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UCSB Economic Forecast Project Paints Positive Picture for Santa Barbara County

Hundreds of attendees gather for the annual summit, which highlighted improving trends in unemployment, income and industry

Some changes are more visible, like the construction of a new building, but other modifications are less apparent — including the steady, slow upward progression of Santa Barbara County’s economy.

Hundreds of locals gathered Thursday morning to visualize that change, led in the endeavor by Peter Rupert, chairman of UC Santa Barbara’s Department of Economics and director of the UCSB Economic Forecast Project.

In its 33rd installment, the annual Santa Barbara County Economic Summit at the Granada Theatre outlined the 2013 economic landscape and implications for 2014, focusing on the role technology, education and globalization will play in the job market.

Rupert will lead a similar presentation Friday for North County at the Radisson Hotel in Santa Maria.

Overall, unemployment is continuing a downward trend, personal income has risen for the third straight year and three key sectors — banking, housing and employment — are strengthening post recession, Rupert said.

Unfortunately, he said, it’s much easier to forecast Santa Barbara’s weather than to predict how regional and national trends will impact local business and industry.

“It looks very positive for growth in the county up till now,” Rupert said.

After a breakfast on the 1200 block of State Street, which closed for the meal for the first time, Rupert introduced a lively panel discussion about jobs that students should covet since technology jostled the market, especially in manufacturing.

Moderator Russ Roberts of Stanford University’s Hoover Institution wondered aloud, “What’s left?”

UCSB project
PetePPePeter Rupert, chairman of the UCSB Economics Department and director of the UCSB Economic Forecast Project, delivers mostly good news during Thursday's economic summit. (Gina Potthoff / Noozhawk photo)

Panelists Megan McArdle, a Bloomberg View columnist, MIT principal research scientist Andrew McAfee and UCLA professor Lee Ohanian said they were optimistic in the long term, but not with the current workforce.

They agreed students shouldn’t study STEM fields to merely make more money.

“Innovators and entrepreneurs come along and think of new wants and needs,” McAfee said. “The only hope we have for putting more people back to work, finding more employment, is to let that engine get to work.”

Panelists offered few resolutions but entertained with humorous dialogue, something continued by Michael Bryan of the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta.

He cautioned against putting much faith in forecasts, but said they’re “better than a coin flip.”

Bryan and Rupert anticipated an improved national economy to trickle down locally.

“We’re continuing to grow,” Rupert said. “We’ve had a huge increase in technology. We end up with what we call skill mismatch.”

He explained the importance of seasonal adjustments in data, especially for spikes at Christmas and dips in winter, and noted continued growth in retail and agriculture.

The region won’t soon create many high-paying jobs — nurses or software/IT workers — but the need for service-level jobs would continue to increase, Rupert said. 

Not everyone is a fan of change, but those in the county’s five fastest-growing industries — information industry, mining, administrative and waste management services, finance and insurance and wholesale trade — probably don’t mind.

Noozhawk staff writer Gina Potthoff can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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