SAN JOSE -- The U.S. economy still faces headwinds but the South Bay and other parts of the Bay Area have improved nicely during the economic recovery, the Obama administration's top labor official said Monday.
"I'm pleased to see the improvement in the Bay Area economy," U.S. Labor Secretary Hilda Solis said in an interview with this newspaper. "The Bay Area has benefitted from the economic recovery."
The South Bay in particular has become a nationwide leader in employment growth. During the 12 months that ended in May, Santa Clara County powered the nation's largest percentage gain in payroll jobs, a 3.5 percent increase. That was just ahead of the No. 2 large urban center, the Houston region, which was up 3.4 percent, the Labor Department reported.
"Professional and business services are growing strongly," Solis said in the interview. That industry category is dominated by high technology, which is the Bay Area's economic engine in the current business cycle. Solis also noted that other Bay Area strong suits are faring well, such as trade, education, leisure and hospitality.
The Bay Area also has benefitted from the Obama administration's investments in green-energy programs.
Some investments, though, such as certain loan guarantees from the Energy Department, haven't fared as well. The Energy Department approved a high-profile financing scheme for Fremont-based Solyndra,
The labor secretary was in the Bay Area to highlight success stories in local efforts to retrain people for skills needed to land jobs in an economy that has yet to fully rebound from the recession.
In San Jose, Solis visited the Center for Employment Training, or CET, located just south of the city's downtown. After that, she toured a Goodwill complex in North San Jose.
During her visit, Solis urged people who want to get jobs to be certain they have ready-to-employ skills in their employment tool kits.
"Employers like people who are ready to start work right away," she told a few dozen trainees at CET. "You need to have your credentials, you need to have an advanced certificate. In the years to come, it will no longer be enough to only have a high school diploma."
The placement rate for people trained through the CET facility is in the 70 to 80 percent range.
At the center, she visited with people being trained for medical assistant, medical technician, construction, electrician and culinary jobs.
Solis also took the opportunity at the CET complex to urge federal politicians to preserve funding for these kinds of training centers.
"We have an economy that is still very fragile," she said. "To give people opportunities is very important. Now is not the time to cut back on these programs. We want to see more jobs created. We want to be sure there will be advanced training available."
One of those receiving medical training through CET is Graciela Barron, a Redwood City resident who hopes to eventually become a doctor.
"I'm going to get there little by little," she said.
Sebastian Masala, a San Jose resident and culinary trainee at CET, has his sights set at the entrepreneur level.
"I want to open my own restaurant," Masala said. "If you set your mind to it and work hard, you can achieve your goals. CET helps you do that."
Contact George Avalos at 925-977-8477. Follow him at twitter.com/george_avalos.