Editor’s note: Madera County Economic Development Commission Executive Director Bobby Kahn discusses why he thinks Madera County has a tough sell in luring new wineries or a cheese plant here.
“I think that the City of Madera, the City of Chowchilla and the Board of Supervisors are extremely business friendly, and that’s been echoed to us by several businesses,” Kahn said. “A lot of companies that have located here have done so because of struggles they’ve had in the city to the south of us. They came up here and found we can do stuff very quickly. Normally, the public sector will slow things, but in Madera, the private sector sometimes has trouble keeping up with the public sector, because the public sector reacts with a rapid pace and rapid responses.”
Business friendliness aside, however, Kahn said he sees little chance any large-scale agriculture-related enterprises would open here.
Kahn said the chances of a large new winery locating here are minimal because of the presence of Constellation, one of the largest wineries in the world, in Madera and a branch of Gallo, another huge winery, in Merced County, and another branch of Gallo in Fresno County.
“Those two companies dominate the purchasing side. I think that with all the boutique wineries we have, and Constellation and Gallo, the wine grapes are pretty well spoken for.
“Also, a lot of those who traditionally were grape growers over the years have pulled their vineyards and put in almonds.
“There’s still growth potential in boutique, or family-run wineries, however. I think a lot of these farm families are strong enough and have the capital to start their own wineries. Also, they have enough grapes so they don’t have to buy any more.”
He said a cheese factory or powdered milk plant would be a good fit for Madera.
“We are an interesting area for them because of the fact we are fairly dense in dairy. We have a lot of dairy product.” But, he said, at least three cheese processors looked here and went elsewhere, the most recent to Tulare, where dairying is king.
“The city of Tulare has geared themselves, with their wastewater infrastructure to be able to accommodate the cheese industry,” Kahn said. “That’s because cheese manufacturers have a large impact on wastewater treatment plants. But we’ve had interest in both milk and cheese, but it just doesn’t seem like we quite get there. We’ve been short-listed, but it just hasn’t happened.”
Next: Kahn talks about areas where Madera does have possibilities for economic expansion, especially in tourism.