Liset Marquez, Staff Writer
Created: 04/21/2010 05:37:19 PM PDT

ONTARIO – As the Inland Empire emerges from the recession, economic development experts believe the region will eventually become the state’s leader in economic growth.

The Inland Empire’s workforce and development could be potential catalysts for its economic evolution, according to the panel of experts assembled Wednesday in Ontario at the monthly luncheon for the Inland Empire chapter of Commercial Real Estate Women.

The panelist gathered to discuss current development projects, future plans and recent deals that affect the both counties.

“This region has led the state of California in growth and I think we will lead that growth again,” said Judi Staats, economic development manager for Corona. “It may not come all the way back to the booming days but there are better years ahead.”

What sets the San Bernardino County apart from others is that it operates in a business-like manner, transportation is second-to-none and there is a highly trained workforce, said Stephanie Vondersaar, economic development manager for Ontario.

But despite the fact, the county is still facing economic development challenges, Vondersaar said.

The county has an unemployment rate of 14.9 percent which equals 124,300 people, Mary Sullivan, president of Sullivan Consulting Services said, speaking on behalf of the county.

Those figures are 3.5 times the number they were exactly 10 years ago, she said.

As a result of those dismal figures, people are starting to leave the county, Sullivan said.

The numbers don’t look any better in Riverside, which has a 15.1 percent unemployment rate. However, Riverside has experienced a 3 percent population growth rate, said Robert Moran, economic development manager for Riverside County.

But there are reasons, not impacted by the economy, for companies to still chose the Inland Empire such as location and transportation, Sullivan said.

“We all have been through rough seas and we are coming out of it,” Staats said.

While the construction sector in San Bernardino County will remain weak for a couple of years, there are indicators that the logistics market will recover a bit faster, Sullivan said.

Filling commercial office space in the next couple of years will be a big challenge, she said.

Most of that is due to the fact that a couple of years ago when there was a big need for offices, they were built. However, it was built a little too late, Sullivan said.

“We have the space to put those tenants in. It’s still a tenants market,” she said.

With an 11 percent vacancy rate in the industrial sector, San Bernardino County will continue to have a very strong national presence, Sullivan said.

One of the major construction projects in the county now is the Dr. Pepper/Snapple center in Victorville, she said.

Another example, in Ontario, would be the announcement made recently by Nike that it has signed a four-year deal for an additional 149,234 square feet of industrial space, Sullivan said.

The current economic situation has caused officials in Ontario to look at how it approaches developments, Vondersaar said.

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