The Jobs Issue: It’s Better But Some Industries Still Lag By BRAD SMITH Staff Reporter As indicators of economic activity and consumer and CEO confidence slowly rise nationally, Southern California and the San Fernando and surrounding valleys are poised for reasonable gains in employment, forecasters expect. “What you are seeing overall is Los Angeles County’s economy is making the turn,” said Jack Kyser, chief economist with the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corp., which will release its mid-year economic forecast for the five-county southern California region July 15. “We’re seeing good year-to-year job growth, although it is still not as high as we’d like.” According to the California Employment Development Department, unemployment figures in California remained steady at 6.2 percent in May, unchanged from April, although improved from the May 2003 figure of 6.8 percent. That translates to a decrease of 100,000 unemployed since 2003. Kyser said the LAEDC expects to report both gains and losses regionally, with industrial and public sector employment down but encouraging signs in aerospace, technology, and travel and tourism. “Governments are still paring workers, and a lot of manufacturing is under a lot of pressure from imports, but in classic aerospace and high technology companies a lot of government money has come into Los Angeles County and they’re looking for people with specific job skills,” he said. Kyser’s opinion corresponds with the expectations of the San Fernando Valley Economic Research Center at California State University Northridge, which published its latest forecast in May. The CSUN team expects 11,000 jobs to be added by local employers, although that includes both temporary and full-time employment. The local studies mirror national trends, experts said. CEO confidence, for example, rose in May but then dropped slightly in June, according to national surveys. “It’s sort of two steps forward and one step back,” Kyser said. “It is better, but is it easy for anybody that wants a job to find a job? The answer is no, and business is still very concerned.” Still looking At the EDD’s Worksource office in Canoga Park, where jobseekers can get state assistance with unemployment benefits and leads on new jobs, a fair percentage of those using the agencies’ services are experienced professionals. Jim Gross, a Studio City film editor with four decades of experience, was in on a recent weekday for an appointment. Work generally slows down in the summer for editors as the networks go on hiatus, but in the past, Gross has been able to pick up a television movie or film project to tide him over. Not this year. “It is going to get better, because the networks and cable producers have said they are going to produce more original content for the summer, and year-round,” Gross, 62, said. “But Fox only began doing that last year, so it will take awhile before that really has an impact.” Les Krasuski, a civil engineer from Tarzana whose specialty is cellular telephone towers and antenna arrays, was also waiting for an appointment to discuss if he would qualify for state aid to further his education. He was laid off in April, and wants to expand his expertise into seismic retrofit work. “The telecom business has been going down, because we’ve already been built out (in the San Fernando Valley),” Krasuski, 48, said. “The quantity of jobs began going down in 2002 and it hasn’t come up.” Experiences like that are not atypical, but the expectation that technology-related employment will increase in the second half of 2004 is supported by anecdotal evidence. “The last two years were dismal,” said Don Speth, president of Independent Resources Systems, an Agoura Hills-based contingency search firm that specializes in the high technology and biotechnology fields. “But starting the last quarter of last year it started to pick up a little, and in the first and second quarters of this year it was looking much better.” Growth expected Speth said his placements have doubled from the first to second quarter, and that he expects similar growth in the third and fourth quarters of 2004. “There are still a lot of people that are underemployed,” he said. “But as confidence in the marketplace picks up, a lot of employers are going to get a rude awakening because of the way they have treated their employees over the last few years.” Also anecdotally, some large local employers, especially in he health care and biomedical sectors, said they expect to add jobs in the next six months as well. At biotech giant Amgen Inc. in Thousand Oaks, which employs more than 6,300 people and where staffing grew by 27 percent in 2003, significant job growth is expected. “We’re looking at several hundred new jobs this year, not in the thousands like 2003,” spokeswoman Mary Klem said. “Our earnings report comes out July 22, and we are expecting another good year.” At Northridge Hospital Medical Center, with more than 1,600 full time equivalents the third largest in the San Fernando Valley, executives expect to add 50 to 60 new staff.