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City of Madera gets ready for economic development

The City of Madera is putting together an economic development program that shows promise, but it also shows that the city probably will have to spend some money to lure businesses here.

The expectations of many of our citizens are impractical. When asked what they think the city needs economically, they are likely to say, “More restaurants!” or “a Target store.” The truth, though, is that more restaurants and stores won’t come until more basic business in the form of manufacturing or processing either comes to the city or shows up through expansion of present businesses.

The city needs more and better sewers, for example, to attract businesses that hire people in great enough numbers to fuel economic expansion. A reliable water supply is another requirement.

We do have sewers and water, of course, but do they have enough capacity to attract new manufacturers or food processors? Probably not, according to those who have put this economic development plan together.

Other things potential developers look for aren’t always present here. Electricity costs are high, not only in Madera, but in the entire San Joaquin Valley.

The city is famously located in the center of the state, but lacks adequate highway access to eastern markets.

What has worked in the past? It’s easy to see. One of the world’s biggest wineries, plus several smaller ones, thrive here because local farmers grow wine grapes.

Almond processing thrives here because almonds are grown, and the same truth applies to pistachios.

One thing we don’t have, but probably could have, is a cheese factory. But we would have to make sure there was sufficient infrastructure to accommodate it.

One of the county’s most valuable crops is milk, but it gets trucked to factories in other counties, which have the manufacturing capability to produce cheese. Those counties get the value added from manufacturing, while Madera County sees a pass-through only of the farm-gate price of the milk. Dairy areas which have cheese factories invariably show greater profits from milk than do areas which sell just the fluid milk.

But cheese factories require plenty of infrastructure such as sewer and water. Tulare, for example, has geared up to attract cheese manufacturers by providing infrastructure, which in turn provides markets for the milk that county produces.

Another option for Madera is that of being a bedroom community for the Bay Area. High-speed rail officials have decided to put a stop in Madera so passengers who would commute to and from the Bay Area can buy houses and live here.

Does that sound crazy? Absolutely not. Many cities along the East Coast are organized to serve as places for the families of people who live in the mega cities to live. To attract people, those cities make sure to provide good schools, parks, shopping centers and other amenities for the families of commuters.

New restaurants and stores would naturally follow if factories were attracted to Madera that produced jobs that people wanted. They also would follow if commuters began making their homes here.

The city is to be congratulated for starting on a strategy, preparing to create public-private partnerships and provide help for off site improvements that will attract big employers.

With that attitude, the city will be able to go out after new business and see solid growth in years to come.

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