Tuesday, 08 May 2007 00:29

General Plan Advisory Committee Looks At How Land Uses Impact Our Local Economy

slide14The General Plan Advisory Committee has been looking into how the General Plan for the future of the county will impact the county’s economy. The group’s “Working Paper” on the subject of the local economy takes a look at some of the available data concerning the economic conditions here in the County. The analysis focuses on trends in employment, labor force characteristics, average wages, population, educational attainment, and other economic factors to provide background information that will assist the County in addressing these issues through the General Plan Update.

slide17The first piece of the analysis deals with the trends in the County’s employment and industries. Evaluating employment and industry trends helps provide insight into how land uses are impacting the local economy and how the local economy may by contributing to the trends seen in the other factors. According to the report in 2006, the largest employment sector in Amador County was the Retail Trade with 1,804 persons employed. In fact, this has been the leading employment sector in the County since 1990, although in 1990 it barely edged out Manufacturing for the number one slot. Another important industry to Amador County is Agriculture, Forestry, Fishing, and Hunting, which has also expanded in terms of employment during this time period. In fact, its annual growth rate has accelerated to almost seven percent per year. Since 1990, the average wage in all three tourist-serving sectors has been increasing. In the Retail Trade and Accommodation and Food Services sectors, the pace of annual growth has increased since 2001. In terms of average annual wage growth between 1990 and 2000, the Agriculture, Forestry, Fishing, and Hunting Industry performed well, with significant increases between 2000 and 2006. Unfortunately, not all of Amador County’s industries have been able to keep pace with inflation, negatively impacting the purchasing power of workers employed in these sectors of the County’s economy. On the whole, workers in Amador County lost ground in terms of purchasing power during this period. In most of the industries where workers did gain ground, they did so only marginally.

Across the board, for the period from 1990 through 2006, Amador County has underperformed the State in terms of average annual industry wages. In fact, during this entire 16-year timeframe, only one industry has seen an average annual wage that was higher than the State’s. Unfortunately, this has only occurred recently; and, it has occurred in an industry, Administrative and Waste Services, that has experienced significant decreases in employment in recent years. As of 2005, the Countywide labor force totals more than 17,000 residents; and, over the past fifteen years, it has grown close to three percent per year. On average, more than 300 participants enter the Amador County labor force every year. This trend is showing signs of slowing, however. Between 2001 and 2005, the countywide labor force expanded only about half as quickly, increasing slightly more than one-and-a-half percent annually. With regard to Countywide population growth trends, the County’s 18 to 24 year old population declined between 1990 and 2000. From a labor force perspective, this age group is typically relied upon to backfill the retiring segment of the population. Also, the general economic downturn during this period, combined with the County’s significant number of residents with less than a high school education likely contributed to slowing growth in the Countywide labor force. The unemployment rate in unincorporated Amador County is higher today than it was in 2000; and, over the past few years, it has outpaced the unemployment rates of both the incorporated area and the County as a whole. Though it has been declining in recent years, the unemployment rate in unincorporated Amador County sits at approximately 6.5 percent as of 2006. 2006. At the same time, unemployment in the cities is a full percent lower than that in unincorporated Amador County.

The industries in which the labor force is employed are also of importance to this discussion. At the time of the last US Census, over 25 percent of the employed members of Amador County’s labor force were working in industries that historically depend upon tourism for a significant amount of their business. As of the 2000 Census, nearly nine percent of both the Countywide and unincorporated area populations are living below the poverty line. This is less than a one percent increase over the 8.1 percent poverty rate in 1990. However, this statistic disguises the fact that the total number of Amador County residents living below poverty increased 31 percent during the same period. During this same time period, though, the County’s total population, adjusted for Mule Creek, grew by only 20 percent. This means that the number of Amador County residents living in poverty has increased more than the total population. Also as of the 2000 Census, there were 12,741 households in Amador County and over half of them had incomes of less than $45,000 per year. This is an encouraging statistic when compared to 1990. At that time, more than three quarters of the households in the County earned less than $45,000 per year. In the General Plan, the Land Use and Conservation elements in particular affect the economic development of the County, by designating locations and types of business activity throughout the unincorporated area. Much of the historical economic base of the County is resource-based, featuring mining, timber, tourism, recreation, and agricultural activities.

slide28 The Conservation element specifies how these activities may be conducted to utilize the resources efficiently and preserve future economic options for the County. More recently, population growth has brought new economic activity to serve that growing population. For the consideration of the General Plan Committee is that Amador County takes pride in its rural way of life, key aspects of which include an economy based on agriculture, natural resources, and nature-based visitor-serving industries such as scenic tourism and seasonal outdoor recreation. At the same time, new industries are emerging that complement the county’s economic base, such as casino gaming and wineries. One of the options the committee may consider is whether the updated general plan should contain a separate economic development element. With or without such an element, the updated general plan can indicate policies, priorities, and programs of action for retaining key existing industries, transitioning away from less desirable ones, and targeting industries to attract into the county. The General Plan Advisory Committee meets this Thursday to discuss the full economic report at 6 pm