SB County’s workforce is strong, but it needs to get stronger

By on April 15, 2019

That’s the conclusion of recent study, which found that there are too many residents who could be working that aren’t. However, the analysis is optimistic about the county’s future.

San Bernardino County’s workforce is strong enough to transform the region’s economy, but not enough is being done to ensure that adults in their peak working years are able to reach their potential.

That’s the conclusion of The San Bernardino County Labor Market Intelligence Workforce Roadmap report, a study commissioned by the county’s Workforce Development Board and assembled by researchers at UC Riverside’s Center for Economic Forecasting & Development.

The workforce development board is made up of of representatives from the public and private sector that are appointed by the county Board of Supervisors.  Its primary task is to form alliances with business, education and community organizations that improve the skills of the county’s workforce.

In turn, the board of supervisors makes available county resources which generate jobs and investment.

The 141-page report finds that San Bernardino County has an above-average percentage of young people who are working.

However, the study also noted that labor force participation among people between 25 and 64 years old “lags behind the regional average.” Should that problem be fixed, the county would have multiple opportunities to attract businesses in high-growth industries.

Transportation, warehousing, manufacturing and healthcare account for about 40 percent of all jobs in the county but 55 percent of the county’s job growth.  Also, many of those jobs are filled by people who don’t live in San Bernardino County: close to 200,000 workers commute from neighboring counties every day to work in San Bernardino County, the report states.

One negative the report uncovered is a downward trend among prime-age working adults, particularly those who don’t have a high school education.

Also, from 2012 through 2017, the county’s population grew by 3.8 percent. Had San Bernardino County’s labor force participation during that time been the same as it was in neighboring counties, anywhere from 33,000 to 108,000 more jobs could have been filled with local residents, according to the report.

“We’ve got so much going for us,” said Phil Cothran, the workforce development board’s vice chairman, in a statement that accompanied the report’s release. “A growing population, a great quality of life, reasonable housing costs. Businesses, schools, nonprofits and the public sector to work more collaboratively than ever to make sure we’re preparing our residents for real-world job opportunities.”

The report’s overall theme might be that San Bernardino County’s workforce is performing well but that it must improve if it’s too keep pace with the rest of Southern California, said one person who helped oversee the study’s compilation.

Because so many in San Bernardino County are adding jobs, it’s vital that the county take advantage of its large local labor pool, because doing so successfully will give it a competitive advantage over other submarkets, said Tony Myrell, chairman of the development board.

Myrell owns PMT Ambulance in Colton, a company he founded in 2000 that employs 200 people. During his seven years on the board he’s seen a lot of local businesses poach employees from each other.

Better to find the county residents who aren’t working, train them, and put them to work, according to Myrell.

“That goes on all of the time, and it has to stop,” said Myrell, whose four-year term as board board chairman will expire soon. “No one ever becomes whole.”

The report is published annually, but this year’s document is a deeper dive than past reports, with a detailed look at how San Bernardino County has  performed since the Great Recession ended.

The county has added more than 130,000 jobs since 2010, a 27 percent growth rate, while wages grew 16 percent during that time, according to the study.

The county’s unemployment rate was 3.9 percent in October, down from the 13.9 percent at the height of the recession and the lowest it’s been since at least 1990. Unemployment data compiled before 1990 is not compatible with the report.

Median household income in San Bernardino County rose 19 percent between 2012 and 2017. Also, single-family housing and commercial real estate are more affordable – and more available – than in most California submarkets.

“The ‘affordability advantage’ coupled with an abundance of developable land has also translated into increased population growth, which is expected to tick up between 0.9 percent and 1.2 percent each year for the next couple of years,” the report stated.

This year’s Labor Intelligence Report is more forward-looking than past reports, said Henry Nickel, labor market analyst for San Bernardino County.

“I think the report is saying that we’re adding a lot of jobs in logistics, transportation and health care, and that the county is ready to explode with growth,” Nickel said.