Inland Empire Regional Intelligence Report
Second Quarter 2019
The Inland Empire was slow out of the gate to begin 2019, with the region’s employment growth running neck and neck with the state in terms of year-over-year gains. Increases were led by the Health Care, Government, and Leisure and Hospitality sectors. Job growth lowered the Inland Empire’s unemployment rate, but this was partly driven by weak growth in the region’s labor force. Wage growth over the past year fueled activity in many sectors, reflected in recent impressive increases in taxable sales. With interest rates low, housing has the potential to perform better than expected in the 2019 peak season.
The latest numbers from California’s Employment Development Department indicate that employment growth in the Inland Empire has slowed in recent months. From May 2018 to May 2019, the region added 25,700 nonfarm jobs, a 1.7% increase. This edged out the 1.6% gains in the state and nation over the same period.
Wages in the Inland Empire are also increasing modestly. Overall earnings in the region grew 2.6% from 2017 to 2018, with wages increasing 2.8% in Riverside County and 2.4% in San Bernardino County. Over the period, wages in the state overall grew 4.1%. Continued upward pressure on wages is expected as labor markets tighten throughout Southern California.
The slowdown in employment growth is also hitting the region’s labor force. From May 2018 to May 2019, the Inland Empire’s labor force grew just 0.1%, increasing by just 2,000. Even so, this outpaced Los Angeles (-0.6%) and Orange (-0.5%) counties. In contrast, the labor force in California expanded 0.7% over the period. With modest gains in household employment (5,400) and a decline in the labor force, the unemployment rate in the Inland Empire inched down to 3.9% in May 2019, a 0.2-percentage-point decline from a year earlier.
At the industry level, job growth has been broad-based, with most Inland Empire sectors having expanded their payrolls over the last year. Education and Health Care provided the largest number of new jobs; payrolls grew by 11,400 (4.8%) positions from May 2018 to May 2019. The Government sector was second, adding 5,400 (2.1%) jobs. Most of the new Government positions came from Local Government (3,300), with Local Government Education (2,300) driving much of the growth. The Leisure and Hospitality sector also continued to provide a significant number of jobs, with payrolls growing by 4,100 (2.4%). This was followed by Administrative Support, which added 3,900 (3.9%) positions, and Transportation and Warehousing with 3,500 (2.8%).
A few sectors in the Inland Empire lost positions over the last year. Losses were most prominent in the Other Services sector, which shed 1,400 jobs (-3.1%). Jobs in this sector include equipment and machinery repairing, dry cleaning and laundry services, and personal care services. Other sectors posting losses over the last year were Wholesale Trade, which reduced payrolls by 900 (-1.5%), Manufacturing, which lost 900 jobs (-0.8%), and Management, which cut payrolls by 600 (-7.0%).
An uptick in construction spending and sustained gains in job counts have spurred local spending. From the first quarter of 2018 to the first quarter of 2019, taxable sales in the Inland Empire increased 7.8%, trailing the state overall (8.3%). Riverside County’s overall taxable sales increased 7.7% during this period, and within the County, the cities of Palm Desert (6.0%) and Moreno Valley (4.9%) had considerable gains, while taxable sales grew modestly in Riverside (0.5%) and declined in Corona (-2.4%). In San Bernardino County, taxable sales increased 7.9%, and within the County, Fontana (6.2%), San Bernardino (5.1%) and Rancho Cucamonga (4.9%) led the way.
Nearly every spending category in the Inland Empire grew in the first quarter of 2019. Business-to-business spending led the way, with Business and Industry sales tax receipts increasing 5.4% from the first quarter of 2018 to the first quarter of 2019.
Consumer spending at Restaurants and Hotels increased 3.7%, followed by Food and Drug Stores, where spending increased 1.6% over the period. Current economic trends have been good for Hospitality and Tourism. Following the gains in Leisure and Hospitality employment and Restaurant and Hotel spending, passenger traffic at Ontario International Airport continued to expand. A total of 5.12 million passengers passed through the airport in 2018, a 12.4% increase over 2017 and the highest since 2008. 2019 is on track for an even better year, with 1.64 million passengers having passed through the airport through April, a 5.2% increase over the same period in 2018.
The uptick in commercial construction activity in the Inland Empire and other parts of Southern California boosted sales tax receipts 1.3% in the Building and Construction category from the first quarter of 2018 to the first quarter of 2019. The increase indicates that developers are using local suppliers for projects and, more important, are building desperately needed housing stock, which will be crucial for continued economic vitality in the region.
As expected, given the decline in fuel prices early in 2019, taxable receipts at Fuel and Services Stations declined to begin the year. There was a 1.6% decrease from the first quarter of 2018 to the first quarter of 2019. Rising fuel prices in recent months should push this total back up this summer.
Trade through the Ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles totaled $119.9 billion in the first four months of 2019, a 5.4% decrease over the same period in 2018. Total trade with China had the steepest decline, declining 14.4% over the period to $52.5 billion. But this decline was partly offset by a significant increase in total trade with Vietnam over the period, rising 21.8% to $8.6 billion. Even if the trade war with China escalates, however, it would not be enough to end the current economic expansion in the United States or the region. Further, growth in the transportation and warehousing space in the Inland Empire is compensating for some of the trade losses. Indeed, Ontario International Airport recently became the nation’s busiest airport for outbound cargo, and Amazon is seeking 2,000 workers for its fulfillment centers in Rialto and Fontana1.
