PATTERSON — Developers promising government decision-makers jillions of new jobs is as predictable as night following day.
It was no surprise when both sets of people rallied under the employment flag Wednesday, spurring one of the largest annexations 1,119 acres in recent times in Stanislaus County.
The West Patterson Business Park eventually will bring 10,000 jobs, they said, allowing leaders to reject warnings from their own staff that the city might not have enough water and sewer capacity, or enough money for road upgrades, and that the project would sacrifice prime farmland without much guarantee of preserving it elsewhere.
You could sell anything, it seems, with jobs, jobs, jobs, groused county Supervisor Jim DeMartini, sitting on the Stanislaus Local Agency Formation Commission. Its members were told that Pattersons wildly successful Keystone industrial complex, next door to the proposed annexation, had reaped 1,400 decent-wage jobs in seven years thanks to new Amazon, Kohls, CVS Pharmacy, Grainger and Affinia distribution centers.
But the unemployment rate hasnt changed at all, DeMartini continued. Its always intrigued me.
Is that true? Is it impossible to alter a culture of chronic unemployment, even with gargantuan business parks?
Evidence seems to fall on both sides of the question.
Pattersons unemployment rate, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, was barely better last year (13.6 percent) than in 1990 (14.1 percent), long before savvy businesspeople saw the citys potential to accommodate thousands of goods-laden trucks right next to Interstate 5.
From 2009 to 2012, Pattersons median family income plunged 17 percent, and the number of families in poverty shot up 77 percent, the bureaus American Community Survey reported.
In October, at least 27,000 would-be workers in Stanislaus County had no job, representing a stubbornly high unemployment rate of 11.7 percent, worse than 49 of Californias 58 counties. The statewide and national averages were 8.3 percent and 7 percent, respectively, according to the California Employment Development Department.
Actually, the truth could be worse, experts say, because many people give up looking for work and no longer are included in calculations.
Patterson not to blame
Fans of Patterson note that those numbers are heavily influenced by the Valleys depressed economy, which cant expect to be cured with another warehouse or two.
Although Patterson dramatically increased industrial positions, those gains were tempered, if not negated, by massive job losses in other sectors of the economy. For example, thousands of positions in construction alone were eliminated in the recession. This year, the countys food manufacturing sector lost 792 jobs, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor.
Agriculture, the countys heavy hitter, employs more than 34,000 people compared with 4,721 in logistics, a term enveloping Pattersons transportation, warehouse and distribution centers. The countys logistics sector grew more than 60 percent in the decade preceding 2010, but the county lost nearly 10 percent of its farm jobs, the Bureau of Labor reported.
The countys other fast-growing sector is health care, which swelled more than 20 percent to 21,261 jobs.
If those 1,400 (Patterson industrial) jobs werent created, there would be 1,400 less people working on top of the thousands of jobs lost during the recession, said Jeff Rowe, interim chief executive officer for the Stanislaus Economic Development and Workforce Alliance. Pattersons emergence as a logistics force is a benefit, any way you look at it, he said.
A Walnut Creek jobs consultant said the Keystone complex, Pattersons poster child for industrial success, has created less than half the number of jobs that would be normal for this type of land use. By 2011, Patterson was home to 4 percent of the countys population but claimed just 2.4 percent of the countys industrial jobs, the consulting firm said, quoting the Local Employment Dynamics database.
Sustained surge predicted
Combining county, state and federal projections, Patterson can expect to host 9.4 percent of the countys industrial and retail jobs by 2035, predicted Applied Development Economics, the firm hired by the city to analyze business demand for Wednesdays annexation.
Patterson can expect competition from a future industrial complex on a county-owned former naval air base at nearby Crows Landing, and neighboring Newman is creating its own industrial plan; neither has the freeway frontage enjoyed by Patterson, however, the firm noted.
Since August, Rowes group has responded to more than 20 inquiries from unidentified companies looking for the right spot to build, he said, representing the most significant interest spike since the recession. Three want acreage large enough for buildings of more than 1 million square feet; four seek 100 acres or more, he said.
Mark Reckers of commercial broker Lee & Associates said distribution centers need lots of land to park big rigs, and that much space is rare in these parts. Until Wednesday, they might be more apt to settle on nearby San Joaquin County sites, he said, such as Tracy, Lathrop and Manteca.
Pattersons industrial surge has brought the county another bonus: jobs diversity.
Agriculture is always going to be the cornerstone of Stanislaus Countys economy, said Rod Butler, Pattersons city manager. But youve got to diversify your job base to build a more sustainable economy over time. Patterson has been a leader in the county in aggressively bringing a totally different type of industry cluster.
In the end, DeMartini joined other commissioners in a unanimous vote for the Patterson annexation, a triumph for sponsors Jeff Arambel and KDN Enterprises.
Butler and Rowe envision more diversity in coming years as the logistics rush cools. Planning ahead will keep Patterson in the game, they say, with ample space for the next business cycle, perhaps high-tech firms as the Silicon Valley runs out of buildable land. If enough vacant space remains from Wednesdays annexation, perhaps developers wont have to sing to politicians the same old song about scads of new jobs.
Im always hopeful, Rowe said. Maybe theyll look here.
Bee staff writer Garth Stapley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 578-2390.