Ventura County was once the jewel of Southern California, blessed with miles of pristine coastline, the best weather in the world, great schools, open spaces and proximity to Los Angeles without the overcrowding and decay of L.A.’s mismanaged urban sprawl.
So why are Ventura County residents fleeing at an alarming rate?
In its latest report, California Lutheran University’s Center for Economic Research and Forecasting (CERF) in Thousand Oaks calculated that the county population has returned to its 2012 level following two decades of sustained decline. Ventura County is not only experiencing a long-term outflux of residents, but the rate at which they are fleeing is accelerating, according to the respected economic forecast.
In 18 of the last 19 years, the number of people leaving the county was greater than the number arriving from elsewhere in the United States, the report found. That number culminated most recently in 12,600 more people leaving the county than arriving when the COVID-19 pandemic began.
The reason? Unhealthy social and economic conditions strong enough to override the county’s attractive benefits.
“We have long regarded net domestic [population] flows as an important indicator of relative economic opportunity,” CERF’s report stated. “When economic opportunity is relatively high in a region, net domestic flows are positive. When it is relatively low, these flows reverse.”
As the county declines economically, it is less able to attract everything from large company headquarters and operations to start-up businesses, franchisees and entrepreneurs. CERF calls this population loss a “late-stage manifestation of the region’s economic weakness.” It noted a large loss of high-paying jobs — jobs which in the past have supported Ventura County’s higher cost of living and excellence in everything from civic works to public schools.
Indeed, the county’s labor force peaked in 2009 during the Great Recession, then entered “sustained decline” in every year from 2012 to the start of the pandemic — a persistent but obvious problem which has mostly gone unaddressed by county or city leaders, even as government payrolls have ballooned and the County alone now spends $2,700,000,000 per year for a region with just 890,000 residents.
“The number of people living in Ventura County who are actively working or seeking to work has declined by a shocking 23,200 people since 2009, a decrease of more than 5 percent,” the forecast reported.
To blame, according to its authors, are County Supervisors who created a business-hostile environment even before aggressively shutting down and harassing huge sectors of the business community for two years in response to the COVID virus from Wuhan, China. Any effort to return to the region’s former economic glory, says the CERF report, will require “a deliberate effort to be more business friendly” on the part of County leaders.
Undoubtedly, policymakers in Sacramento contributed to the exodus to states like Texas, Idaho, Florida and Tennessee through radical closure policies toward schools, churches and businesses, not to mention the plague of social engineering programs and increasing crime. Indeed, California’s overall population declined for the first time in 2021 — that is, except for the population of homeless people, which has risen dramatically in the last decade, including in Ventura County. The City of Ventura is locally infamous as a hotbed of homelessness, drawing criticism from residents over the quality-of-life issues stemming from leaders’ reluctance to confront the issue effectively.
As the Conejo Guardian previously reported, County leaders implemented every onerous state guideline and mandate over the past two years, suffocating the economy, and much of public and private life — while County government grew 12.2 percent in a single year. The CERF report also noted that Ventura County was the last county in Southern California to recover from the Great Recession of 2008-9, taking a full seven years to bounce back to previous levels.
That does not bode well for the future.
“Given the County’s pre-existing weakness, we expect recovery from the pandemic recession to also be slower than the recoveries in neighboring counties,” it warned, offering a picture of a region that may never regain its once-enviable economic and social vibrancy, except under new leadership.
It continues, “The combination of negative net migration, a shrinking labor force, declining population, and unfavorable compositional changes to the County’s workforce mean[s] that Ventura County’s economy was chronically weak even as the California and U.S. economies were experiencing sustained economic expansion.”
Stunningly, the report estimates that Ventura County’s GDP growth is anticipated to be “anemic” compared to “almost any other geography, including L.A. County.”
This means the county’s population — and the number of business owners, entrepreneurs, highly skilled workers and innovators — will almost certainly shrink even more.
Looking ahead, CERF forecasts “a worsening net out-migration of residents to the point that the rate is double what it was pre-pandemic.”
For data-lovers, the reality is obvious: Ventura County residents are watching the real-time decline of a once-great region, suffering from policies that are literally driving people away and gutting the economy.