SHELLY GARCIA Staff Reporter Once largely dependent upon the aerospace industry, the San Fernando Valley has evolved into a diversified economy that includes entertainment, health care and technology companies. The San Fernando Valley Business Journal’s list of the area’s largest non-government employers shows that while aerospace continues to play a role in the economy of the region, its once overriding presence has been replaced by an array of different industries and businesses lead by entertainment giant Walt Disney Co. “Basically, it (the list) is telling a very positive story,” said Jack Kyser, chief economist with the Los Angeles Economic Development Corp. “If you were doing this five years ago you’d have had most of your eggs in one basket. Now you’ve got a bunch of baskets.” The San Fernando Valley Business Journal’s list of the area’s largest employers includes firms with national and California regional headquarters in the San Fernando, Conejo and Antelope and Santa Clarita valleys. Entertainment and health care are the two industries that employ the most people throughout the region, but the companies with the highest percentage of employment growth are in the real estate and insurance businesses. Countrywide Home Loans Inc. saw employment in Los Angeles County rise 57 percent to 5,000, from 3,180 a year ago. Countrywide has responded to the rebound in the real estate market with new products and offices, all requiring additional employees to implement these businesses and service the added volume of loans, said Anne McCallion, managing director of human resources for the Calabasas-based employer. Countrywide has also benefited from the nation’s low interest-rate levels, which have made the mortgage banker’s fixed-loan rates more attractive to borrowers than the adjustable rates typically offered by competing savings and loan institutions, and increased the company’s business as a result. Close behind in employment growth is 20th Century Industries, where employment increased to 2,500 workers in L.A. County from 1,615 the year before. This year, the Woodland Hills-based company reached an agreement to lease a second building to accommodate its swelling ranks. Twentieth Century will occupy about 180,000 square feet of space in a building currently under construction in Warner Center. Disney, the largest Valley employer, ranked No. 3 in employment growth, with an increase of somewhat more than 20 percent in its ranks since last year. “Countrywide reflects what’s going on in the housing industry, and the Mouse House (Disney) just continues to get bigger,” Kyser said. Despite the strong increases in their employee numbers, both Countrywide and 20th Century have been conservative in adding staff, mindful of the most recent economic downturn and its effect on their businesses. Countrywide relies heavily on a stable of temporary workers over and above its total of 11,135 permanent employees to reduce its risk should business slow again. “It’s one of the strategies we use to help maintain flexibility,” McCallion said. And both Countrywide and 20th Century make use of technology to reduce their reliance on employees. Similarly, while business has been strong at a number of the health care companies on the list, employment has not grown significantly. At WellPoint Health Networks Inc., for example, employment has remained relatively flat despite strong financial performance. Staff rosters were flat at Kaiser Foundation Hospital in Panorama City and Providence Saint Joseph Medical Center as well. Employment in L.A. County decreased at three of the Valley’s largest employers, Lockheed Martin Skunk Works Corp., Litton Industries and Pinkerton’s.