By Bruce Stenslie, President/CEO, EDC-VC
A recent article published on May 29, 2015 in the Ventura County Star, titled “Ventura County residents enjoy among shortest commutes in country,”prompted a dialogue between my colleagues given our recent findings in the Ventura County Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy (CEDS) report. The result of several months of detailed research and analysis that included input from Ventura County leaders and stakeholders, the CEDS report serves as a tool to help focus our ongoing economic development activities and work to maximize the county’s economic assets among its ten cities and unincorporated areas.
Our CEDS report identified weakness in our transportation infrastructure. Specifically, the report found that Ventura County’s workforce is extremely mobile, with only 22.6% of the county’s workforce both living and working in the same city. This places a heavy burden on the region’s transportation infrastructure as workers crisscross the region.
On the other hand, the VC Star article claims that jobs are closer to workers here in Ventura County compared to most areas across the country. Citing a recent report from the Brookings Institution’s
Metropolitan Policy Program, the VC Star article is especially interesting in light of one of the central takeaways from our recent economic development strategy, which observes that very few residents of any city in Ventura County actually work in the city in which they live.
So we couldn’t help but ask the question, does the new data from Brookings undermine our findings? The answer is an unequivocal no.
As the Star article notes, “the primary focus [of the Brookings analysis] was to determine how many jobs were near the typical resident of any given metroregion.” On that score, we do well – a large number of jobs per resident, on average, are in fact close by. That is due to the fact that Ventura County has decentralized both its job centers and populations, both distributed among ten relatively well-defined cities.
As we’ve avoided the development of sprawling suburban communities isolated from jobs, we’ve kept jobs and residents relatively concentrated. That does not mean, however, that the labor force is taking advantage of the nearby jobs; very few residents of any city in Ventura County actually work in the city they live in. The actual linkage of workers to jobs is far more complicated, involving the mix of jobs and wages and the mix of worker talent and industry interest.
It is also worth noting that the Brookings report looks only secondarily at commute detail, and notes that Ventura County’s median commute of 5.3 miles is among the nation’s shortest of the 96 major urban areas. To put that in context, it’s important to consider that the entire range for the median distances among the 96 urban areas analyzed in the Brookings report is from 4.7 to 12.8 miles, with both the median and mean appearing to fall at around 8 miles. In other words, it’s a tight range, not by itself a strong indicator of actual experience.
Secondly, what’s more telling are the actual commute times. The Ventura County Civic Alliance recently reported in their 2015 State of the Region Report that 194,342 payroll workers in Ventura County – 53.8% of our payroll labor force – have commutes longer than 20 minutes, with 120,686 workers commuting more than 30 minutes.
The Civic Alliance further reports that our average resident daily miles traveled are more than 24 miles and increasing. Our point remains that an enormous number of Ventura County workers rely on the efficiency of the region’s transportation system to connect them to work.
All that said, we take the Brookings finding as a good thing, representing more opportunity by proximity than most areas of the country.
There are some great takeaways from the Star article and Brookings report. Most primarily, and repeating a point from above, is that in using the same data set as we did for our analysis, which revealed that where we work isn’t where we live, Brookings validates our observation that Ventura County has done an excellent job of decentralizing jobs and populations across ten cities, and by that means concentrating jobs near population centers.
That noted, we remain concerned that the challenge for the Ventura County region – with ten cities, mostly characterized by well-defined urban boundaries and distance between them – is to connect workers and jobs with an efficient transportation network, one better for workers, business and quality of life.