Humboldt County Employment Rebounding
By KRISTAN KORNS, Two Rivers Tribune
Dr. Erick Eschker, economics professor at Humboldt State University (HSU) and director of the Humboldt Economic Index (HEI), said the County has almost completely rebounded from the low point of the recession.
Eschker described the state of the economy to business leaders at the Ingomar Club in Eureka on Wednesday, January 29, during an economic update dinner and meeting sponsored by Redwood Capital Bank.
“The non-seasonally adjusted unemployment rate in December 2013 was 7.5 percent, which is down considerably from 9.6 percent in December 2012,” Eschker said. “The labor market is improving for workers.”
The Humboldt Economic Index (HEI) is a collaborative research project started in 1996 and tracks economic data on housing, employment, retail sales, hotels, electricity, and lumber-based manufacturing sectors in the County.
According to the HEI, the composite index of all economic sectors is at 99.2 percent of the base values from 1994. This includes an almost 50 percent rise in retail sales, and a loss of nearly two thirds of the lumber manufacturing industry over the past twenty years; down to 33.2 percent.
“Lumber-based manufacturing is in decline. It’s under 50 percent of employment in the County now,” Eschker said. “Next month we’re going to begin a regular survey of niche manufacturing.”
Niche manufacturing – small-batch and artisanal manufacturing – is on the rise in Humboldt County and will become the sixth sector tracked by the HEI.
Eschker said housing sales are up over the last 2.5 years and housing prices seem to have bottomed out.
“There are signs housing prices are bouncing back, rental prices are finally constant, and foreclosures are falling but still high,” Eschker said. “Help wanted advertising has also risen over the year.”
John Dalby, president and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Redwood Capital Bank, said that the 10-year-old bank – the only publically-traded company in Humboldt County – had record earnings for the year ending December 31, of $1,869,000.
“It’s a strong increase of 54 percent over the year ended on December 31, 2012,” Dalby said, adding that the bank will add a new branch in Arcata.
Redwood Capital Bank will lease the old Wells Fargo building on G Street, which currently houses HSU’s Natural History Museum, while the Museum will take over the former Figueiredo’s Video building across the street; the Pterodactyl and Great White Shark will stay where they are.
“It will be the first branch in the United States that was designed around a Pterodactyl,” Dalby said.
Eschker and Jennifer Budwig, Redwood Capital Bank’s chief lending officer, also answered questions from the assembled business leaders about the effects of the marijuana industry on the local economy.
“There is such a large trickle-down effect on our economy,” Budwig said. “Growers support a lot of jobs in our County.”
Eschker said marijuana legalization – as recently happened in Colorado and Washington, and which will be on the ballot in November in California – is a “big wild card around here.”
“I can tell you a scenario where this industry remains here, and I can also tell you a story where people say ‘we’re just going to go down to L.A. because that’s where we’re selling stuff anyway’,” Eschker said. “That’s a major question mark that could have dire consequences for here.”