TURLOCK — Coffee, bacon and a side of economic recovery were on the menu for the Turlock Chamber of Commerce breakfast.
Held Wednesday morning at the Carnegie Arts Center, the sixth annual event attracted a roomful of Turlock's leading businesspeople and government officials to hear about the city's outlook.
Mayor John Lazar gave his annual State of the City address, applauding what he called its "solid economic growth." He touted the city's early and sustained growth, which have put it in better shape than some surrounding cities.
"I believe Turlock has turned the economic corner," Lazar said. "We continue to see our local economy move in a positive direction forward."
Lazar touted the construction of the Blue Diamond processing plant, which will employ about 120 workers when it opens in May. He lauded the city's healthy $13.6 million general fund reserve despite five years of budget deficits and reductions. He said new retailers and businesses have added 400 jobs in the past year.
He announced that the city's Pedretti Park will play host to the NCAA Division II Fast Pitch Softball Tournament in April, which will bring 24 teams from across California to compete.
While Lazar didn't break major news as he did last year at the event while hinting at Blue Diamond's arrival and confirming the Old Navy and Ulta openings, he did mention two projects he plans to push this year.
The first will be a mayor's initiative on economic development, which he will bring to the council. He said it will work to "enlighten Turlock's business climate."
The second is a way to combat Turlock's potholed streets and bumpy roads. He said he will work to put a special road-maintenance measure on the Turlock ballot this year to help give it the funds to repair roads.
"For too long, we have waited for some county, state or federal initiative to improve our transportation system," he said. "Now is the time to act, and I hope the voters of Turlock are ready to consider this request."
Others speak, too
The event's other speakers included chamber chief executive Sharon Silva, Stanislaus County Supervisor Vito Chiesa, California State University, Stanislaus, interim President Joseph Sheley and Turlock Unified Schools Superintendent Sonny Da Marto.
Both of the education leaders expressed relief that this will be the first year in many that neither will have to make cuts, signaling that the state's ongoing budget woes finally might be improving. Sheley and Da Marto said Proposition 30's passage has cleared the way for a more stable outlook in education.
"Stability is the key right now, and that helps us a lot," Sheley said. "We have hopefully hit bottom, and I am thrilled to actually be there for a while. So we can take a breath."
Da Marto said while there have been reductions to the district's budget, none have been made to the classroom. And he said this year the district will bring back some programs that had been cut.
Chiesa, fresh off delivering a State of the County address this month, struck a more sober note while discussing the need to address what he considers the county's three biggest issues: gangs, high school dropout rates and economic development.
The obstacles in each case are formidable. The county has 5,000 documented gang members, averages only 16 percent of the population with bachelor's degrees (compared with 30 percent statewide) and consistently has nearly double the national unemployment rate.
Chiesa stressed the need to collaborate and not just rely on law enforcement, schools or government to solve each problem.
"I'm not trying to bring people down, just trying to talk about the realization that if we're going to attack economic development, we need to deal with the dropout rate and gangs," he said. "I want a concerted effort instead of nipping around the edges."
Bee staff writer Marijke Rowland can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 578-2284. Follow her on Twitter: @turlocknow.