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Western economies expanding faster; HI Impressive

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Fed: Western economies expanding faster; Hawaii 'impressive'

The economies of Hawaii and other states of the U.S. are experiencing "rapid and sustained growth," the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco says in its quarterly report on its territory.

"With the economy gaining ground, job growth has picked up noticeably and spread throughout the district," the regional bank said.

The report, called Western Economic Developments, said California lags other Western states at the moment. It said the San Francisco Bay Area saw employment grow 24 percent in 1995-2000, only to lose 12 percent of total jobs in 2000-2003. Seattle and Portland saw gains of 22 percent and 19 percent, respectively, in the former period, and lost 6 percent of jobs in the latter. "During much of 2002 and 2003, Oregon and Washington had the highest employment rates among all states," the report said, but this year San Francisco, Seattle and Portland all have stable IT employment again.

Other Western states are "the advance guard for the job recovery now spreading through the nation," the report said. "Arizona, Hawaii and Nevada posted impressive gains." In May, when Hawaii unemployment was 3 percent, the lowest of any state, Arizona joblessness was 5.1 percent and Nevada unemployment stood at 4.1 percent. California, by contrast, had 6.2 percent unemployment, and 28 percent of unemployment Californians have been looking for work for more than six months.

Hawaii information employment is actually down from last year, mainly due to the closure of several call centers that had been operated by mainland companies, a phenomenon that cost hundreds of jobs. But employment in all nine of the other job areas tracked by the Fed are up, including, to give two important examples, professional and business services up 3.4 percent, and educational and health services up 2.9 percent.

The report also cites resurgent tourism in Hawaii and gaming in Nevada as positive economic bellwethers. "In Hawaii," it said, "domestic visitor counts have been running about 6 percent above their levels from 12 months earlier...and international visits, which plummeted concurrently with major hostilities in Iraq, have risen substantially this year as well."

Honolulu also has one of the lowest office vacancy rates in the West. And residential construction permits for the state was running almost 16 percent above year-before levels, half again more growth than in California, though not as much as in Arizona, which has a similarly resurgent economy and a lot more land.

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