In a year dominated by national politics and a campaign for the White House that sapped our focus and stalled our recovery as we waited for November results, Orange County, by and large, was a bright spot in 2012. The unemployment rate locally dipped under 8 percent by early fall for the first time in several years as the county emerged a statewide leader in creating new jobs. All-important housing numbers continued improving with inventories of homes, particularly foreclosures, disappearing and median home prices climbing for the first time in successive months since 2008. In June, the re-launch of California Adventure at the Disneyland Resort proved to be another steroid shot for the county’s tourism and hospitality industry as the $1 billion project not only generated tens of thousands of new jobs and billions in construction and project revenue, it attracted visitors worldwide who filled hotel rooms and restaurants, and bumped up the number of flights that went through John Wayne Airport. Retail even showed signs of recovery as local consumer confidence expanded after three uncertain years. Apartment construction remained strong, but the commercial office and industrial market lagged as companies held firm on expansion and relocation, waiting to see how Washington, D.C., will handle key issues such as taxes, the deficit and entitlements.
Disney made big headlines in 2012.
“There’s still a lot of concern about Congress’ ability to work with second-term president Obama and truly show some courage and fix things,” said one noted county CEO. “A lot of us are holding our cards waiting for Washington.”
He pretty much summed up economist Anil Puri’s view of growth going forward. The dean of the Mihaylo College of Business and Economics at Cal State Fullerton predicted in October that the local economy would grow in 2013 at about a 2 percent clip – a modest rate that hardly excites many business owners and executives. Still, it’s progress on this long, slow climb back from the recession. Like 2012, it would be another stepping stone to what many hope will be a real return to normal growth in two years.
Best – The California State Board of Trustees names Dr. Mildred García president of Cal State Fullerton. She is the first Latina to hold this position in the Cal State system.
Worst – Home Sales in Orange County drop to 4%making the median selling price 38% below the June 2007 peak.
Worst – Anaheim’s Fisker Automotive recalls 239 of its cars in the U.S. because of a battery defect that supplier A123 Systems Inc. announced on Dec. 23, 2011. Delivery of the luxury-hybrid vehicles began in November.
Best – With O.C. unemployment at 7.8%, the Orange County/Los Angeles region holds the No. 4 spot in U.S. job growth behind Houston, New York/New Jersey and Dallas/Fort Worth.
Best – Seal Beach is named O.C.’s Most Improved Home Market
by the OC Register’s “Lansner on Real Estate” tracking blog.
Worst – Robert H. Schuller cuts ties with the Crystal Cathedral
after selling it to the Catholic Diocese of Orange County.
Best & Worst – Irvine-based video gaming giant Blizzard Entertainment unveils the release date of its new title, “Diablo III” and later announces it will lay off 600 employees globally.
Best – To help returning military veterans and to recognize and honor their service, the Walt Disney Co. announces a company-wide initiative to train and hire more than 1,000 vets
over the next three years.
Best – The U.S. Deptment of Energy announces the dates for the
2013 Solar Decathlon at the Orange County Great Park in Irvine. It’s the first time the biennial event will appear outside of Washington, D.C. A major coup for O.C. green business and the park, the decathlon opens Oct. 3 and is slated to run through Oct. 13, 2013.
Best – The Resort at Pelican Hill in Newport Coast is named the
World’s Top Golf Resort in Condé Nast Traveler’s 2012 Readers’ Choice Survey.
Worst – Yahoo! Inc. begins a restructuring that results in thousands of job cuts and layoffs throughout the U.S.
Best – More than 24 employers fill 300 job openings at the Orange County Job Fair.Best Fashion Island celebrates 45 years in business in Newport Beach and announces more major leases on the way, including a new Whole Foods Market and a new Fig and Olive restaurant.
Best – Irvine-based action sports retailer Tilly's Inc. goes public, selling shares for $15.50 and raising $124 million in its IPO. Plans to expand from 155 to 500 stores nationwide are also announced.
Worst – The California Department of Finance cuts $1.4 billion of funding for the much-anticipated Orange County Great Park.
Best – The Anaheim Convention Center breaks ground on its Grand Plaza, a new 100,000-square-foot outdoor event and meeting space expected to open in January 2013.
