STRONG ECONOMY FORECAST EXPERTS: INDUSTRY SLOWDOWN SHOULDN'T IMPACT REGION.
LANCASTER - Antelope Valley's economy looks solid through this year despite national trends slowing two of the region's biggest industries, housing and defense spending, economic experts said Friday.
The region's economy got high marks during the Antelope Valley Board of Trade's Business Outlook Conference, attended by about 750 people. Among those providing optimistic outlooks were Nancy Sidhu, an economist with the Los Angeles Economic Development Corporation.
``This is not the early 1990s,'' Sidhu said, alluding to the region's big real estate collapse, which resulted in thousands of home foreclosures. ``It's 10 years later. The economy is strong. People are moving into the valley. There is a need for the housing.''
Nationwide, the housing market will tail off. There are signs that home construction and house prices have peaked, Sidhu said.
But it looks to remain strong in the Antelope Valley, she said. Affordability remains a key selling point, with High Desert homes selling for about half of the $700,000 average price for the rest of Los Angeles County.
Nationally, defense spending has also stopped growing, Sidhu said. However, defense spending in Southern California remains relatively high, with about $15 billion going into Southern California's economy.
Overall, the region's economy looks strong.
``2006 is going to feel a lot like 2005,'' Sidhu said. ``Enjoy it while you can.''
At the conference, the Greater Antelope Valley Economic Alliance unveiled its annual report on demographics and economic statistics. GAVEA President Harvey Holloway said the region added about 2,100 jobs last year.
The report says the number of home sales in the region climbed 6 percent in 2005 over 2004. New-home sales in Palmdale and Lancaster grew 52 percent during that time.
Holloway pointed out the valley's advantage in home prices, despite recent rapid increases: a 980-square-foot home built in 1961 in Santa Clarita sold last fall for $455,000, while a new 3,560-square-foot home built in Lancaster sold for $450,000.
``The Antelope Valley continues to be one of the most affordable areas in California,'' Holloway said.
The region is also seeing a great deal of industrial development, officials said. In Lancaster, some 650,000 square feet of industrial space is either under construction or has been approved by the city government. In Palmdale, about 550,000 square feet of industrial space has been approved.
Antelope Valley's film industry saw a $2 million increase in business last year, bringing the 2005 mark to $5.7 million. One hotel alone took in $60,000 during a three-month period from filming of the NBC TV series ``ER.''
``The Antelope Valley continues to serve as a backlot for the film industry,'' Holloway said.
Retail sales in the five cities included in the study - Lancaster, Palmdale, Ridgecrest, Tehachapi and California City - rose from $3.32 billion in 2004 to $3.7 billion in 2005.
Percentage-wise, the biggest increase was in California City, which saw a 19.4 percent increase in retail sales. Dollar-wise, Palmdale saw the biggest increase, with $216 million in additional sales last year compared with 2004.
Conducted annually for 34 years as a showcase for the Antelope Valley, the conference included as speakers U.S. Reps. Ken Calvert, R-Riverside; Howard P. ``Buck'' McKeon, R-Santa Clarita; and Bill Thomas, R-Bakersfield; and state Business, Transportation and Housing Agency Secretary Sunne Wright McPeak.
Jim Skeen, (661) 267-5743
(1 -- color) McKEON
(2 -- color) McPEAK