After several years of hedging their bets, speakers at the Turlock Chamber of Commerce’s Economic Trends Breakfast were wholeheartedly optimistic about the outlook for the area.
“I see good things happening in Turlock,” said Mayor John Lazar on Wednesday morning. “We’re experiencing a renaissance in Turlock.”
Stanislaus County Supervisor Vito Chiesa echoed those sentiments, pointing to the continued growth of the area’s agricultural industries.
“These are good times to be talking,” Chiesa said. “I’ve done these before, and we’ve always tempered our remarks.”
Chiesa and keynote speaker Greenlaw “Fritz” Grupe emphasized the need for a plan to store water to keep the fields and orchards healthy. Chiesa said the county’s groundwater ordinance, passed Tuesday, is a first step.
Grupe, founder of The Grupe Companies and a longtime area developer and farmer, said the answer has to lie in a statewide, rather than regional, plan. “We don’t have an engineering problem here,” he said. “We have a political problem.”
Grupe said the area’s economy is recovering, though nowhere near as fast as in other parts of the state. The housing market, while it has been lagging, is poised to take off, he said.
“We’re still not building houses,” he said. His company is, however, selling them. Grupe bought 700 houses and has sold 300 of them. “Prices took a big leap back up.”
And he is building in other areas of California. In brighter local news, he pointed to the continued strength of export markets for agricultural products such as cherries and walnuts, with the latter hitting nearly $2 per pound.
The key to future success, he said, lies in better educating the workforce, securing water storage, controlling health-care costs and bringing more people, worldwide, into the middle class.
“When people get out of the poverty level and into middle class, they start consuming foods they wouldn’t consume in poverty,” he said. “That bodes well for the Central Valley.”