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Written by Frank Lopez
The Business Journal occasionally spotlights different regions of our four-county coverage area to highlight economic development.
We had an extended conversation with Bobby Kahn, executive director of the Madera County Economic Development Commission, to get some insight into how Madera County is fairing as the economy reopens from Covid restrictions.
Kahn said that with the world coming to a screeching halt in March 2020, the industrial markets didn’t take too long to rebound. Madera has seen a robust industrial market, as well as in distribution and shipping.
Along with fulfillment and distribution centers, there’s also growth in “last-mile” delivery centers, which is the final journey before a delivery item reaches its final destination.
“The industrial market is probably as active as it’s ever been over the last 15 years,” Kahn said.
Growth in Madera is not only coming from Central Valley businesses, but from ones outside the area as well. Because of its proximity to the Fresno market, business-friendly local government, affordable land and fully developed industrial sites, developers can perform at a rapid pace in Madera County.
One company that located to Madera from Fresno is TranPak, a plastic bin and pallet distributor, which moved to its new location in the Freedom Industrial park and currently has 40 employees.
Though not new to Madera, California Custom Processing, an almond processor, built a brand new facility in the airport industrial park in 2017. The owners already could use more space, Kahn said.
Full Throttle Suspension, an automobile and truck suspension manufacturer, is close to completing construction on a 101,120 square foot facility on Condor Drive near Highway 99 and Avenue 16.
Full Throttle Suspension is also building a 20,000 square foot building right next to their own facility that one of their customers will occupy. Owners and brothers of Full Throttle Suspension, Joseph and Frank Bertao, had been on the retail side selling truck lifts and suspension kits, and eventually started manufacturing.
Construction started over a year ago and Kahn said the facility is expected to be operational within six months or sooner.
The housing market in Madera, like it is anywhere else in the Central Valley, is very active right now with low-inventories, prices going up and multiple offers on properties.
“If a property goes on the market and is fairly priced, you’ll see a sale within days, with multiple offers, and offers over the listing price. Buyers are trying to make their offer the most attractive and offering $5,000 to $10,000 over the asking price,” Kahn said.
Large planned communities in Madera such as Riverstone and Tesoro Viejo are seeing a fast pace for building, and there are buyers from all over purchasing those homes, “an amazing phenomenon” Kahn said.
Retail and Labor
With the economy reopening and Covid-19 vaccine dispersal, retail and most businesses are back in swing, but a problem for Madera employers, just like in any other state in the country—labor shortages.
“Everywhere you go you will see a help wanted sign,” Kahn said. “This is not only going on the retail side, this is on the industrial side as well. It’s an issue,” Kahn said.
There is still interest from new retailers to come into the area, but they were coming back to the marketplace at a slower pace than industrial actors, and are now active.
Though the names cannot be legally disclosed, Kahn said there are a lot of new companies attracted to the Madera market.
“Every location in Madera County is poised for growth. We like to talk about being the geographical center of the state and we have so much opportunity — housing, tourism is opening up, which is great for all the northern areas. People are excited.”
Tracie Scott Contreras, executive director, at the Madera County Workforce Investment Corporation, said that Madera County’s unemployment rate was below 9%, fairly low comparatively, but after the onset of the pandemic, the unemployment rate flew to 17% in April 2020.
Contreras said that the labor market is fluctuating in ways not seen before.
“What we’re seeing is an interesting convergence of fewer people in the labor force, fewer people actively seeking employment, and significantly higher than typical number of businesses reaching out to us because they are having difficulty recruiting employees,” Contreras said.
Though unemployment rates are getting to pre-pandemic levels, the number of people looking for work is not keeping up with available jobs.
Contreras said that in a span of about three months, the workforce board has received calls from 52 local businesses for assistance in recruiting workers.
“There could be impacts on job seekers when those expanded or enhanced unemployment insurance benefits end. People who have been able to get by with those benefits may find the need to go back to the labor force when they’re gone. I’m hoping that means that in the final quarter that we will start seeing additional traffic of individuals hoping to return to the labor market,” Contreras said.