1Katzanek, J. (2019, June 04). “Here’s how to apply for 2,000 new Amazon jobs.” Retrieved from https://www.pe.com/2019/06/04/heres-how-to-apply-for-2000- new-amazon-jobs/
RESIDENTIAL REAL ESTATE
The Inland Empire is viewed by many as a desirable place to live because of the space and amenities the region offers. It is also one of the last bastions of relatively affordable real estate in Southern California. This combination of space, amenities, and affordability has helped drive continued gains in home prices. The median price of an existing single-family home in the Inland Empire was $358,900 in the first quarter of 2019, a 2.0% increase from a year earlier. Year-over-year price gains in the region surpassed those in Los Angeles (0.8%), Orange (-0.1%) and San Diego (1.8%) Counties but trailed growth in the state as a whole (2.2%).
As in much of the state, home sales slowed noticeably in the second half of 2018 and into 2019. Just over 12,800 homes sold in the Inland Empire in the first quarter of 2019, a 11.4% decrease from a year earlier. Quarterly home sales were at their lowest level since the first quarter of 2015, although recent declines in mortgage rates and increases in supply may stop the slide in sales as the year progresses. Affordability remains a strong selling point for real estate in the Inland Empire and should continue to lure would-be buyers. This demand should also lead to modest price appreciation over the next year. Additional housing stock will be critical in attracting residents and helping strengthen the Inland Empire’s growing employment base.
With homeownership out of reach for many Inland Empire residents, demand in the rental market remains strong. Although new units pushed up apartment vacancy rates from recent lows, the rate stood at 3.3% in the first quarter of 2019, lower than in Los Angeles (3.6%), Orange (4.0%) and San Diego (3.9%) counties. At the same time, average asking rent was $1,370 in the first quarter of 2019, up 3.5% from the same period a year earlier. Renters enjoy significant cost savings compared with the coastal markets, with average asking rents significantly higher in Los Angeles ($2,029), Orange ($1,961) and San Diego ($1,830) counties.
Residential construction activity remains tepid in the Inland Empire. Only 3,149 residential units were permitted in the first quarter of 2019, a 2.2% decrease over the same period in 2018. The bulk continues to be for single-family units, which fell 18.7% to 2,237 units in the first quarter of 2018. Multifamily permitting increased relative to last year, with 1,011 permits issued in the first quarter of 2019, more than doubling from the previous year. Given that population growth in Riverside County (1.1%) and San Bernardino County (1.0%) outpaced that of the state (0.5%), Los Angeles County (0.0%) and Orange County (0.3%) from 2018 to 2019, construction activity must also maintain a steady pace to preserve the region’s affordability and enable growth.
COMMERCIAL REAL ESTATE
As the Inland Empire’s economic expansion continues, so does the local commercial real estate market. New stock continues to come online, vacancy rates are falling, and rents remain affordable relative to Los Angeles and Orange counties. These attributes make the region a prime location for businesses to start up, expand or move to.
The Inland Empire’s expanding Logistics sector is driving demand for warehouse and distribution space. New stock, rather than declining demand, caused the vacancy rate to increase to 8.0% in the first quarter of 2019, a 1.1-percentage-point increase from the first quarter of 2018. In addition, the 4.2% gain in asking rents from the first quarter of 2018 to the first quarter of 2019 reaffirms that demand for warehouse and logistic space remains strong. This pace of growth is the swiftest in Southern California, with asking rents in Los Angeles (3.0%), Orange (2.4%) and San Diego (3.1%) counties growing at a more modest pace. Occupied warehouse stock in the region grew 3.7% from the first quarter of 2018 to the first quarter of 2019, as businesses clamored for warehouse and distribution center space.
Research and development industrial space is also in high demand in the Inland Empire. Vacancy rates fell to 4.7% in the first quarter of 2019, a 0.5-percentage-point decline from a year earlier. Asking rents are also rising steadily, increasing 2.5% from the first quarter of 2018 to the first quarter of 2019, to an annual rate of $8.63 per square foot. Asking rent has grown more rapidly in the Inland Empire than in Orange County (2.2%), but slower than in Los Angeles County (3.25%). More important, asking rents remain significantly more affordable, with Inland Empire companies enjoying a roughly 33% savings relative to Los Angeles and about 28% over Orange County.
Rising employment is driving demand for office space in the Inland Empire. Vacancy rates declined to 16.6% in the first quarter of 2019, down 0.5 percentage point from the first quarter of 2018. At the same time, the average asking rent for office space increased to an annual rate of $22.90 per square foot, up 1.5% from one year earlier. Businesses can enjoy significant cost savings in the Inland Empire relative to Los Angeles and Orange counties. Moreover, asking rents grew more rapidly in these coastal markets over the past year, increasing 2.8% in Los Angeles County and 3.6% in Orange County.
Demand for retail space has remained fairly stable over the last year in the Inland Empire. Retail vacancy rates inched up from their lowest point since before the recession, increasing to 9.8% in the first quarter of 2019, 0.4% increase from a year earlier. This increase, however, occurred as 271,000 square feet of new retail space came online over the last year. Strong demand drove the average asking rent to an annual rate of $23.12 per square foot in the first quarter of 2019, a 1.4% increase over the first quarter of 2018.
Steady demand is also responsible for higher permitting activity for most nonresidential buildings. Permitting for new nonresidential structures in the first quarter of 2019 was 16.0% higher than in the first quarter of 2018, reaching nearly $796 million in total value. A significant portion of the permitting was for industrial space, with valuations totaling over $403 million in the first quarter of 2019, a slight decrease from the same period in 2018. Permitting activity for retail space in the Inland Empire increased, with $101 million in permits issued in the first quarter of 2019, roughly 24.2% higher than in the first quarter of 2018. Permitting activity for office space declined, totaling just $11.3 million in the first quarter of 2019, a 65% decrease from the same period a year earlier.