empire” and that previously had been a big drag on the economy,” Adibi said.

Chapman University’s report noted that payroll employment in the inland region dropped by 169,000 jobs before the recovery started in the second quarter of 2009. Since then, about 27,000 jobs have been added in the Inland Empire. Last year, the Inland Empire’s employment growth remained anemic, Adibi said. Many employers at year’s end took a wait-and-see attitude about hiring and investing in equipment as Congress and the White House discussed how to resolve the “fiscal cliff.”

Yet hiring was good enough last month across the inland region — 1,181,500 people received paychecks — that the unemployment rate dipped to 10.9 percent, the lowest point in four years, the California Employment Development Department reported.

Economists said this year, total personal income will rise 5.6 percent, significantly higher than the projected inflation rate of 2.9 percent. The 5.6 percent increase is also up from 4.9 percent in 2012; 5.1 percent in 2011; 3.3 percent in 2010; and -3.8 percent in 2009.

Meanwhile, the logistics sector, one of the five that added jobs in the last year, remains vulnerable to a sluggish global economy. The sector employs thousands in the Inland Empire, which is a major distribution hub for goods that arrive through the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach.

"The logistics industry is central for economic development in the Inland Empire, and changes in employment here depend more on national economic developments than economic activity in Southern California," wrote economist Manfred W. Keil, author of the Inland Empire forecast in the Claremont McKenna-UCLA report released in October, 2012.

Still the sound of jackhammers, nail guns and cement mixers is a hopeful sign in San Bernardino which after suffering from the housing crash, and persistent poverty is slowly clawing its way back from Chapter 9 bankruptcy declared in July 2012.

Forecasters say there's no quick fix, it will be a long climb out of the recession - but at least the climb appears to have begun.

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