Our Opinion: No. 1 no more

March 22, 2002

That Imperial County has vaulted itself out of the state's economic basement is the best local news in years.

Everyone, from local leaders to people looking for work, has to be overjoyed that Imperial County, traditionally the county with the highest unemployment rate in California, seems to have left that distinction behind, likely for good.

According to the most recent information available, Imperial County's unemployment rate is now the 48th highest of 58 counties in the state. For many years we occupied the bottom spot each month, or in a good month, the 57th. Our unemployment rate, which has topped 30 percent regularly and once hit 42 percent years ago, was 14.8 percent in February, down considerably even from our 16.5 percent rate in January.

There are reasons for the drop. County and city officials have worked diligently for years to bring jobs to our area. They deserve credit because despite countless setbacks, they never gave up in their quest for jobs.


Maybe the most fruitful of those efforts was the Brawley Beef plant, which opened a few months ago and is employing about 600 people, mostly local residents. Even more jobs are likely to come at the plant. We were not overjoyed about some parts of the approval process for the plant and we hope the smell emanating from it will soon ebb, as promised, but 600 people employed is really good news for families in the Imperial Valley.

Smaller efforts have brought hundreds of new jobs — in new businesses or in expansions of existing operations — from Calexico to Calipatria. We also are experiencing a surge in employment because the lettuce crop is doing well and more people are working, although employment and business officials seem to be confident we are leaving the unemployment doldrums for good, seasonal surges aside.

A three-dimensional sugar cane industry on the horizon could employ thousands of locals in coming years, and we are still hopeful about the Gateway of the Americas border industrial area soon employing thousands more. And if a regional cargo airport comes here, we will be sitting pretty as far as employment goes.

That we have more people working only means good things for Imperial County. People will have more money to spend, which means more selection in stores, restaurants and improvements in other quality-of-life areas. More people will buy homes. People spending more money means more tax revenues going into the kitties of local governments, which means better services. And jobs breed jobs in other areas, which will provide Imperial County residents with more options regarding where they can work.

The unemployment rate taking such a precipitous drop in Imperial County is worth celebrating, but at 14.5 percent it is still more than double the state's 6.4 rate. What that means is as happy as we might be with the progress, there is a lot more work to do.

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