El Centro had a better-performing year in 2011 than other small metropolitan areas in California, according to a recently released report.
However, the local area dropped in its best-performing city ranking from 47 in 2010 to 69 in 2011 out of 179 throughout the nation.
Milken Institute, a nonprofit, nonpartisan think tank out of the Los Angeles area, released its best-performing cities report, ranking metropolitan areas throughout the nation.
The best-performing cities index uses job, wage and technology performance measures to rank the nation’s largest and smallest metropolitan areas. Unlike other rankings, it does not use quality-of-life metrics, such as commute times or housing costs, according to a press release from Milken Institute. Employment growth is weighed most heavily due to its critical importance to a community’s vitality, while the wage and salary growth measures the quality of jobs created.
The five-year job growth from 2005 to 2010 in the El Centro metropolitan statistical area was ranked at 107.67, compared to national average of 100. It ranked 23rd among the nation’s small metropolitan areas.
More recent numbers though point to a smaller level of job growth. The 2010 numbers rank 98.44, 164th out of 179 metropolitan areas.
The wages have gone up, though, in the past five years. The wages were ranked 112.37, based on the same value system, out of 100.
“There were some common themes among top-performing metro areas across the country,” says Ross DeVol, the institute’s chief research officer and one of the report’s authors. “Many that did the best were those that took advantage of the boom in energy production and increased investment in equipment by businesses. And it is no accident that the housing markets showing the most resilience are in cities with growing employment.”
El Centro’s metropolitan area ranked better than Yuma, which came in at 88 out of 179 metropolitan areas.
Some locally, like Jason Jackson, were surprised El Centro ranked on the list, especially with the high unemployment last year. Jackson, an El Centro city councilman and chairman of the Imperial County Workforce Development Board, said the board has worked on work force training for an industry that hopefully is coming.
“With our unemployment rate being so high in the last year, a lot seems to be hinged on the renewable side for the county,” he said.
Unemployment-wise, the farm labor season has started up again, so that will help the unemployment numbers, he said. But the area has continuously had to deal with having a seasonal work force.
“What we’re looking for, what everyone’s looking for in this county, is long-term, livable-waged jobs,” he said.
Renewable energy could be that livable-wage employment opportunity, and it’s important that these projects get through the permitting process and into the construction phase. However, they seem to be stopped up in litigation, permitting or environmental reviews, he said.
The area certainly doesn’t have the renewable projects online that officials had thought would happen at this time, Jackson said. But there certainly will be a local trained work force when those projects go through.
For now the label of having the highest unemployment rate in the nation has brought this area to national attention, but Imperial County has always had a high unemployment rate. Some of it’s the seasonal work that goes on, he said.
Throughout the country unemployment rates have gone up by 8 or 10 percent with the economic downturn, he said. This area hasn’t been any more affected by the economy.
“We started out with a high number and just compounded it with the economy the way it is now,” he said.
Staff Writer Elizabeth Varin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 760-337-3441.