Merced should take advantage of its agricultural roots and tap into tourism dollars to boost the local economy, according to Merced City Council candidate Jana Mowrer.
“That’s been a huge revenue booster for our state, but also local entities,” the 26-year-old said, adding the city will continue to face budget issues. “We have to find a way that we can bring in fast revenue,” she said.
Merced County is one of the top five producers in the nation for a slew of crops and other farm products. Merced could promote itself as a destination for tourists, she said.
“There is a negative connotation around an ag community, just because it’s very seasonal and typically lower income,” she said. “If we change how we’re looking at it, it can be very positive for us.”
Although the economy is difficult, Mowrer said, she sees hope in Merced and wants to be involved in setting the priorities.
“A lot of people don’t feel that there’s hope in our area or that this is a good area to be,” Mowrer said. “I feel a little bit different by just being here, having business here and seeing what opportunities there can be.”
Mowrer was a member of the first class to enter UC Merced, but she transferred to UC Davis to finish her bachelor’s in clinical nutrition. She worked as an intern in Florida for the U.S. Department of Defense, where she studied the psychological effects of military deployment of parents on their children.
She’s now working toward a master’s in public health from Fresno State.
Mowrer works as a home health care manager for Lamerson Landy Care, a family business. She also touted her volunteer work; she was named volunteer of the year by the Greater Merced Chamber of Commerce.
Running a small business, she said, gives her a unique perspective on how government should operate. She said she knows what it’s like to not have a guaranteed paycheck coming in.
“I think, coming from the private sector, I have a different view on how things are done,” she said.
As UC Merced grows, students and parents as well as businesses will want to come to town, she said. Putting more money into the city’s Economic Development Department could help the city prepare to meet the needs of those newcomers, and in turn add jobs for college graduates.
“We’ve built Merced up as a agricultural area, as a distribution site,” Mowrer said. “Now we need to shift into the new millennium, where we need to look at how we can retain our educated individuals that we have brought into our community.”
Another issue Mowrer said she wants to address is the health of Merced residents, particularly childhood obesity. An estimated 41 percent of children in the city are overweight or obese, according to recent statistics from the county Department of Public Health.
Obese children are more likely to have health issues, and are less productive at school, Mowrer said.
“That is definitely going to be something that I will voice as a concern,” she said. “I think we should definitely focus on making our area what’s called a ‘healthy eating, active living community.’”
Reaching her goal of a fitter community starts with basic health education, she said. The second step would be to provide better access to healthy choices in Merced.
Developing a joint use agreement with area school districts could also allow for programs that keep children active, Mowrer said.
“Not everybody can afford to be a part of sports,” she said. “I think building those relationships is also beneficial.”
As the city grows with UC Merced, she said, it will need to pick up the pace to develop higher paying jobs in town. Some of those issues can be resolved with better zoning, she said, but the more immediate solution would be to work with graduates that want to start a business.
Mowrer said she believes she can bring a new perspective to the City Council.
“I feel like we’re at a changing point in Merced,” she said, adding the population’s education level is going to rise. “I don’t think we can do things the same way.”