published on November 21, 2016 - 7:00 PM
Written by The Business Journal Staff

Explosive growth is projected for Madera County over the long-term, with major developments on the region’s east side expected to form a new city in 15 to 20 years.
In 2017, the county is expected to make significant gains toward this overarching goal, as the Riverstone development moves forward and ground breaks on homes in McCaffrey’s new development, Tesoro Viejo.

“The Riverstone project is 6,000 continuous acres and it will grow over the course of many years, adding to the local economy for years to come,” said Bobby Kahn, the executive director of the Madera County Economic Development Commission. “In 2017, the McCaffrey project will also start coming out of the ground with houses being built. That community is just under 2,000 acres.
Each community will be self-contained, with its own downtown commercial area, school and green space for trails and parks and more than likely, Kahn said, this will lead to the creation of the county’s third incorporated city, after Madera and Chowchilla.
“In 20 years, we see the population growing by 100,000 people, mostly in this area,” Kahn said. “That is significant growth that will be a key economic driver for the county.”
As the sites that will be encompassed in Madera County’s future city forge on, the county’s current two cities will continue to see steady growth between 1.5 and 2 percent in 2017.
Residential development, which took a nosedive during the recession, has slowly crept back up, with the majority of infill properties leftover from subdivisions that abruptly stopped building when the economy tanked now completed. Now, Kahn said developers can finally start moving on the outskirts of both cities, creating new subdivisions.
In Chowchilla, one new residential development is already in the works on the east side of Highway 99, off of Robertson Boulevard. Kahn said he expects to see dirt turned on that new planned community sometime in 2017. Similar to Riverstone and Tesoro Viejo, the Chowchilla development will be its own self-contained community with a school and open spaces, albeit on a smaller 600-acre scale.
Business is also expected to boom in 2017 as two significant projects make headway.
The hotly contested North Fork casino project should finally move forward, Kahn said, after 12 years of clearing hurdles.
“I predict you’ll see shovels in the ground in 2017,” Kahn said. These shovels, however, will only be for the first phase of the project — the casino. The hotel and resort will come two to five years down the road.
The Love’s Travel Center project along Avenue 17 on the east side of Highway 99 should also start construction in 2017. This project is unlike Love’s typical projects, which include a travel center, RV park and sandwich shop only. During negotiations, Love’s purchased more land than needed and on the excess they plan to construct an 80-room hotel and restaurant.
 “This is significant because a normal Love’s Travel Center would employ 25 people, but now with the full-service hotel, 75-100 jobs are being created,” Kahn said. “The other great thing about this project is we’ve never had infrastructure on the east side of the freeway, and Love’s is bringing in the water and sewer lines and that means we’ll be able to have more development on that side of the freeway in the future. Avenue 17 will now see significant development in 2017 and beyond.”
The Avenue 12 and highway 99 interchange should also see development on both sides in the coming years now that improvements to that area are finished, Kahn said.
On the industrial side, Madera recently celebrated the completion of its 100-acre Freedom Industrial Park and welcomed its first tenant, Deerpoint Group, which houses its 48,000-square-foot headquarters on 12 acres of the park. Kahn anticipates its will take four to five years for full build out.  
Chowchilla is hoping to attract new commercial and industrial business as well, with city council members approving incentive packages to spur growth.
Currently, the industrial vacancy rate in the county is extremely low at .5 percent.
“That means we’re full, but the downside is as of now we have no finished buildings to show,” Kahn said. “We can, however, build quickly. The Deerpoint Group building was built in less than four months.”
In the eastern part of the county, tourism continue to be the No. 1 industry. Last year, Visit Yosemite Madera County, reported a record number of visitors to its new center—18.174 over the summer of 2016, compared to 14,346 during the summer of 2015. This growth is expected to continue.
“The bureau reported that last year was the best ever,” Kahn said. “Bass Lake was full for the first time in five years and it brought people back. There were also more people entering Yosemite from the Highway 41 gate, which means more people are traveling through Madera County. Chukchansi Gold Resort and Casino also reopened, allowing 1,000 employees to go back to work.”

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