Modesto News Blog: A long road to jobs?

kvaline@modbee.comApril 24, 2013 

— City officials are thinking hard about how to diversify the local economy and make it less dependent on agriculture and home building.

They have discussed annexing Salida for its land fronting Highway 99 — prime spots for business parks — setting aside $500,000 for economic development initiatives, and working with the Chamber of Commerce and others in a unified effort to market Modesto.

But none of this may make much of a dent now.

At Tuesday’s Modesto City Council meeting, Councilman Joe Muratore talked about the economic challenges his hometown faces.

Muratore, who is a principal with Benchmark Commercial Real Estate Services, said this has been his busiest year since he started in commercial real estate in 2005. And nearly all of the transactions involve traditional sellers and buyers and not banks selling foreclosed properties, which had been the majority of his business in the previous two years.

Muratore said commercial projects and business parks are going up in Manteca, Tracy and Stockton but not in Modesto.

“I wonder if our ship hasn’t already sailed on jobs a little bit,” he said at the meeting. “ … The market doesn’t believe in us. If they did, they’d already be doing it.”

Muratore said after the meeting that while Modesto may miss out in the current cycle of big commercial projects, the city can position itself for the next cycle in 10 or more years: Setting aside land at Highways 99 and 132 for commercial development as part of the city’s current general plan update, doing all it can to have Highway 132 upgraded, making it a viable link to the Bay Area for tractor-trailers.

He said it’s critical Modesto do what it can.

“We don’t want to be a long-term bedroom community,” he said. “That means long-term crime, long-term poverty and long-term quality-of-life issues.”

But Muratore acknowledges Modesto faces hard decisions. For instance, the land at Highways 99 and 132 is prime land for agriculture, the county’s economic mainstay. Stanislaus County farmers produced $3 billion in revenue in 2011, according to the county’s crop report.

“It’s a tough choice but one we have to weigh,” Muratore said about balancing the need for jobs against protecting agriculture.

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