Modesto's image took another hit this week, with Forbes.com ranking the city among the worst places to do business in the United States.
The city registered 198th out of 200 on the magazine's "Best Places" report, a standing based on access to colleges, the cost of doing business, crime rate, cultural opportunities and job growth.
It's the third rank-related black eye for Modesto in the past year.
Modesto was named the nation's least livable city in one book last year. Forbes in February called it one of the most miserable cities in the United States.
All three lists have one source in common: demographer Bert Sperling.
City leaders called the latest ranking a blow to the ego and an opportunity to set goals for improvements.
"It's discouraging, but, on the other hand, we have to remember this is one opinion and those of us who live here know we live in a great place with a great quality of life," Modesto City Councilwoman Kristin Olsen said.
"It does highlight that we need to work harder so people on the outside see us as a place with a great quality of life and as a great place to grow a business."
Modesto ranked 192 in educational attainment, 188 in culture and leisure, and 181 in crime rate. The city's best score, 82, came in net migration (which measures the flow of residents into and out of an area), followed by job growth with a rank of 99.
Acting City Manager Jim Niskanen said Modesto's poor showing in culture and leisure made little sense because of the opening of the Gallo Center for the Arts in the fall. The upside of the list, he said, was in giving the city a way to gauge some improvements.
Merced, similarly, ranked near the bottom of the list in access to colleges despite the University of California campus that opened on its outskirts three years ago.
"Rarely do these rankings delve deeply into a community," Niskanen said. "They're taking raw statistics and making a raw judgment. Just on the basis of that, you have to question their validity.
"Secondly, rarely are they intended to enrich or enthuse a community. More often than not, they're intended to discourage a community, and that's exactly how we're feeling."
Bill Bassitt, chief executive officer of the Stanislaus Economic Development and Workforce Alliance, said anyone familiar with Modesto would acknowledge the city can improve its standings in educational attainment and crime.
"I think the circumstances in the community are not as dire as what those on the outside make them out to be," he added.
Bassitt said the Alliance, along with local governments and employers, is working to improve educational attainment and other areas, but that compiling such a list is subjective.
Comparing Modesto's culture and leisure offerings with those in New York City or Chicago is unfair, he said, but the city does well in that category compared with other Central Valley cities.
Modesto's ranking also ran counter to the experience of employment managers at Modesto-based E.&J. Gallo Winery.
Michelle Lewis, Gallo's global vice president of human resources, responded to the ranking with a statement that said: "Our experience has been that we are able to hire talented people on a local, state and national basis to fill opportunities throughout our organization every year.
"Our employees find Modesto to be a place where they can live comfortably, work, raise a family and enjoy all that California has to offer," the statement reads.
Liz Baker, a labor market analyst for the state Employment Development Department, said that by just the job growth measure, Modesto is holding steady.
"If you look at it from the perspective of the dramatic changes we've seen in construction and financing jobs related to real estate, we wouldn't think Modesto would be near the bottom," Baker said, explaining that the overall number of jobs in Stanislaus County has been stable in recent years, even as the economy has lurched downward.
She also said that in recent U.S. census data, the number of Modesto residents with an education level of some college or better has risen from the 2000 census.
But the number of residents with more education, while on the rise, probably lags when compared with how much the city's population has grown in recent years, Baker said.
Modesto had plenty of company at the bottom of the list from neighboring cities, with Merced one spot below at 199 and Stockton ranked at 196.
Visalia, Fresno and Bakersfield also ranked in the list's bottom 25. Salinas was ranked 200.
The list was led by Raleigh, N.C., with Riverside, at 78, the best-performing California city.