Stanislaus County employment growth will continue this year, but at a relatively sluggish pace compared with gains expected in Merced and San Joaquin counties, according to a new University of the Pacific forecast.
An expanding staff at the University of California at Merced and a massive new prison hospital south of Stockton are "growth drivers" in their counties, explained Jeff Michael, director of UOP's Business Forecasting Center in Stockton.
Stanislaus doesn't have a similar big employer on the horizon, except for the Amazon warehouse opening later this year in Patterson. But Michael said it's been hard to pin down that online retailer about how many people it will hire.
So while San Joaquin County jobs are expected to expand by 2.6 percent this year and Merced jobs by 2.9 percent, Stanislaus jobs are forecast to increase by only 1.1 percent.
"But jobs will be growing faster than Stanislaus' population," Michael said. "So the county's unemployment rate should continue to move down."
The other good news, Michael noted, is that big new employers in neighboring counties such as the so-called California Health Care Facility prison hospital that plans to hire 2,400 people this year are "very much within the commuting range of Modesto."
UOP's forecast predicts Stanislaus' unemployment rate will dip to 14.2 percent this year. That's well below what it was in 2010, which was the county's 17.3 percent jobless peak. By 2017, Michael predicts that rate will fall to 10.1 percent.
Merced's unemployment rate, which was near 19 percent in 2010, should fall to 15.6 percent this year. By 2017, it is expected to decline to 11.7 percent.
The news is even better in San Joaquin.
"We are projecting the unemployment rate in (San Joaquin) will finally dip below 10 percent in 2017, after a decade in double digits," Michael said.
San Joaquin's unemployment had peaked above 17 percent three years ago, but it is expected to be 13.5 percent this year.
California's unemployment rate this year is expected to be 9.4 percent. UOP forecasts it will fall steadily to 6.3 percent by 2017.
UOP's Business Forecasting Center produces quarterly economic forecasts for California and 10 metropolitan areas in Northern and Central California. For more information, visit http://forecast.pacific.edu.
Modesto Bee staff writer J.N. Sbranti can be reached at email@example.com or (209) 578-2196.