A Picture-Perfect View of California’s Economy

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You want economic numbers? California has got economic numbers, whether they come from the UCLA Anderson Forecast or the Center for the Continuing Study of the California Economy or the economic forecasts issued by Chapman University in Orange County.

But if you want to see how our state's economy is doing with your own eyes, there's a way you can do your own forecast: Find your way to Los Angeles and take a drive down to the southern tip of the city, in the neighborhood of San Pedro. Just before you reach the end of S. Gaffey Street, you'll find yourself up on a hill. On one side of the street is a park containing the Korean Friendship Bell, an underappreciated landmark. On the other side is a cliff with a scenic overlook where you can stop your car -- and stare out over two massive seaports that together make up the largest container port in the United States.

The Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach are enormous, with containers stacked high and as far as the eye can see. And in a place like California, a place of immigrants and trade-oriented businesses, the ports are our destiny.

Last year, when the economy went bad, port traffic fell badly, by more than 20 percent at Long Beach and 14 percent at Los Angeles. But when I stopped to look out over the ports last week, I could see that the state economy is beginning its march back. The port looked busier than I had seen it in a long time. Not only were full ships being unloaded, but container cranes seemed busier than I can recall loading up ships. Yep, exports are back. Which means jobs must be coming back, too.

My eyes weren't lying. The most recent numbers on traffic in the ports, for March 2010, show big gains in exports -- up nearly 16 percent at the Port of Los Angeles and a tick under 11 percent at Long Beach -- over the March 2009 numbers.

If the view remains good from San Pedro for a few more months, you won't have to consult an economist to know that California is back.

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