SAN FRANCISCO -- The Bay Area job market is at a five-year high, having recovered nearly all the jobs erased by the Great Recession and heading toward the sky-high employment levels of the dot-com boom, according to the Bay Area Council's annual economic forecast.
"The Bay Area will continue to grow much more quickly than the state and the nation, and by the end of 2015, job totals in the Bay Area will be back to the levels of the dot-com period," Jerry Nickelsburg, a senior economist with the UCLA Anderson Forecast, said in an interview after his presentation to the council Tuesday.
At present, the nine-county Bay Area employment totals are about 282,000 jobs below the peak of just under 3.6 million reached in January 2001. So the region would have to add an average of roughly 10,500 jobs a month to regain the heights of the dot-com boom by the end of 2015.
That would be a steep increase in the pace of job gains in recent months. During 2012, the Bay Area posted an average gain of about 9,400 jobs a month, but over the 12 months that ended in August, the average gain was about 5,600, this newspaper's analysis of data from the Employment Development Department shows.
Jordan Levine, an economist with Beacon Economics, said the council's glowing forecast, which is sponsored by Accenture and the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, is "not outlandish," though at the upper end of what he expects to see in job growth.
"We do expect growth to pick up in 2014 and 2015 after we get past the headwinds from Washington, D.C.," he said.
The Bay Area has a recent precedent for rapid job growth. During 2000, the average gain for the region was 12,000 a month.
"As the U.S. economy speeds up, the Bay Area will speed up," Nickelsburg said.
Next year, total payroll jobs should increase by about 2.6 percent in the Bay Area, 1.9 percent in California, and 1.6 percent in the United States, according to estimates presented at the forecast. During 2015, they are expected to increase by about 3.3 percent in the Bay Area, 2.2 percent in California and 1.7 percent in the U.S.
The South Bay is the key player in both the job gains that have occurred and those anticipated.
"Santa Clara County is driving the job growth in the Bay Area," noted Tracey Grose, vice president of the Bay Area Council's Economic Institute.
During the 12 months that ended in August, the Bay Area gained 62,000 jobs, and 26,000 of those, or 42 percent of the total, were in Santa Clara County. The San Francisco-San Mateo-Marin metro area gained 21,000 jobs, or 34 percent.
The Bay Area's recovery of jobs lost since the depths of the financial meltdown is a key benchmark. "From a psychological standpoint, this is huge," Grose said.
The tech sector is the main driver of the Bay Area's employment surge, but industries such as retail, biotech, health care and communications also are important players.
In addition to the jobs created directly by the tech sector, there are spinoff effects, said John Del Santo, senior managing director for Accenture, an outsourcing and consulting firm. He said every new tech job helps to spin off 4.5 other jobs in retail, housing, financial services and other sectors.
"Tech is important, but a lot of industries are contributing to this," Del Santo said.
Despite the rosy outlook, experts warn that the region faces challenges from shortages of skilled labor, heavy traffic and an inadequate supply of affordable housing.
Contact George Avalos at 408-859-5167. Follow him at Twitter.com/georgeavalos