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County snapshot – Annual report outlines economic growth and demographics

Betty Riley has noticed two distinct trends during the seven years she’s been overseeing production of the Nevada County Economic and Social Indicator Review.

“No. 1, we have really increased our job base. No. 2 is per capita income,” said Riley, president of the Sierra Economic Development District. “If you look over the five-year period, we’ve increased our per-capita income by 26 percent. That’s substantial.”

The 2004 edition of the review, released earlier this month, provides a series of statistical snapshots of the people, economy and governments in Nevada County. SEDD personnel spent more than 100 man hours rounding up, organizing and analyzing the data in the 56-page report.



Riley said the review is designed for two primary audiences:

• Government officials who need to analyze economic and social service trends; and




• Businesses seeking demographic information and firms considering a move to Nevada County “because it gives a very good overview to people who are looking at the community as a potential place to move a business.”

Many of the charts in the report look at the same issue in different ways, but Riley believes that “as long as the data is consistent, the trends are what’s important.”

Per-capita income in the county has increased 26 percent over the last five years to $32,841 in 2002, substantially higher than the state growth rate of 16 percent, and it is estimated at over $36,500 this year.

Much of that growth can be traced to baby boomers moving into the county. While the county’s population below the age of 44 and over 64 has declined, the segment in between has shown a large increase in both numbers and percentage points.

“That is really a trend, and it’s the younger retirees who are most noticeable,” Riley said. “That is probably what is also driving the increase in housing values.”

Wage and salary employment has grown by 7,030, or 18.2 percent, since 1997- faster than the population growth of 6,300. In addition, the local unemployment rate has consistently trailed the state average, according to the state Employment Development Department.

People who work in management, professional and related occupations make up the largest sector of nongovernment workers at 34.3 percent. But the average wage of $29,181 for all workers is well below the state average of $40,769.

Still, the diverse economy in the county is seen as a strength by Larry Burkhardt, president and CEO of the Nevada County Economic Resource Council. “We’re not dependent solely on one thing,” which creates stability and offers multiple growth opportunities, he said.

But the high cost of housing in the county – and the generally high cost of doing business in the state – are formidable barriers to attracting new industry. The median price of a house in western Nevada County last year was $319,000, almost 50 percent higher than the median price in 2000, according to the county Board of Realtors.

“Housing costs are killing us with respect to job growth,” Burkhardt said. “Sixty to 70 percent of the time, housing costs are a decisive factor when businesses make an expansion/relocation decision.”

Burkhardt finds strength in the west county’s highly regarded education system, the attractiveness of two historic downtowns, a diverse arts and culture scene, and innovative companies with real growth potential.

Area stores managed a 1.9- percent increase in sales in 2002, while sales were down 0.1 percent statewide. Grass Valley continues to dominate the retail scene, accounting for 37.7 percent of all retail store transactions in the county, according to the state Board of Equalization.


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