Several people got right to work upon being asked this question: How can we create jobs?
The Modesto Bee invited readers to share their ideas on how we can beat a recession that has pushed the jobless rate into double digits.
Their responses -- by e-mail, letter and phone -- ranged far and wide, and from big to small.
One reader suggested boosting exports, while another envisioned people working at art and music gatherings in Graceada Park.
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Some talked of solar energy, software and other technical fields. Others urged free trade or import barriers.
Here are their responses -- glimmers of hope amid the gloomy economic news of late:
GET BACK ON SHORE
The Modesto area could provide software development and support for Bay Area companies, said Mark Dulle of Oakdale, who works in information technology.
This effort, aided by federal stimulus money, would be an alternative to the growing outsourcing of such services to foreign countries.
Dulle said such jobs would appeal to valley technology workers who are unemployed or commute to Bay Area jobs.
"The pay would be less than the Bay Area but higher than offshore rates dependent on the amount of government subsidization," he said.
Dulle added that Bay Area companies "could get some positive press from an onshore arrangement."
LOOK TO IRRIGATION
Federal stimulus money could expand the use of drip irrigation on farms, said Kathy Hughes of Riverbank, who is well-known for volunteer work with Community Hospice.
A growing number of farmers have adopted drip, which applies water close to plant roots, but many still use sprinkler or flood irrigation.
"Since 80 percent of our water is used for farming, why not use the funds to help farmers conserve water?" Hughes said.
"Putting the systems in place is very labor-intensive, utilizes local materials and will save water. We can live without better roads, but we cannot live without water."
RELAX THE RULES
Government can aid the creation of jobs by getting out of the way of entrepreneurs, said Al Kessler of Atwater.
He recalled running up against that city's home-business rules when he opened an accounting practice in the 1970s.
He also mentioned a Merced dress shop owner who was told to install a wheelchair- accessible restroom -- even though the building housing the shop already had one convenient to customers.
"Generally, government is the cause of the problem because their whole attitude is telling you what you can't do instead of what you can do," said Kessler, who has counseled business people through SCORE, formerly the Service Corps of Retired Executives.
LET IT SHINE
Jobs in solar electricity would grow if the Modesto Irrigation District did more to encourage the technology, said Steve Hay of Modesto, who has worked in civil engineering design but now aims to be a science teacher.
Hay said the district could install solar panels along its canals and reverse a policy under which it does not buy surplus power from residential systems. He also said homeowners, not the MID, should receive renewable energy credits, which are traded in a national market aimed at boosting these sources.
"How many good jobs would be created by getting seriously into sustainable energy in a way that would incentivize even small energy users to invest in solar -- even if put on their neighbor's open field?" Hay said.
GET BACK TO BASICS
Creating jobs means using the natural resources around us, said George Cardoza of Turlock, who is retired from teaching welding and other skills at Modesto Junior College.
"We either grow it, dig it or pump it out of the ground," he said. "That's it. Pretty simple, really. Everyone else is dependent on those basic industries."
Cardoza said risk also is a part of the equation.
"If we truly believe in our capitalistic way of life, then we must allow people to succeed and also allow them to fail," he said. "You cannot guarantee success."
SEE YOU AT THE PARK
Graceada Park, already the site of many gatherings, could provide jobs via a new series of art and music events, said Danielle Goynes. She is studying psychology at the University of California at Merced and aspires to teach at the college level.
Goynes said the events could cost just $2 or $3 per person and would provide work for security guards, ushers, public relations people and brochure designers.
"Imagine on a Friday night you stroll through Graceada," she said. "Lights are strung among the trees. A coffee vendor selling lattes and chocolate stands on the corner. Hundreds of people are chattering over the week's stresses. Hostesses carry platters with appetizers for a harmless price. The refreshments stand is 100 feet away, and today's featured artist is the Modesto Symphony Orchestra. Next week, a local band will occupy this scene."
Goynes said the organizers could line up sponsors for the events and involve radio stations as well.
Stanislaus County should try to get Agriprocessors Inc., a major producer of kosher meat in Iowa, to move here, said Dennis Sevilla of Modesto, who is retired but manages properties part time.
The plant recently reopened after dealing with immigration violations and other troubles.
Sevilla said the company could employ hundreds of county residents and buy poultry and beef raised in the San Joaquin Valley.
"We have Highways 5 and 99, plus the close Port of Stockton for shipping, and railway service," he said. "Modesto has empty warehouses and also vast lands off Crows Landing Road for further development. Stanislaus County and Modesto would benefit greatly from the tax revenues."
LOOK TO THE WEST
The West Side needs job-training efforts to prepare people for construction and other work, said Leroy McDonald of Newman, who has been a consultant on the proposed redevelopment of the Crows Landing Air Facility.
"The key is job readiness," said McDonald, who worked on such efforts in San Francisco. He said people in Patterson and nearby towns need programs closer than those in the Modesto area.
The West Side is especially hard-hit by the housing slump. McDonald said it will rebound once ground is broken on the 4,800-acre business and industrial park proposed in and around the former naval air base.
"The West Side is in a transition where in the next 10 or 15 years you're going to see development," he said.
HATCH SOME JOBS
A business incubator, providing mentoring and other services, could help entrepreneurs get started, said Chris Ricci, one of the organizers of a Modesto version.
Incubators provide low-cost office space and sharing of utilities, copiers, reception desks and other services, he said.
"The goal of the incubator is to create home-grown jobs," said Ricci, a concert and festival promoter and general manager of the Fat Cat Music House & Lounge in Modesto.
The organizers, part of a group called Commonwealth Modesto, are seeking $1.6 million from private and public sources to acquire an incubator site and run the program for its first five years.
"Incubated businesses are much more successful than businesses that did not have that exposure," Ricci said.
MAKE IT HERE
Imported products are keeping the United States from creating jobs, said Joe Garcia of Modesto, a retired restaurant owner.
"Have Congress pass a law charging all goods coming into our country a tariff high enough to discourage foreign goods from coming in," he said.
"That will be a big change on our side. No more 98-cent Chinese toys. They will be $20 toys then. We will buy our toy for $4.98. We will go back to buying and using our own products. Economy at its best -- no recession."
Modesto could be the hub of an effort to help businesses export their products, said Troy Bradbury, president of the International Trade Bureau.
This Modesto-based company has been working to set up such a system, which would navigate the complexities of exporting for clients unfamiliar with the process.
Bradbury said U.S. businesses can take advantage of the relatively weak dollar to boost their foreign sales. He said companies also could be persuaded to "repatriate" operations that have been sent abroad.
The bureau's recent efforts include exporting solar energy technology.
"The revitalization of existing businesses should be the highest priority," Bradbury said. "The quickest way for businesses to expand is to tap into new markets, utilizing the lower value of the U.S. dollar as a catalyst for expansion."
Bee staff writer John Holland can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2385.