Inland Empire Regional Intelligence Report
Key economic indicators suggest that the Inland Empire’s economy will continue to expand throughout the rest of 2018, building upon its recent growth. The region’s economic success mirrors many of the nation’s current trends.
The U.S. economy grew at a solid, steady pace throughout 2017, with overall output expanding by a reasonable 2.3% over 2016 levels. Additionally, the nation’s labor markets continued their steady improvement with over 2 million jobs added even as unemployment rates dropped to near record lows. In the Inland Empire, employment continues to show strong growth, outpacing other areas of Southern California. The added jobs have also driven the region’s unemployment rate to new lows.
Moreover, newly released data shows that within the last year, the Inland Empire’s housing market has been robust with both rents and home prices increasing. The region’s affordability advantage, relative to higher cost markets in Los Angeles and Orange County, has made the Inland Empire an attractive destination for new residents. Overall, the economic outlook for the region appears healthy. Sustained growth is expected in the near-term future, although potential labor shortages related to a lack of available housing may be a future constraint.
Once again the Inland Empire has outperformed both the state as a whole and the Southern California region in terms of key labor market statistics. Nonfarm employment in the Inland Empire rose 3.7% from January 2017 to January 2018. This is the second fastest growing nonfarm employment rate among California’s MSAs—following only Stockton. California as a whole had a 2.4% gain in nonfarm employment during this time while the Inland Empire’s neighbor, Los Angeles County, experienced only a 1.7% change.
Job growth in the Inland Empire has also improved the area’s unemployment rate, which fell to 4.5% in January 2018, a 1.3-percentage-point decrease from one year earlier. This drop in unemployment was one of the largest in the state and noticeably narrowed the gap between the Inland Empire’s unemployment rate and the rest of California. Historically, the Inland Empire’s economy has lagged both the state as a whole and other regions in Southern California in terms of job growth and unemployment. But years of growth driven by the area’s population-serving and logistics industries has transformed the region into one of California’s leading economies. As a result, the Inland Empire’s 4.5% unemployment rate is now in line with the state (4.4%) and neighboring Los Angeles County (4.5%.)
At the industry level, employment growth has been led by the Construction sector in the latest numbers, which added 11,000 jobs from January 2017 to January 2018. The 12.1% increase in Construction employment comes as real estate developers tap into the strong demand for real estate across Southern California. Second to Construction has been the Transport and Warehouse sector (logistics), which added 10,600 jobs over the same period. This represents a 9.6% year-over-year increase in Transport and Warehouse employment. The sector continues to expand, with Amazon recently opening two fulfillment centers in Riverside and Eastvale.1
In addition to more jobs, the Inland Empire has benefited from rising wages. Based on the latest data from the Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages (QCEW), the average annual wage in the region grew by 1.7% in the third quarter of 2017, rising to $44,600. Wages in professional, white collar related industries grew the most, led by the Management (9.6%), Administrative Support (7.6%), and Professional, Scientific, & Technical Services (5.2%) sectors. These gains were offset, however, by stagnant wage growth in the Inland Empire’s largest industries, including the Education/Health (0.3%) and Transport and Warehouse sectors, the latter of which actually saw wages fall by 4.0%. Despite recent wage growth among many sectors, low wages remain a challenge for the Inland Empire; the region has the lowest annual private-sector average wage among the nation’s 50 largest metropolitan areas.2
The Inland Empire’s economic expansion has generated greater consumer spending in the local area. From the fourth quarter of 2016 to the fourth quarter of 2017, taxable sales in the region increased 5.8%. At the county level within the Inland Empire, taxable sales grew by 6.5% in San Bernardino County and 5.0% in Riverside County over the last year.
At the city level, taxable sales growth varied across the Inland Empire during the fourth quarter of 2017. In Riverside County, the cities of Corona (16.1%) and Moreno Valley (14.1%) experienced significant increases in their taxable sales, while the City of Riverside registered a slight 1.1% growth rate. Leading San Bernardino County in taxable sales growth were the cities of Rancho Cucamonga (14.4%), San Bernardino (9.1%), and Fontana (7.3%). Other San Bernardino County cities, including Ontario (-4.2%) and Redlands (-1.5%), saw their taxable sales decline over the year.
According to an analysis of taxable receipts by HdL Companies, overall taxable sales receipts for the Inland Empire grew by 5.1% in the third quarter of 2017. Fuel and Service Stations experienced the largest year-over-year increase in taxable sales receipts, growing by 10.3% primarily due to rebounding oil prices. Taxable sales receipts in Building and Construction grew by 8.2%, as high housing demand and abundant space have spurred residential construction in the Inland Empire. Additionally, consumer spending at Restaurants and Hotels increased 4.8%, driven by the area’s strong tourism economy, which includes destinations such as Palm Springs, Joshua Tree National Park, and Coachella. Taxable sales receipts for Food and Drugs (+1.7%) and General Consumer Goods (+1.4%) increased only modestly from the year before. Tepid growth within General Consumer Goods reflects the difficulty faced by brick and mortar retail stores as Amazon, and e-commerce generally, continues to lure consumers online.
