Economy ramping up in Pleasanton, East BayJust as the retail vacancy rate dips to a new low of under 5% in downtown Pleasanton comes more positive news from the East Bay Economic Development Alliance. Its mid-year report shows nonfarm employment in the East Bay posted a modest gain in the second quarter of 2011, the first increase in a year. Consumer spending is picking up, with taxable sales showing moderate growth for seven consecutive quarters with a forecast that these sales will reach 2007 peak levels by mid-2012. Even improvements, though slow, are expected in home prices and sales in the coming months.
Although there has been some volatility in the East Bay's employment figures in recent months, the Alliance points out that June posted solid gains, about 8% on an annualized basis. That's better than in 2008 when the East Bay shed 3.4% of its nonfarm positions, with that accelerating in 2009 to 5.7%. Last year, the labor market remained weak with the East Bay's unemployment rate rising to 10.7% last June. The economies of neighboring San Francisco and the South Bay have posted more than double the job growth of the East Bay since reaching bottom. The Alliance believes that the labor markets here have finally also hit bottom.
Here in Pleasanton, the leading employment bases are in professional, scientific and management jobs, and the business climate is much better. Pleasanton reported an unemployment rate in July of 2.6%. That is expected to remain unchanged and even improve in the coming months as construction continues on a new Safeway Lifestyle store and Clorox research center on the west side and the Stoneridge Creek retirement community about to break ground on Staples Ranch at the city's northeast corner. Those operations, when they open, will join other large employers here, such as Oracle, Kaiser Permanente, the Pleasanton school district, stores in the Stoneridge Shopping center and others, including Thoratec Corp., Shaklee Corp. and Ross Stores.
Despite a healthy uptick in taxable sales, government budgets remain constrained, including here in Pleasanton where some 45 vacant municipal positions are being left unfilled. Although there have been no layoffs locally and city operations remain unchanged, capital expenditures are being postponed until tax revenues increase. Outside of Pleasanton, other local and some state agencies shed an additional 2,500 jobs in the last quarter and those sectors are expected to continue to face difficulties for the next few quarters, according to the Alliance.
Still, the organization sees a gradual increase in employment in professional, scientific and technical services employment, job sectors where Pleasanton thrives. More than 4,000 workers were added to these specific payrolls over the last six months.
The housing market also may see some improvement. In Alameda County, roughly half of the cities, including Pleasanton, saw existing home prices increase in the second quarter of 2011. Pleasanton, in fact, remains the most expensive city in the county based on recent data with a median price for an existing single-family home selling for $690,000. The East Bay Economic Development Alliance's outlook is that a continuing population increase in this area, spurred by a healing economy, should provide ample demand for new housing and a steady improvement in retail sales and job growth for the balance of 2011 and beyond.