Best – International Bay Club Inc., the parent company of the Balboa Bay Club and the Newport County Club, is sold to Eagle Four Partners and Pacific Hospitality Group LLC. The two local properties are estimated to be worth a total of $170 million.
Best – Disney California Adventure reopens to tremendous success after a $1 billion transformation. Lines for the new high-speed Radiator Springs Racers ride top four hours on opening weekend.
Best – Consumer confidence is at its highest rate since the recession began, according to a Chapman University report. The May index value comes to 92.3, up from a revised 89.8 in February. It’s just 2.1 points shy of the pre-recession high in Q3 2007, a value of 94.4.
Best – Freedom Communications – which includes the OC Register, Spanish-language newspaper Excelsior and Coast magazine – is purchased by 2100 Trust LLC. Aaron Kushner & Eric Spitz will serve as CEO/publisher and president, respectively.
Best – The London Olympics begin with a record 79 Orange County athletes competing. If O.C. were a nation, it would have ranked among the top 10 in gold medals in each of the last three Summer Games. The gold rush is a product of coaching, facilities and money.
Best – In a landmark settlement that will have sweeping impact on the credit-card industry in the U.S., Visa and MasterCard agree to pay $7.25 billion to settle a massive anti-trust case filed seven years ago by Irvine businessman Mitch Goldstone, founder of ScanMyPhotos.com.
Best – Orange County healthcare giants Hoag Hospital & St. Joseph Health form a groundbreaking partnership that will result in one of the largest healthcare networks in the region.
Worst – The Julie Child Foundation sues Irvine-based BSH Home Appliances Corp. over use of the chef’s name and image without permission.
Best – The Clark Construction Group gets a $127 million contract to build the Anaheim Regional Transportation Intermodal Center.
Best – Irvine’s Yard House Restaurants is sold to Orlando, Fla.-based Darden Restaurants Inc., owners of Olive Garden and Red Lobster, for $585 million.
Best – The Orange County unemployment rate falls to 7.1 percent the lowest since December 2008.
Best – The Wall Street Journal recognizes Laguna Hills-based
Glaukos Corp. in its list of top venture-backed companies for the second year in a row.
Best – Members of the Segerstrom family, friends and press celebrate South Coast Plaza’s 45-year anniversary with a party at the Hotel Bel Air on Sept. 20.
Best – Questcor Pharmaceuticals, TTM Technologies and Broadcam Corp. make Fortune’s 2012 list of fastest-growing U.S.
Best – The Small Business Administration reports that the number of self-employed people approached 9.9 million in the second quarter, up 7% since the last quarter.
Best – Orange-based Chapman University buys an Irvine office and laboratory complex for $20 million to house the early stages of a medical school.
Worst – Visionary Ray Watson dies at 86. The master planner was integral in the development of Irvine and Fashion Island, served on Walt Disney Company’s board of directors and persuaded the state to build a University of California campus in Irvine.
Best – Eight O.C. resorts are named to Condé Nast’s top SoCal list
in 2012, with the Resort at Pelican Hill ranked No. 1 for the third year in a row.
Best – Construction begins on Maddie James Seaside Learning Center at the Ocean Institute, in honor of 5-year-old Maddie James, who died of a brain tumor last year.
Worst – Forecasting firm Eqecat estimates that the national economic loss from Hurricane Sandy is between $30 billion and $50 billion. The disaster destroys some 300 new Karma plug-in hybrids cars, produced by Anaheim-based Fisker Automotive.
Best – Disney buys Marin County-based production company Lucasfilm for $4 billion. It will produce the next films in the “Star Wars” series.
Best & Worst – Gas prices decline to $3.66 per gallon in Orange County after topping off at $4.76 at some O.C. stations because of refinery failures and state emissions standards.
Best & Worst – Barack Obama is reelected president of the United States with 332 electoral votes versus challenger Mitt Romney’s 206. The popular vote totals were 62,156,908 for Obama and 58,805,060 for Romney. In California, Obama won by a margin of 59% to 38%. Romney carried Orange County 53% to 45%, a difference of 86,449 votes.