RESIDENTIAL REAL ESTATE
Due to the Inland Empire’s economic growth and relatively affordable housing costs, the region has become as one of Southern California’s fastest growing areas. From 2016 to 2017, the populations of Riverside and San Bernardino Counties grew 1.3% and 0.9%, respectively, outpacing the state (0.8%), Los Angeles County (0.6%) and Orange County (0.7%). Net migration to the Inland Empire continues to grow in contrast to other California regions, many of which have seen an exodus of residents due to high housing costs.
High demand for housing has resulted in steady gains in home prices. The median home price of an existing single-family home in the Inland Empire increased 9.0% year-over-year to reach $339,800 in the fourth quarter of 2017. In fact, the region experienced the fastest growing median home price in Southern California, followed by San Diego County (7.8%), Los Angeles County (6.6%), and Orange County (6.4%). The Inland Empire’s increase in its median home price also outpaced the state as a whole (8.7%).
Home sales have been relatively flat, with 14,800 transactions reported in the fourth quarter of 2017—a slight 0.5% increase over the year before. Comparatively, during the Inland Empire’s pre-recession peak, the number of home transactions regularly exceeded 20,000. Sales have been muted due to a limited inventory of existing homes (3.3 months of supply were available on the market as of December 2017) as well as a limited amount of new construction. Residential construction in the Inland Empire advanced somewhat slowly in the early years of the expansion, but surged in 2016 and 2017 in response to the heated housing market. In 2017, there were 10,145 single-family building permits issued, a 20.6% increase over 2016. Greater permitting activity, along with employment and spending increases in the Construction sector, has made real estate development one of the drivers of the Inland Empire’s economic growth. However, further increases in new construction are needed in order to meet demand and slow home price growth.
Compared to home prices, apartment rents in the Inland Empire have grown at a steadier rate. In the fourth quarter of 2017, the average asking rent in the region was up 2.7%, reaching $1,300/month. This growth rate was lower than some areas of Southern California, such as Los Angeles County (5.5%) and Orange County (3.9%), and in line with others, such as San Diego County (2.7%). Overall, while rents are still rising in the Inland Empire, recent quarterly data suggest that rent growth is decelerating, likely due to the large number of rental units that have come on line in the region in the last couple of years. The 2.7% rent growth in the fourth quarter of 2017 was the Inland Empire’s lowest growth rate since the third quarter of 2014. In 2015 and 2016, quarterly rent growth regularly exceeded 5%. The Inland Empire’s housing affordability advantage is clearly illustrated by comparing average asking rents across Southern California. The average monthly rent in the Inland Empire ($1,300) is significantly lower than the average rent in Los Angeles ($1,883), Orange County ($1,871), and San Diego County ($1,722).
Vacancy rates rose to 3.3% in the fourth quarter of 2017, up 0.8 percentage points from the fourth quarter of 2017. This marked the first time that vacancy rates in the Inland Empire were above 3% since the fourth quarter of 2015. Along with lower growth rates in rent, the uptick in vacancy rates suggests that increases in multi-family construction have helped alleviate low inventory in the rental market. In 2017, there were 3,500 multi-family building permits issued in the region, twice the number issued in 2016.
COMMERCIAL REAL ESTATE
Similar to other segments of the Inland Empire economy, commercial real estate in the region is growing steadily. Across all commercial real estate sectors, rents are rising, vacancy rates are falling, and permit values are up. In 2017, total non-residential permit values increased by 43.8%, led by growth in Office space (164%) and Industrial properties (122%). The Inland Empire’s commercial real estate market has benefited from the region’s growing population base and established logistics industry.
Average monthly rents for warehouse space in the Inland Empire rose 7.4% year to year to reach $0.45 per square foot as the local logistics industry continues to expand. In fact, the region has the fastest growing warehouse rents in Southern California, outpacing Los Angeles County (6.2%), Orange County (4.6%), and San Diego County (4.5%). However, it also has Southern California’s lowest warehouse rents due to the abundance of land available for development.
The Office market in the Inland Empire continues to post steady gains. The average monthly asking rent increased to $1.88 per square foot, up 2.2% from the fourth quarter of 2016. Office real estate experienced the least amount of rent growth among the region’s commercial real estate markets. The Inland Empire continues to struggle with attracting professional/business industries, which primarily inhabit Office real estate. Despite overall nonfarm employment growth in the region, there was a 2.5% employment loss in the Information sector and a 3.4% employment loss in the Management sector from January 2017 to January 2018.
Population and wage growth have increased demand for space in the Inland Empire’s Retail market. Between the fourth quarter of 2016 and the fourth quarter of 2017, average monthly retail rents rose by 2.6% to reach $1.89 per square foot. Indeed, the Inland Empire had the fastest growing retail rents in Southern California, with Los Angeles County, Orange County, and San Diego County all experiencing less than 2% rent growth in their Retail markets. Generally, low growth in retail rents reflect the challenging headwinds that face the retail industry as competition from e-commerce grows.
The UC Riverside School of Business Center for Economic Forecasting and Development’s outlook for industrial and commercial space in the Inland Empire remains positive. The area has increasingly become a destination for new businesses, as demonstrated by rising rents and falling vacancies across all commercial real estate sectors. Moreover, the Inland Empire’s low housing costs and skilled workforce will continue to attract businesses to the region.