A look at where Santa Cruz County is ‘post’ recession
The recession is over … or is it? There are so many facets to the economy that it’s hard to tell if Santa Cruz County is on the road to recovery in the wake of the economic recession of the past couple years.
For someone like Mina Feuerhaken (pictured here), the owner of Nut Kreations with her husband Brody Feuerhaken, a small business in Downtown Santa Cruz that opened late this April, Santa Cruz County is in stages of recovery.
Her optimism about her business is largely based in the confidence she has in her product. “I feel that a lot of creative ideas and businesses come out of recessions because you have to find something that drives people and makes them want to spend their money with you,” Feuerhaken says. “But even just opening our business was a helpful drive for the economy; the vendors we buy from, the people that helped set up the place—we’re giving them our business and helping give them jobs.”
Feuerhaken’s sentiments are supported in an article written by Bill Tysseling, the executive director of the Santa Cruz Chamber of Commerce, that was posted on the Chamber’s website in March. “It is apparent that the economy is growing and that there are some new directions in the make-up of local businesses,” Tysseling writes. “The most recent evidence is the size and make-up of this year’s annual Business Fair. For the first time since 2007, local businesses will fill the Business Fair’s more than 100 booths and tables.”
Peter Koht, the city’s economic development manager, is also optimistic about economic recovery locally. “We are in a good place to battle this economy,” Koht says. “The retail market from say 2008 and 2007 to now is like night and day. There is a lot of opportunity, plenty of new businesses popping up and expanding.iIt’s a great time for growing businesses, and we’ve really seen the city step up.”
Economic conditions are also on the upward slope according to Tonée Picard, executive vice president and chief development officer of Bay Federal Credit Union. “We’re seeing a stabilization of the economy, just based on a few key indicators,” she says. “People are starting to borrow again, there has been an uptick in our loans, auto loans and refinancing homes due to all time low interest rates, [and] we’ve been meeting our lending goals. We are noting that credit scores are improving and the saving rates are still very high.”
Although Picard’s observations are promising, she also recognizes the hardship she’s witnessed in the community. Bay Federal has responded to community need by holding free adult seminars for members and non-members about how to manage money, how to lower credit scores, and what a budget is. “Our goal is to keep people in their homes and their autos,” Picard says. “It doesn’t always happen, but if it’s at all possible, that’s what we do. And although the economic situation is significantly better than two years ago, we are not without challenges.”
“Challenges” is an understatement for someone like Tara McCabe. A local part-time professor of Social Justice at Hartnell College, McCabe continues to run into hardship as a result of the recession. After having her classes cut from three to one this semester, McCabe and her family (which also includes her unemployed partner and their 16-year-old daughter) have faced hunger, fallen dangerously close to homelessness and were threatened with having their water services removed many times in the past year.
The saving grace for McCabe and her family came in form of the Community In Action Board’s Shelter Project, which provides rental assistance for families with children, seniors and disabled people to help them avoid eviction. With the program’s aid, McCabe’s family was able to pay three months of their rent when they could not make ends meet. “There are a lot of people suffering in silence,” she says. “We use the phrase ‘blanket of shame’ around asking for help because we used to be the ones donating, we used to volunteer, and now we’re asking for help. If you’ve never had to go to social services or get unemployment, there’s this feeling that you’ve done something wrong. It’s really hard and humbling.”
Like McCabe, Shelter Project Program Director Paul Brindel believes that recovery in Santa Cruz County is not as certain as some may say. “The need for our emergency rental assistance program hasn’t decreased,” says Brindel. “For the past year and a half it’s been about as bad as I’ve seen it.” He cites continued high rates of unemployment coupled with the remarkably costly rents in Santa Cruz County as the biggest factors that make the Shelter Program and other Community in Action Board programs so necessary.
While such programs are meeting the needs of some, they may be facing up to 50 percent cuts to their federal funding. “At a time of rising poverty, it doesn’t make sense to cut effective programs that help the poorest individuals who rely on their innovative solutions,” says Christine Johnson-Lyons, the executive director of the Board.
The poverty rates are consequences of the high unemployment rates. According to the Employment Development Department’s (EDD) latest unemployment and industry jobs data, this past August, the unemployment rate for Santa Cruz County was 10.7 percent, compared with California’s unadjusted unemployment rate of 11.9 percent and the nation’s 9.1 percent. for the same time period.
“It’s going to take a very long, slow, painful recovery to get back to where we were before this recession started,” says Gary McNeil, senior analyst with the Work Force Investment Board of Santa Cruz County. “Between March of 2007 and March of 2010, Santa Cruz County lost 11,100 non-farm jobs. In the following year since then, through March of 2011 we gained back 2,400 of those jobs. Farm employment during that period has either grown or stayed steady, so the growth kind of mitigated some of the job loss in other areas or industries.”
The situation may seem challenging from some ends, and increasingly positive from others, but most can agree that residents of Santa Cruz County have one thing going for them: “As hard as things are, hey, at least we’re in Santa Cruz,” says McCabe. “You apply for a bunch of jobs and you feel shut down a little bit, but then you walk down to the beach, and you think, ‘Wow, look at where I am—one of the most beautiful places in the world.’”
Nut Kreations 104 Lincoln St Santa Cruz, CA 95060 (831) 431-6435 www.nutkreations.com
Open Mon,Sun 11am-6pm; Tue-Thu 11am-7pm; Fri-Sat 11am-8pm
Photo credit: Kena Parker