Written by Donald A. Promnitz
The overall economic outlook for Madera County looks positive going into 2019, with strong growth in retail and residential activity.
In fact, according to Bobby Kahn, executive director for the Madera County Economic Development Commission, one of the primary concerns for next year will be finding the needed space to meet the growing demands. Low industrial vacancy rates were also a problem for the region this year, remaining at about half a percent.
“So on one side, that’s a positive because it shows the economy is strong and our businesses are healthy – all our industrial space is spoken for,” Kahn said. “But then again, when you’re trying to market the area and people are asking for existing buildings, it’s a little bit harder to market to new businesses when you don’t have existing space.”
Because of this, construction has become an increasingly busy sector of the local economy, especially on the industrial end. In Madera, for example, Kahn cited Span Construction & Engineering, Inc.’s recent development of a new spec building at Freedom Industrial Park on West Pecan Avenue and South Pine Street. Kahn said other industrial projects are being considered in Chowchilla. The upcoming challenge will be the rising costs of construction and a shortage of workers as the unemployment numbers go down.
On the residential end, new developments are opening in Chowchilla, while the planned communities of Riverstone and Tesoro Viejo (both off of Highway 41) are selling space at breakneck paces. About 40 houses a month have been selling at Riverstone. While they’ve only been open since October, their business hub is now up and running.
Tourism is expected to be strong for 2019 in eastern Madera County, which depends on the industry. Rhonda Salisbury, CEO for Visit Yosemite/Madera County, said that the 51 days Yosemite National Park was closed due to the wildfires this summer cost them approximately 300,000 visitors, but they have since recovered. Each year, the park takes in an average of 4 million visitors, with Oakhurst being the most popular entrance.
“We’ve had a lot of momentum with tourism the last five or six years where it’s constantly growing,” Salisbury said. “I don’t know that it’s going to grow at a huge rate next year – I think people might still be a little leery of fire, especially our international travelers, but Yosemite is still the crown jewel of the national park system.”
However, like the rest of the San Joaquin Valley, the mainstay of the Madera County economy has been agriculture. According to Jay Mahil, president of the Madera County Farm Bureau, almonds remained the top of the list for 2018, despite a frost causing a 15 to 20 percent drop.
Dairy came in second for production value, while wine grapes and raisins performed steadily. In fourth place, pistachios also had a large crop in the year. Rainfall for 2018 was less than hoped, but despite this, Mahil stated that Madera County was still able to get some much-needed water through precipitation and heavy snowfall. But the weather for next year remains uncertain, and Mahil has called the situation “iffy” for 2019.
“As a grower and a farmer, we’re always optimistic that it’s going to be good, but Mother Nature is so unpredictable,” Mahil said. “We’ll see when it comes.”
In the future, compliance with the statewide Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA) will lead to more challenges, as local agencies will have to work to allocate available groundwater so that the region’s farmers will have what they need to grow their crops.
As for the coming year, Mahil said that there would be concerns not only for water, but with immigration as well, as it becomes one of the most heavily debated issues in the Trump Administration. The incoming leadership in the House of Representatives could result in further gridlock on the issue, in which Mahil added. that agricultural communities are often held “for ransom.”
While there will be challenges and concerns facing Madera County next year and in the years to the come, the local economy is still poised to grow, and Kahn, Salisbury and Mahil all remain optimistic as the new year approaches.
“So, overall, 2018’s been a very good year and we look forward to continuing with that for the 2019 year,” Kahn said.