Employment: What's in, what's out

Workers across the state may be singing the blues as a result of the nation’s poor economy, but many Peninsula industries and employees are whistling an entirely different tune.

California’s jobless rate rose to 6.9 percent in June, according to new data from the state’s Employment Development Department. San Mateo County’s unemployment rate for the same month, however, was a relatively slim 4.8 percent — and, at 370,400 workers, the Peninsula hasn’t seen this many filled jobs since 2001.

“San Mateo County has been outpacing the rest of the region in terms of job growth and optimism among CEOs,” according to John Grubb, spokesman for the Bay Area Council, which polls chief executive officers quarterly.

Nationwide, the unemployment rate hit 5.8 percent in June — the highest it has been in three years, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Among Americans polled in July, 76 percent say the economy is getting worse, according to the American Research Group.

Meanwhile, in San Mateo County, 45 percent of company heads expected the economy to improve in the next six months, and 55 percent plan to hire. Regionally, 28 percent of CEOs see signs of economic hope, while 23 percent plan to hire, according to Grubb.

San Mateo County has managed to capitalize on a number of industries that continue to thrive despite national signs of a worsening economy, according to experts. Both high-tech and biotech are booming, and the health of those industries is attracting an influx of corporate tourism that keeps the region’s airport and hotel beds filled.

Global technologies such as high-tech and biotechnology are, partly due to their nature, more immune to the rises and dips of American economic forces, according to Grubb.

“The biotech economy doesn’t follow cycles, [in part] because the clinical-development process is 15 years,” said Matthew Gardner, president of BayBio, a consortium of 425 of Northern California’s 1,600 biotech firms.

While many industries are moving into a recession, “Biotech is poised to invest $50 billion in the next five years across California,” Gardner said —and the bulk of those firms are on the Peninsula.

The local cluster kicked off 35 years ago, when Genentech established itself on then-inexpensive land in South San Francisco, according to Gardner. The biotech giant now employs more than 8,000 and plans on growing its workforce by 4 percent by the end of 2008, spokeswoman Kelli Wilder said.

Since Genentech’s birth, firms both small and large have made their home on the Peninsula. San Mateo County is also home to many high-tech firms, from database giant Oracle to game-maker Electronic Arts and online video service YouTube, which are continuing to hold strong.

Nearly 30,000 new jobs are expected to come to San Francisco and San Mateo Counties by 2014, according to projections by the EDD.

“In Silicon Valley, we have the first-ranked concentration of tech workers in the nation,” said Betty Baker, executive director of the local branch AeA, formerly known as the American Electronics Association. “There’s a global demand — and high-tech reaches all levels of our professional and personal lives.”

Additionally, tourism — including corporate travel for business clients visiting booming Bay Area firms — is going strong on the Peninsula.

San Francisco International Airport is holding steady as the county’s top employer with 20,000 workers, according to airport spokesman Mike McCarron. It also saw 7.24 percent more arrivals and 7.29 percent more departures this year than last year, according to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics.

Because those visitors need places to stay, hotel occupancy and room rates are both continually rising, according to Anne LeClair, director of the San Mateo County Convention and Visitors Bureau. Occupancy was 3.1 percent higher this June over a year ago, and rates were 10.8 percent higher.

“As long as there are people in our office buildings in San Mateo County, our hotel occupancy rates will remain strong,” she said.

bwinegarner@sfexaminer.com

An important hub: San Mateo County is one of the nine counties that significantly contributes to the economy of the Bay Area as an urban center, according to the state Employment Development Department. The coastal Santa Cruz mountain range bisects San Mateo, leaving the western side to more rural uses such as agriculture. In contrast, the densely populated eastern half of the county contains most major transportation arteries and facilities.

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