These are unsettling times for almost all geographies. As the global recession deepens, there are signs of economic contraction that extend from the great financial centers of New York and London to the emerging market capitals of China, India and the Middle East. Within the United States as well, pain has been spreading from exurbs and suburbs to the heart of major cities, some of which just months ago saw themselves as immune to the economic contagion.
Without question, the damage to the economies of suburban regions such as the Inland Empire has been severe. Foreclosures in San Bernardino and Riverside Counties have been among the highest in the country, while drops in real-estate related employment have resulted in the first net job losses in four decades. This has led some critics to suggest that the entire area is itself doomed, destined to devolve along with other suburban regions to "the new slums”.
Yet our close examination of both short and longer-term trends suggests these perspectives are wildly off-base. For one, it is critical to separate different parts of the Inland region from one another. A place like Ontario retains many characteristics that make it far more able than other locales in the region to resist the negative trends. These advantages include a diversified economy, a powerful local job center, an excellent business climate and, most of all, a location perfectly positioned along the historic growth corridors of Southern California.
These assets have already allowed Ontario to weather the current storm far better than many other Inland Empire areas. Foreclosure rates, for example, although far too high, have remained considerably below the average for the region, and far below those in communities that lack the same strong diversified economic base and close access to employment.
More importantly, Ontario remains well-positioned to take advantage of both the eventual recovery of the Inland region and the greater expanse of Southern California. Housing prices – particularly the availability of single family homes – has been a driver of growth for the inland region for decades. As prices fall, the rates of affordability for the region – which had been dropping dangerously – will once again rise.
Despite the claims of some theorists, the preference of most Californians for single family housing seems likely to be unabated, particularly as immigrants seek a better quality of life and the first generation of millennials enters the home-buying market. These are populations that have been heading east to Ontario, the surrounding "Mt. Baldy region," and to the Inland Empire as a whole for decades, and there is no reason to suppose the flow will stop.
As the Inland Empire restarts its growth cycle, Ontario will remain uniquely suited to take advantage. Significantly, despite the current downturn in energy prices, worldwide supply shortages as well as growing political demands for regulation on carbon emissions will lead businesses to look increasingly at procuring goods and services nearby. As the Inland Empire’s premier business and transportation hub, Ontario will be well-positioned to emerge as the epicenter of the entire Inland Region.
At the same time, Ontario residents generally have short commutes, and the city sits astride the primary transportation routes of the region. Over time, well-planned developments such as the New Model Colony will offer a wide range of residents an opportunity to live, work and spend their spare time within a relatively compact, energy-efficient place.
Business friendliness is also a key asset. Ontario enjoys a close working relationship with expanding companies in business services, manufacturing, logistics, medical services, and other industries not directly dependent on the housing sector.
But more than anything, Ontario’s position rests on the city’s fundamental commitment to a balance of jobs and housing, and to a long-standing focus on economic growth. Unlike many communities in the region, Ontario has grown on a solid economic basis. As the fourth largest per capita beneficiary of retail sales in Southern California, the city has a considerable surplus to meet hard times .
Although the immediate prospects for virtually all communities will be difficult, few places in Southern California can hope to ride out the current tsunami better than Ontario. And even fewer seem as well-endowed to ride the next wave of growth that will sweep through the region – as has occurred throughout the last century – when the economy once again regains its footing and customary vitality.
See attached .pdf file for full report.
Primary Authors: Joel Kotkin, Delore Zimmerman
Research Team: Mark Schill, Ali Modarres, Steve PonTell, Andy Sywak
Editor: Zina Klapper
Photo courtesy of Valerita