By Dale Kasler
dkasler@sacbee.com
Published: Saturday, Nov. 20, 2010 – 12:00 am | Page 1A

The economic recovery finally came to California last month. Maybe.

After months on the sidelines, California employers started hiring again in October, state officials reported Friday. That, along with a few other indicators, had some experts suggesting the economy is starting to kick into gear.

The hiring wasn’t spectacular, just 39,000 jobs, and the unemployment rate was stalled at 12.4 percent. But the report from the Economic Development Department followed several months of mostly negative news on the job front.

“It’s a weak gain for a recovery period, but there are seeds of good news in there,” said Dennis Meyers, an economist with the state Department of Finance. Most sectors of the economy added jobs, he said.

The gains didn’t reach the whole state. Sacramento-area employers actually cut 600 payroll jobs, suggesting the region’s recovery is being held back by an uncertain real estate market, state worker furloughs and other issues. The job-loss statistics likely didn’t capture some recent major layoffs, including the partial shutdown of the Galleria at Roseville shopping mall, because they occurred too late in the month.

The unemployment rate in greater Sacramento did fall four-tenths of a point in October, to 12.1 percent. But economists put more stock in the payroll figures, which are based on a bigger and more reliable survey sample.

Across the state, the addition of 39,000 jobs was in contrast to September, when 53,600 jobs disappeared.

“It’s the most encouraging monthly report I’ve seen in a while,” said Jeff Michael, director of the Business Forecasting Center at the University of the Pacific.

In a significant milestone, Meyers said payrolls in the private sector are now slightly larger than they were a year ago. That’s the first year-over-year gain since December 2007, the official start of the recession, he said.

A one-month gain in jobs isn’t proof of a turnaround, and this isn’t the first time it looked like the market was recovering. But it was welcome news anyway. Michael Bernick, a labor expert and former EDD director, said California captured more than one-fourth of the nation’s entire job growth in October, even though the state represents only about 11 percent of the U.S. population. Until now, California was lagging behind the nation.

“We’ll have to see for the next couple of months if it holds up,” said Bernick, a senior fellow with the Milken Institute.

Although the recession was declared over as of June 2009, hiring has been especially tentative the past few months. Economic growth overall slowed to the point that some experts warned of a double-dip recession, in which a partial recovery gives way to another downturn.

Lately, though, some of the economic indicators have turned at least somewhat brighter. And the stock market has performed better.

California’s export and tourism industries are improving, according to Stephen Levy of the Center for Continuing Study of the California Economy. So is the tech economy.

Even in Sacramento, which seems to be trailing the rest of the state, there are some signs of life. The Siemens factory, which builds train cars, just announced it will add 200 jobs for a new contract with Amtrak.

This week also saw a revival of sorts in Sacramento’s auto business. A dealer from Colorado said he will reopen the shuttered Elk Grove Ford in December, Hyundai is opening a dealership at Downtown Plaza, and another dealer announced he will open a used lot at a vacant Roseville dealership. Plans were announced for two Fiat dealerships in the region.

Yet Michael, the UOP economist, said the Sacramento area is still suffering from problems in two key industries: real estate and state government.

On Thursday, market researcher MDA DataQuick said home sales in Sacramento County fell 23 percent in October compared with a year ago.

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