Northern valley economy a bright spot

Economic growth has been swifter in the Northern San Joaquin Valley this decade than in California or the nation as a whole, new data show.

The U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis released statistics Wednesday calculating the gross domestic product for Stanislaus, San Joaquin and Merced counties, along with GDP for 360 other U.S. metropolitan areas.

The figures show that economic output expanded faster in the valley than in most other parts of the country from 2001 through 2005.

During those years, the GDP grew nearly 37 percent in Stanislaus, 33 percent in San Joaquin and 39 percent in Merced, compared with 24 percent in California and 23 percent in the United States.

GDP is the measure of "the market value of final goods and services produced," which the Bureau of Economic Analysis considers the most comprehensive measure of economic activity.

This is the first time the bureau has released such detailed GDP statistics for metropolitan areas.

"This really reflects some really good news for Stanislaus County's economy," said Bill Bassitt, who heads the Stanislaus Economic Development and Workforce Alliance. "It reinforces what people have felt, which is that we have had a pretty good run."

Bassitt said that previously, there had been only anecdotal evidence that Stanislaus' businesses were doing well.

"Now, this allows us to document a strong economy," Bassitt said. "It allows us an opportun- ity to be positive about the business opportunities in our county."

Private companies also can use these new, highly detailed economic statistics, said Bill Herrin, a University of Pacific economics professor.

"This could be a boon to local businesses who can use them as a guide," Herrin suggested. He said companies with economic problems or those looking for new opportunities "can use this information to tell which direction to move."

Here's the best part: The economic statistics are free and available to everyone online.

"This is a really nice thing the Bureau of Economic Analysis is doing," said Herrin, noting how all that's required to use the data is an Internet connection and a basic knowledge of spreadsheets.

Thousands of GDP statistics for 89 industrial sectors of the economy in each county for each year have been posted. Data are available in current-dollar and inflation-adjusted formats.

The data can be used to compare economic growth from one year to another, from one industry to another and between one region and another.

For instance, Stanislaus' economy grew faster in 2002 than any other year this decade. Its GDP rose 7 percent that year, which was nearly triple the national average.

Comparing one industry to another reveals some surprising facts.

Though it may have seemed that houses sprang up faster than crops in Stanislaus County from 2001 through 2005, the economic statistics tell a different story.

Farm products blossom

The market value of Stanislaus' agricultural products soared 91 percent during those years, rising to more than $1.1 billion in 2005. The market value of its construction industry, by contrast, increased 40 percent, rising to $920 million in 2005.

After quickly reviewing the statistics, Herrin said he was surprised by how big a role agriculture still plays in the valley's economy.

Example: In 2005, more than 6.3 percent of Stanislaus' and nearly 17.5 percent of Merced's GDP came from producing crops and animals. By comparison, such ag products accounted for only about 1 percent of GDP in California and the nation.

Bassitt spotted another economic trend that he considers positive: Manufacturing was stronger in Stanislaus than it was in California as a whole. The county's manufacturing GDP grew 9.2 percent from 2001 through 2005, compared with just 2.8 percent statewide.

The bureau's Web site allows the GDP statistics to be adjusted for inflation. Using that method of comparison, Stanislaus' so-called "real GDP" for manufacturing grew less than 5 percent.

By using computerized spreadsheets to manipulate the statistics, the bureau said, the numbers potentially can be used in "determining the overall size and growth of metropolitan economies, assessing the impacts of natural or man-made disasters on cities, and analyzing comparative industrial growth across metropolitan America."

For 2005, the statistics showed that real GDP grew in 327 of the 363 metropolitan areas in the United States. Stanislaus ranked in the top third for GDP growth for all metropolitan areas.

Bee staff writer J.N. Sbranti can be reached at jnsbranti@modbee.com or 578-2196.