An artist's rendering of the $24.69 million veterans and family housing project currently under construction in downtown Madera. Image via City of Madera video
Written by Donald A. Promnitz
Whether 2021 will be the best of times or the worst of times in Madera County may depend on the industry and the size of one’s business.
The Covid-19 pandemic and its economic impact have been fully felt in the region as businesses continue to struggle to get out of the purple tier and begin reopening. According Bobby Kahn, executive director for the Madera County Economic Development Commission (EDC), the coming year looks troubling for small businesses — particularly in the restaurant and hospitality industries.
“Small businesses are struggling in a major way — they are barely hanging on with these state regulations,” Kahn said. “So for the small business person, unless things can loosen up and they can open up again at least to some capacity — I would say at least 50% — they are going to be really struggling to be keep their businesses afloat.”
Debi Bray, CEO of the Madera Chamber of Commerce, added that it’s been felt across all sectors, but those deemed “non-essential” were hit the hardest. This includes gyms, martial arts and dance/gym studios, barbershops and salons, just to name a few. Along with them, Bray added, there are others who are often overlooked.
“One area most don’t consider is the nonprofit sector,” she said. “Service clubs and organizations.”
It’s especially being felt in areas like the eastern half of the county, which relies heavily on tourism traffic from those visiting Yosemite National Park. In Oakhurst, planners anticipated a booming influx of visitors, but not a pandemic. Hotels went up along Highway 41, only to go largely unused. The fallout from the Creek Fire further played up the troubles this autumn.
However, 2020 did have its bright spots. During the summer, for example, Bass Lake saw record highs for visitors as people from the Central Valley sought a place to go that left them remain socially distanced while escaping the confinements of their homes. This had a positive effect on restaurants, boat rentals and other businesses in the area before the fire hit.
For construction, 2020 also proved to be a good year, with this trend expected to continue into next year. In the City of Madera, they are looking forward to the new Veteran’s and Family Housing project downtown, a new fire station and housing construction and sales. Along Highway 41 heading towards eastern Madera County, construction continues at a rapid pace for the Tesoro Viejo and Riverstone communities. Meanwhile, another housing project is underway with Rancho Calera in Chowchilla.
In a positive development from this year’s circumstance, the ecommerce boom may benefit Madera County. According to Kahn, reports received from economists indicate that the last six months have advanced the industry by about five years.
“It had been creeping and creeping up and it’s just really gone up in a major proportion in the last few months,” Kahn said.
With that in mind, Kahn added that there have been a significant number of inquiries from fulfillment and distribution centers looking to expand and create locations. There’s a particular interest in Madera County, since their central location is ideal for commerce in California.
Meanwhile, agriculture remains stable and robust in Madera County, keeping its title as the No. 1 industry in the region like the rest of the Central Valley. Some commodity prices have dropped slightly, but overall, it’s expected that it will remain sturdy and will contribute to the overall health of the Madera County economy going into 2021.
Despite all the setbacks — and amidst its attributes — the community of Madera and the surrounding county may remain the strongest asset they have. This has included an outpouring of support to Madera Community Hospital as well as each other.
It may also be the thing that helps them weather the pandemic and survive in the year ahead.
“Our businesses have been working together to donate food and what funds they can afford to support those that have been in such need during the pandemic,” Bray said. “While their businesses may be suffering, they still care about their fellow citizens and the wellbeing of Madera.”