Construction activity in Fresno keeps coming, including this three-story office building under construction near Palm and Herndon avenues. Photo by Edward Smith.
Written by Gabriel Dillard
EDITOR’S NOTE: This is one of four economic forecasts The Business Journal does every year for each of the four counties in our coverage area.
This seems to be a prime time for the world to kick the tires on Fresno County.
Interest from companies from far-flung countries including China and Japan has kept economic development officials busy, and even corporate America is taking a closer look at locating in Fresno County on the heels of Amazon and Ulta’s investment in e-commerce distribution centers.
At the same time, Fresno County’s agricultural sector continues to reassert itself as a force to be reckoned with. In fact, based off 2018 crop statistics, Fresno County once again became the top agricultural county in California and the U.S. — a position it hasn’t held since 2013.
Economic development and job creation are job one for Fresno County Economic Development Corp. Will Oliver, director of business services for the Fresno County EDC, noted that 2019 “was filled with much activity, interest and momentum.”
Fresno County welcomed new out-of-state e-commerce operations who either located facilities here or contracted with local third-party logistics partners, Oliver said.
Oliver noted considerable interest in the small cities of Fresno County. One example is Initiative Foods, which is one of the nation’s largest baby food manufacturers, and a major international exporter. It recently completed a 30,000 square foot addition at its Sanger manufacturing plant. Another city, Reedley, is using available resources to lure an advanced food manufacturer.
The region’s designation as a federal Opportunity Zone has done much to jumpstart some of that interest, Oliver noted. The geographical designation provides incentives in the form of reduced capital gains taxes on investments for capital projects.
Fresno County is preparing to kick Opportunity Zone marketing of the region into high gear.
“Much groundwork has been laid to support Opportunity Zone investments by preparing projects and developing a digital prospectus to market the region’s assets, which will be live in 2020,” Oliver said.
Kingsburg recently made big news with T-Mobile’s announcement that it planned to locate a call center there that would create 1,000 jobs, which would be a major jolt to the local economy. That project is contingent on the telecommunication company’s successful merger with Sprint.
Fresno had a bit of a coming-out party earlier this month as host of the California Economic Summit, which included announcements of millions of dollars in investment into the Central Valley. It provided some much-needed momentum heading into the New Year, Oliver noted.
“2020 will certainly be focused on recruiting and expanding high-growth, traded sector companies and industries, such as in health care, agricultural technology and manufacturing,” Oliver said.
On the international front, while much of the economic development work is understandably behind the scenes and not for public consumption, word has trickled down that a Japanese company called Manda Fermentation Co. is on the verge of locating operations in Fresno County. Other Asian countries are looking at the county, undoubtedly drawn to it as a center for international agriculture.
On the agricultural front, Jan. 31, 2020, is a pivotal deadline as the state’s water managers — large and small — must provide plans for how they will manage groundwater usage under the state’s Sustainable Groundwater Management Act.
Ryan Jacobsen, CEO/executive director of the Fresno County Farm Bureau, said the sustainability plans will take 20 years to implement, with progress reports required every five years. But just getting to this stage has taken a lot of time, not to mention paperwork, as each plan is “hundreds, if not thousands of pages long,” he said.
Jacobsen said a number of factors — ongoing trade negotiations with China, new federal scientific guidelines on the pumping of water from the delta and engaged leadership on the local, state and federal level — give him reason for optimism.
Trade friction with China has been especially worrisome.
“The trade issue is front and center,” he said. “I’m optimistic that we can come to an agreement with China. I’ve been an eternal optimist.”