Economic forecast calls for slow rebound

California may be poised to lead the nation's economic rebound, but that recovery is going to happen more gradually than once predicted, a UCLA economist told Sonoma County leaders on Wednesday.

Strength in trade, technology and tourism are all helping drive growth in the state in 2011 and 2012, said Jerry Nickelsburg, senior economist with UCLA's Anderson Forecast.

And while that growth may outpace the rest of the nation, the economy is still likely to crawl along with a modest 3 percent rate over the next two years, instead of the more robust 6 percent rate some were hoping for, Nickelsburg said.

"That's the disappointing part of the forecast," he said.

The high jobless rate and a weak housing market continue to be the largest obstacles to any quick recovery, Nickelsburg told about 500 business and government leaders at the Sonoma County Economic Development Board's annual "State of the County" forum at the Doubletree Hotel in Rohnert Park.

The state's unemployment rate, at 12.4 percent, and the county rate, at 10.1 percent, still surpass the national jobless rate, now at 9.4 percent.

And housing starts, which are forecast to climb this year before nearly reaching pre-recession levels next year, still must do so from historic lows over the past two years.

The near-halt in construction figured into one of the morning's biggest statistical jaw-droppers: Construction workers and non-education government workers accounted for 50 to 60 percent of the job losses in Sonoma County during the past three years, according to Nickelsburg.

The pattern mirrored other areas in the state and across the nation, he said. And most of those government and building jobs are not coming back any time soon, he said.

Instead, hospitality, food production, information technology and high-tech manufacturing sectors are predicted to account for most of the new jobs in Sonoma County over the next two years, Nickelsburg said.

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