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The key factor holding back Ventura County from economic growth

Economic experts said Wednesday that one key factor is holding back Ventura county from growth
Caroline Feraday
Economic experts said Wednesday that one key factor is holding back Ventura county from growth

For many, 2023 was a difficult financial year in Ventura County. But what is the outlook for the county for this year?

David Borchard owns a ranch in Ventura County. He knows first-hand that the last year has been financially challenging.

"It hasn't been great, we are eagerly looking for a better year," he told KCLU on Wednesday.

He’s one of many local business owners concerned by economic weakness in Ventura County - gathered at the Scherr Forum Theater to learn valuable insights into Ventura County’s economy, to guide it moving forward as well as insights into the state and national economies.

"The economic picture of Ventura County is complex because we've actually been in a period of about 15 years of economic weakness. The county's economy has been contracting in size over a sustained period of time," explained Dr Matthew Fienup, the Executive Director of the Center for Economic Research and Forecasting – known as CERF - at Cal Lutheran University. He says that the county did well over COVID-19, but the recovery has been slower than neighboring counties.

"We actually did extremely well as an economy during the first year of COVID-19 because of courageous policymaking at the local level. But last year, we started to see that the county's recovery lagged behind neighboring counties. And this year we actually just learned that the economy is once again contracting. And that stands in contrast, again to our neighbors, LA County. Other Southern California counties are all growing. The state of California's economy is growing, the national economy and so on. Ventura County sort of stands apart in that way," he said.

"One of the biggest drivers is the net migration of people out of Ventura County. So Ventura County's population peaked in 2016 and has declined every single year since then. And the number of people leaving the county for other states has been accelerating," said Dr Fienup.

Fienup says that there’s one very important factor in encouraging growth, and that's affordable housing.

"That's in part because of just the tremendous lack of housing affordability, the inability of people who find jobs in Ventura County to be able to afford to work here. So the reality is that they are moving to other states that offer greater opportunity. And that also means employers are looking to move jobs and in some cases, whole business units out of state as well," he said.

"The important thing is that we really need to cultivate an attitude of growth, an attitude that's favorable to economic growth. And it means we need to be welcoming new businesses. Cities in the county need to be aggressively courting large incumbent employers, figuring out how do we make this work for you? And all of that boils down to we need to build much, much more housing. We need to house the workforce," he said.

Allyson Spata who works for Robert Half - a staffing agency – she says they’re optimistic about starting to see some momentum already this year.

"Well, I'll definitely say 2023 was a little bit of a rough year, I think, for everyone. But we're we're definitely starting to see some momentum," she said.

"It's had its ebbs and flows. And again, we're definitely seeing a little bit of an uptick here in 2024. So we're excited," she said.

Cal Lutheran is the parent of KCLU.

Caroline joined KCLU in October 2020. She won LA Press Club's Audio Journalist of the Year Award in 2022 and 2023.

Since joining the station she's won 7 Golden Mike Awards, 4 Los Angeles Press Club Awards and 2 National Arts & Entertainment Awards.

She started her broadcasting career in the UK, in both radio and television for BBC News, 95.8 Capital FM and Sky News and was awarded the Prince Philip Medal for her services to radio and journalism in 2007.

She has lived in California for ten years and is both an American and British citizen - and a very proud mom to her daughter, Elsie.