With a 15 percent unemployment rate, it may not seem like Hanford is doing all that well in the aftermath of the Great Recession.

But according to a recently released University of Redlands study, Hanford is recovering faster than several other San Joaquin Valley towns.

"The particular industry structure that Hanford and the area had actually helped them weather the storm better than other areas," said Johannes Moenius, director of the university's Institute for Spatial Economic Analysis and the author of the study.

Released last month, the study found that since the lowest point of the economic downturn - January 2010 - most areas have recovered less than a third of the jobs lost.

It's a different story in Hanford, Visalia and Bakersfield, Moenius said. Those three cities have seen significant job growth - more than 3 percent - while other places have stagnated. Fresno and Merced are still shedding jobs, the report said.

The Central Valley was outpaced by the Silicon Valley and San Diego among the fastest-growing areas in the state with more than 4 percent growth, Moenius said.

Merced's losses are tied to its dependency on new housing construction and the financial industries, service and retail sectors that depend on it. Merced experienced one of the biggest crashes in the state in terms of the value of housing.

Hanford's agriculture-dependent economy, by contrast, helped insulate it from the worst of the housing market crash.

Kings' link to agriculture is stronger than places like Merced, said John Lehn, CEO of Kings County Economic Development Corp. He said that Moenius' comparison made some sense.

"That sounds reasonable in that the reliance on agriculture is heavier in Kings County than it is in probably most of the cities and counties that have Highway 99 running through them," Lehn said. "The concentration of agriculture in Kings County is very high."

Lehn noted that the market for farm products is booming right now and has generally been a bright spot during the recession. A weak dollar is making the export market especially strong.

"I think that just overall strengthens the agricultural market generally," he said.

Lehn pointed out, however, the continued high unemployment in Kings County. Lehn often makes the point that agriculture tends to shield Kings County from big economic dips, but can't manage the dynamic growth during boom times that places like the Silicon Valley, with a more diversified economy, often experience.

"The net job increase has gone up [in Kings County]," Lehn said. "Unfortunately, the unemployment rate has been going up as well because the population growth outpaced job growth."

Experts say that's a big problem with the lackluster recovery across the U.S. - jobs are being added, but not enough to regain losses during the recession and add new ones for a growing population. The growth rate needs to be higher than 3 percent to accomplish that. It will take years, experts say, before unemployment in the Central Valley returns to pre-recession levels.

"For now, everything above 3 percent is really quite nice," Moenius said.

Moenius' study did not consider government employment, which remains the top source of jobs in Kings County, including thousands of jobs stemming from Naval Air Station Lemoore. Government employment has remained fairly stable throughout the recession.

As far as agriculture goes, things look good now, but that may not hold true for the future. Rising oil prices threaten the economy in general and agriculture in particular, Moenius said.

"It's just not looking that good in terms of future prospects for oil prices," he said. "The other economies around the world are picking up growth, so they're going to consume more. There's just a big worry that we're running out of cheap oil."

Still, because of so many factors that go into it, including water availability, it's difficult to say what will happen to agriculture, he said.

"The agricultural sector is one that's really, really hard to predict," Moenius said.

The reporter can be reached at 583-2432 or snidever@HanfordSentinel.com.

(1) comment

da hold troof

I really like the photo of the tractor in the orchard. Nice job Apolinar Fonseca.

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