“As one of the Bay Area’s largest construction firms, Webcor Builders provides a handy barometer of the region’s economic vitality.

The San Francisco company’s workforce, which topped 2,200 in 2008, has shrunk to about 1,200. But this year it plans to add about 500 workers, primarily skilled union tradespeople – many of the same folks who’ve been languishing on unemployment since the housing collapse and economic downturn began several years ago.

“Bottom line, 2012 will be a good year,” said Webcor CEO Andy Ball. “We had some economic recovery in 2011 but didn’t see the benefits of it. We started hiring within the past six months and definitely will continue to add jobs.”

Local companies across a range of industries sound a similar refrain: They are cautiously optimistic about this year’s economic prospects. And economists concur that the Bay Area is likely to experience moderate growth that outpaces that of the state and the nation – particularly good news, given Friday’s report of 200,000 jobs created in December nationally.”

“Overall for the Bay Area, I expect continued progress, somewhat faster than we saw in 2011,” said Jon Haveman, chief economist at the Bay Area Council. “It’s going to be uneven as it has been for at least the past year. There’s nothing out there that shows the economy ready to roar back again – except in the tech sector, which is booming.”

But this year, technology’s rising tide could boost other industries.

“The recovery will broaden a bit in 2012; it was narrowly concentrated in technology in 2011,” said Stephen Levy, director of the Center for Continuing Study of the California Economy. “The tech surge is so large that the income generated there will spread to other sectors. That’s traditionally what happens once your leading growth sector gets going fast enough.”

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