From a business perspective, 2011 was a year of “maybes” for two sectors of the economy that matter most to many – jobs and housing.
Although job creation happened at a slow pace, labor markets improved throughout the year.
Housing prices remained well below their pre-crash peaks, but an apparent slowdown in foreclosures signaled that real estate is on a path toward greater price stability and predictability.
In the last month of 2011, economists from the UCLA Anderson Forecast and Beacon Economics say the country is not at risk of a double-dip recession. But as the world waits to find out what will happen if – or when – Greece and other European countries default on their debts, it is not clear whether the incremental economic improvements of the past year will be sustained.
The nation’s jobless may not be able to take much consolation in the labor market’s slow recovery, but federal and state numbers do at least show that unemployment has dropped throughout the course of the year.
In the Inland Empire, unemployment fell by roughly 1percent – to 13.3percent – in the 12 months before October.
The region’s unemployment rate improved again to 12.5percent in November, and December’s hiring figures will be available in January.
A lingering problem, however, for the Inland Empire is the widespread expectation that the region will not be able to rely upon government and construction employment as its bread and butter even if the economy continues to improve.
The toxic political atmosphere in Washington, D.C., is another obstacle to a healthier job market, economists said in 2011. As long as Republicans and Democrats are unable to make fiscal policy in good faith, employers are less likely to hire or make other investments.
The residential real estate market continued to be weak in 2011.
of pricing, the most recent statistics show that San Bernardino County homes’ median price hit $155,000, which is actually about 2percent higher than prices one year prior.
Real estate firm DataQuick Information Services also reported that Los Angeles County home prices dipped roughly 5percent to $308,000, and Southern California prices fell by about 4percent to $275,000.
Absentee buyers remain a big part of the housing market, purchasing a record 28.9percent of Southern California homes in November.
The big question hanging over the real estate market is how large of a “shadow inventory” of future foreclosures may push prices further down in 2012.
Foreclosure filings trended downward for much of 2011, but the development may not signal an improvement in homeowners’ finances but simply a more deliberate proceedings on the part of banks.
Recent data may indeed signal a resurgence of foreclosures in the first months of 2012.
All types of foreclosure filings in San Bernardino and Los Angeles counties, respectively, jumped about 30 and 15percent in November, according to data maintained by RealtyTrac.
The high numbers of available foreclosures can make life hard for builders selling new homes, but that doesn’t mean builders shied away from the market in 2011.
KB Home opened the year with new homes on sale in Fontana, after holding a grand opening for a 171-house development in December 2010.
Other builders willing to take a chance include Standard Pacific and Lennar, who both sought to entice buyers to new neighborhoods in Chino’s College Park area.
At College Park, as well as the Rosena Ranch neighborhood near northern San Bernardino, Lennar altered its strategies by introducing “NextGen” homes, designed to house two generations of the same family.
The NextGen homes are designed for seniors moving in with their children or young adults unable to afford to live away from their parents.
Other notable developments
Watson Land Co. begins construction of a 616,542- square-foot distribution center in Redlands, at Pioneer and California avenues. The building is the Inland Empire’s first speculative industrial development in more than two years.
Mining firm Molycorp holds a big celebration in May at its mine at Mountain Pass, which is near the 15 Freeway and just on San Bernardino County’s side of the Nevada state line. The mine is the only place in the United States where rare-earth metals, chemical elements with a variety of high-tech applications, are extracted from the earth.
Embassy Suites Ontario Airport opens in June.
Borders reduces its number of stores, and then ceases to exist, in a two-stage liquidation. The second stage begins in August and ends with the former retail giant vanishing from shopping centers in Rancho Cucamonga and Riverside, after disappearing from and Chino and Montclair earlier in the year. A Best Buy store is expected to move into the Chino vacancy in 2013.
Grocery workers at Albertsons, Ralphs and Vons stores in Southern California went to the brink of a strike as their bosses prepared to hire temporary workers, but the sides reached an agreement on a new contract in August.
UFI Industries, a furniture maker based in Mississippi, in September announces plans to open a new factory in Victorville in 2012.
In November, Adidas purchases Redlands-based shoemaker Five Ten for $25 million in stock. Starbucks acquires San Bernardino-based juice company Evolution Fresh for $30 million later that month.
Farrell’s Ice Cream Parlour Restaurant returns to the Inland Empire as a new franchise opens in December in Rancho Cucamonga.
Reach Andrew via email, call him at 909-483-8550, or find him on Twitter @InlandBizz.