In a time of nationwide discourse on the precarious economy, it’s complicated to detect how Santa Barbara fits into the picture.
But Josh Williams proffered his local take on this widespread issue on Wednesday at Hotel Mar Monte during a Santa Barbara Human Resources Association luncheon. The founder and principal researcher at BW Research Partnership had some bold assertions about Santa Barbara’s financial future, laying out a plan for success.
First, he made it clear how Santa Barbara fits into the scope of California as a whole. At about 9 percent unemployment, historically high for the county, Santa Barbara has low unemployment compared to the rest of California — the third lowest of any country, in fact.
So why? What’s the Santa Barbara secret?
One reason Williams mentions is that Santa Barbara has a minimal amount of construction. Much of the economic drive in places like Lompoc — now with 16 percent unemployment — was previously the housing industry. But the decrease in construction jobs that accompanies the demand for construction is creating an economic crisis in areas more dependent on construction for their economic stability.
But he reminds the audience that relative stability due to minimal construction is temporary, and that it would not be sufficient for stability in the future. It’s bigger than construction.
But it’s also bigger than job loss.
He also asserts that to say jobs are being lost is to over-simplify. He divides jobs into three tiers: First tier jobs are the most specialized and demand education, second tier jobs require moderate skill, and third tier jobs demand low skill.
Jobs in the first tier, he contends, are ripe for the picking. “There’s not a problem with finding jobs, it’s about finding skills to fit the jobs.” So these high-skilled jobs are available, but the workforce is just less bounteous.
The third-tier jobs are in no impending danger either. Mostly comprised of general retail positions and food service jobs, such employment will always be of use in Santa Barbara.
It’s the limbo tier — the second tier — that is losing jobs. Administrative assistants, clerks, medical assistants — these positions are outsourced or eliminated entirely when funding is tight. “Often these skills can be duplicated easily in China or India for a fraction of the cost,” said Williams.
So how does Santa Barbara factor in?
Well, Santa Barbara has a large population of highly educated people (tier one prospects) and a large population of people without a high school diploma (tier three prospects). So the gap in the populace’s earning capability is dramatic — which helped weather the tier two storm this time, but could cause problems in the future with tier three jobs. These tier three jobs are needed, but housing is costly. So there’s little incentive for people with less earning capability to remain in such a pricey area.
Williams also contends that the future and promise of government jobs is dubious at best. They are on the decline (locally and nationally) and this trend will not likely change in the near future. These make up much of Santa Barbara’s workforce jobs.
Happily, Williams predicts that the Santa Barbara demographic indicates some budding industry areas.
“We have a growing population of children and people over the age of 65,” he asserted. This bodes well for the healthcare and education industries — two of his picks for most promising in the near future.
Williams also shed some light on the rather enigmatic idea of a “green job.”
“We hear all about the future of green jobs, but stay away from the hype around this term — there is no one model green job. Green jobs are made up of different parts, they’re everything and they’re nothing. One single part of ‘green’ isn’t going to drive growth,” Williams warns.
The solution? “Don’t focus on whether it’s green or not, focus on the underlying technology and skills,” he advises.
He noted four main areas of growth that are impacted by the green movement — energy and technology, building and design, research and manufacturing, and green and sustainable tourism. Green jobs lie within these areas, and while they are relatively minute on their own, the growth of the “green job” concept is the anticipated green movement. It’s not one job — it’s many. It underlies multiple industries.
Within these areas he specified underlying technologies such as energy storage, green construction for energy-efficient buildings and building materials, energy-efficient transportation, recycling and waste treatment, and green agriculture.
The list goes on, but the principle is the same: The technology is green, its application broad and varied. Or, as Williams said, green “can’t be encapsulated in one thing.”
Even more specifically, he declared that Santa Barbara needs a regional action plan. Businesses need to focus on green building and transportation. The city needs to increase adoption of new water distribution and treatment technologies. It should develop business opportunities for green waste processors.
That’s what Williams believes ‘green’ can do for Santa Barbara: stimulate the economy.
Kirk Martin, senior account manager with Volt Workforce Solutions was among the audience members. He found Williams’s detailed, PowerPoint-heavy presentation “relevant” and felt that it would “help the attendees plan appropriately.”
More information on the Human Resources Association and its monthly luncheons can be found on its Web site: www.sbhra.org