When you see Modesto on a list of “Best Performing Cities,” most people would immediately think of George Lucas or Jeremy Renner or the latest lineup at the Gallo Center. But we’re not talking about acting; we’re talking about economic performance.
Modesto? On the good side of a money list?
The Milken Foundation ranked Modesto No. 33 among the top 200 metropolitan areas in the nation. That’s not Top 10, but it’s not Bottom 10 – which is where our city often (unfairly) lands in more arbitrary reckonings.
“That’s amazing,” said Opportunity Stanislaus CEO David White. “We’re ahead of Phoenix. We’re ahead of Boulder, Colo. That’s amazing.”
The list was based on economic growth, job creation, wage gains and developing technology. Wrote the list’s creators: “The top performing metros have cohesive strategies that allow them to leverage their assets more effectively.”
“Modesto” includes surrounding communities, from Turlock to Oakdale to Patterson. We’re happy to be moving forward together. On the 2016 list, Modesto was No. 73 – so we moved up 40 places, putting us among the top 15 most improved cities in the nation.
Part of the reason, say the folks at Opportunity Stanislaus, is the county added nearly 18,000 jobs from 2012 to 2016. White hasn’t crunched all the numbers from 2017, but through last August, we added 5,700 jobs in a single year. Wages are rising, too. From 2015 to 2016, total pay rose more than $500 million countywide – the seventh best increase in the nation. That number especially impressed the Milken analysts.
The average wage in Modesto is $21.55 an hour, meaning most of the new jobs have been “higher paying positions,” said White. A lot of those were warehouse jobs (thank you Amazon), but restaurants are booming, too; so are other firms.
“We have people here who need jobs,” said White, “but companies that are producing jobs are here, too. The diversification of the economy – what’s happening in Patterson and Tracy – help.”
It’s not just big employers like Amazon. “A lot of the companies that have come here are small and under the radar. We’re not getting corporate campuses; we’re getting small- to medium-size companies,” said White.
It’s best not to put too much emphasis on lists. After all, Bakersfield fell 102 places from No. 59 to No. 161 in a single year. Nothing says we won’t do the same. But we might be creating advantages that cities like Bakersfield don’t have. The foundation pointed out that the cities with the biggest drops are dependent on one or two industries – in Bakersfield’s case, oil and ag.
If you look at Modesto’s top occupations, ag is No. 1 followed by food prep. But also high on the list are waiters, nurses, stock clerks and carpenters. Among the occupations with the highest growth have been rehabilitation counselors, rail yard engineers and human services assistants.
White said there 1,000 jobs in the county his organization is trying to fill – jobs like manufacturing maintenance mechanics. They’re so scarce that companies are even willing to share them. Such jobs require high levels of math and specific training, but you can get it here.
It’s nice to be among the top 40 and nicer to be moving up. Can we get used to this?
“We need to continue to improve our workforce; really improve our workforce,” said White. “The more we do that, the better story we’re going to have to tell.”
Too often we don’t recognize it when we’re doing something right, leaving it up to others to point it out. We’re happy they did.