Jobs jobs jobs seem to be coming up in every discussion lately around Napa, from creating jobs in the 2nd District Supervisor race, to the kind of jobs a potential Starbucks downtown will create, to how jobs affect traffic and land use patterns. Jobs are a central issue on many fronts, and on top of that unemployment is the issue of the day.
It would therefore behoove us to take a closer look at what we can learn about jobs in Napa and what impact that pattern has on our future here together. I have yet to see a comprehensive analysis of the data that speaks directly to the concerns of the community.
The government puts out all kinds of charts and data on employment, so much that it is difficult to sort through it all and reach some kind of useful analysis. There are also local officials observations that help fill in some of the data gaps, although they have to be considered at least somewhat anecdotal.
Complicating the whole situation is that there are two kinds of employment/unemployment, civilian, which means people who live in Napa but may work elsewhere, and industrial, which means jobs located at addresses in Napa. When they tell us the unemployment rate is 9 percent, they mean civilian unemployment, which may include a thousand people working in San Jose who happen to live in Napa. Knowing that fact can lead to very different conclusions for future planning.
In fact anecdotal bits of data from local officials are that much of the unemployment in Napa is just that, people who live in American Canyon who work south, especially in San Jose. A second anecdotal story is that a big chunk of our unemployment came from one company, Cultured Stone, which at one time had as many as a thousand employees but due to the big downturn in construction shrank considerably.
Government data would tend to support that theory, that much of the unemployment in Napa are those working in other counties who live here.
At one point at the height of the recession unemployment in American Canyon was
close to 17 percent, while the county as a whole was around 10 percent, probably mostly due to that.
Looking at this California Employment Development Department (EDD) chart, a couple of interesting data points stand out.
The first is that total employment in Napa has been about the same over the last decade or so, in 2001 there were 67, 900 people employed who lived in Napa, with a total labor force of 70,400.
In 2011, ten years later, there were a total of 69,600 people employed yet the total labor force was 76,500, a much bigger increase than the total employed. And that is not the result of unemployment, in 2006 near the height of the good economy total employment was 69,100, less than last year.
It appears that the number of jobs generated by Napa businesses has held remarkably steady. Certainly there have been some job losses here, but much of the unemployment percentage is from out of town workers who live here.
Looking at other EDD data, we see that between January of 2007 and January of 2011, 2600 construction and manufacturing workers lost their jobs, while hospitality added 900 workers in the same time period. Summarizing a lot of data, including the article Napa County unemployment rises in January, it is also clear that the other trend in Napa is we are moving away from industrial/construction employment toward hospitality.
What is changing in Napa is the nature of the jobs, the trend is that we are losing better paying jobs like construction and industrial positions, and replacing them with hospitality positions which don't pay as well. This is in turn exacerbating both the affordable housing problem and traffic during rush hour.
Right now all the numbers are relatively small, and right now we have a lot of options to shape how we want the future to go. If, for example, we double the number of hotel rooms and build out Napa Pipe to house lower wage hospitality workers, our options become reduced. In other words, that becomes more the path we have decided to pursue, the more we pursue it.
Is that really the path we want to take? It is the path with the least resistance. The government likes the TOT taxes from hotels and businesses like the tourist traffic.
The other path is to hold out for more industrial positions and limit the amount of tourism. Understanding that a lot of the pressure to create jobs is actually about people who moved here and don't work here helps alleviate some of that pressure. When they get re-employed they are likely to continue to work outside the county.
We are being told by some that we don't have that choice, that it is not possible because of the nature of the evolving global economy to create manufacturing jobs anymore and that we should just accept our fate as only being able to have a tourist economy. I reject that because America and Napa are never going to be as wealthy as we were if we settle for that, and I believe that manufacturing and higher paid employment will come back to Napa and America as well, but it may take a while. But why give up our options in advance?
Moreover, for us to save our agricultural economy we need to have as small an urban footprint as possible--farming takes up a lot of land. When we create tourism jobs many get filled by people who don't live here who have to drive in. It's not black and white, but generally we are not really reducing employment for other Napans when we do that. Creating fewer jobs that are higher wage is a much better approach for Napa.