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Riverside Press Enterprise

 

Good Jobs Come In Big Boxes

August 20, 2014

By Ben Boychuk

Fly into Ontario airport and you probably know the scene on approach. First the desert — a gorgeous desolation painted in a thousand shades of brown and tan, dotted here and there with homes and pools and the occasional golf course.

Then the mountains — the unmistakable San Bernardino range with stately San Gorgonio looming, and the San Jacintos to the south visible on a clear day. Finally, sprawling civilization thickens with cookie-cutter housing tracts laid out in grids and spirals.

As the plane descends further, homes and shops give way to something else: boxes. Really big boxes. The boxes line Interstate 10 north and south. They crowd I-15 from Ontario to Eastvale and Jurupa Valley. They affix to the 215 like barnacles. Box after box, with their slate gray rooftops, monotonous landscaping and utterly bland facades, reaffirm and underscore what the journalist H.L. Mencken famously called Americans' “libido for the ugly.”

Ah, but there is prosperity in those hideous boxes — and not just millions upon millions of square feet of brake pads, toilet seats and HDTVs stacked high and deep. We're talking jobs. And if we're lucky, we'll see plenty more of those godforsaken eyesores, because they represent a path to a middle-class life.

That the recession nearly killed us is hardly news. Riverside and San Bernardino counties had some of the highest unemployment and worst foreclosure rates in the state and the nation. Nearly one in five Inland residents lives in poverty. But little by little, the local regional economy has begun to turn around. And those big boxes are a big reason why. Just last week, Amazon — the online retailing powerhouse that everyone loves to hate — announced it would open a 700,000-square-foot fulfillment center in Redlands, north of I-10 and west of the 210. That's in addition to facilities in San Bernardino and Moreno Valley. The new warehouse will eventually employ more than 2,500 people full time.

Warehouse work is unglamorous, but it pays. (Amazon's median salary: $43,000 a year. Not too shabby.) Maybe more important, these warehouse jobs — logistics and goods movement, as they're known in the trade — don't require advanced degrees. That's an advantage in a region where 46 percent of the workforce has a high school degree or less.

Economist John Husing has been telling this story for a long time, arguing that logistics is the natural blue-collar successor to the industrial work at places like Kaiser Steel and Norton Air Force Base that made the Inland an Empire. With the Great Recession finally receding, Husing has a happy story to tell. “The Inland area added 46,833 jobs last year,” he told the P-E recently, “and 18.8 percent of those were in logistics.”

And demand is growing. As businesses are finally looking to expand, vacancies in industrial spaces are nearing historic lows. We have the land and it's still cheap — about 30 cents per square foot for industrial space, compared with 56 cents in Los Angeles County, 63 cents in Orange County and 78 cents in San Diego. What's more, Husing shows, Inland residents are more than happy to take a pay cut — upwards of 9 percent — if it means they can avoid the hellscape that is the 91.

So what's the bad news? Regulation, of course. With warehouses come trucks and trains, and with trucks and trains come traffic and pollution. The economy is growing in spite of the state's sweeping climate-change law, Assembly Bill 32, which puts strict caps on carbon emissions.

Does it matter to state regulators that residents would be commuting shorter distances to well-paying jobs, thereby polluting less? Or that these warehouses are good for not just the local economy but for the national economy as a whole? Not really. The California Air Resources Board admits the law is likely to raise fuel and energy prices, and these price increases will be reflected in higher prices of consumer goods, which will hurt low-income residents.

Recovery is precarious. Despite the truck traffic and the noise and the lights and the soul-sucking aesthetic banality of the places — those big boxes are a gift. If only the regulators stay out of the way.

Original Source: http://www.pe.com/articles/san-748522-boxes-big.html

 

 
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