Conversation with Mayor Rob Poythress continues:
“We have what I refer to as a very high chronic unemployment level. We have a lot of people who are just unemployable. If you talk to some of the business people around here, they’ll tell you horror stories about people who show up to work, and they’re there for a few hours, then go out on break, and then don’t show up again. There are a lot of people who just don’t understand what the work ethic is all about.
“On a positive standpoint, we’ve got a lot of government jobs. We have our city, we have our county, we have our prisons, we have our schools. You look at the government job complex as our No. 1 employer. The industrial base we have here is good and solid. It provides some extremely good jobs. We have a lot of six-figure income people who work as engineers and supervisors.
“Now, here’s the crossroads we face as a community. If we do absolutely nothing as to business development, this is what will occur: No. 1, the casino’s going to come, it’s going to offer some jobs, but those jobs will cannibalize other businesses in Madera, and some of the people who work there will live in Fresno. That will be good for the workers, but it won’t really do anything about solving the low average income we have here in Madera. Tourism, we’ve heard about increasing that. But tourism also is low pay. It’s a nice opportunity, and puts us on the map, but it’s not a game changer. I look at the high-speed rail as being a temporary boost to our economy with construction. But once the construction is over, we’re looking at a long waiting game.
“If we attract industry, it will be industry attracted by our low base of workers.
“That’s if we do nothing.
“Now, let’s say we really wanted to do a big game changer for Madera and Madera County. That would require a huge investment of time, political will and cooperation between the various jurisdictions and the education community to make that happen.
“We have a lot of six-figure income people who work here. The problem is, they don’t live in Madera. They commute here. But they choose to live in Clovis or Fresno. These are people who choose to live elsewhere because — when I ask that question, the No. 1 answer I get is schools. They want a better quality of education for their children. I’m not saying we don’t offer a quality education here in Madera, but the perception of these people is that their children will get a much better education in Fresno or Clovis.
“There was an intentional effort made, probably about 45 years ago, to improve the reputation and perception of quality of education in Clovis. Today, Clovis seems to have that reputation of being able to offer a great quality education for all ages.
“Plus, you have University High School in Fresno, you have San Joaquin Memorial High School in Fresno, and you’ve got certain magnet schools in Fresno that seem to be appealing to your higher-income people.”
Next: Poythress talks about how improving education in Madera eventually could result in more business development here.