Tesoro Viejo is one of a pair of large-scale housing developments that are coming to Madera County.
Written by Donald A. Promnitz
Much-needed rainfall and an up-and-coming residential project are cause for optimism in Madera County’s economy.
Julie Herd, manager of business development and marketing for Madera County Economic Development Commission, expressed high hopes for growth as new opportunities come in and unemployment goes down.
“It’s really good. There’s a lot of things that are happening that have a lot of opportunity to bring in new business,” Herd said. “There’s some industrial development plans and then there’s also commercial residential development.”
Focus is being placed on two industrial areas in the county: a site-specific plan to develop industrial land in Chowchilla on Highways 99 and 152 and another industrial park which is being planned for Avenue 7 and Highway 99.
The biggest development of all, however, is the Riverstone residential project just east of Madera Ranchos. With building underway by McCaffrey Homes, Lennar Homes and D.R. Horton, there are eight different districts where thousands of residents are expected to live. McCaffrey is also working on Tesoro Viejo, a development north of Riverstone.
“I think one of the bright spots has definitely been the Riverstone project, [in] which we’ve seen a housing boom our there and that’s going to continue,” said Madera County Supervisor Robert Poythress. “That doesn’t look like there’s going to be any shortage of houses being built out in that area and that’s definitely been providing jobs here locally.”
Madera County’s main economic avenue, agriculture, has received further aid with the recent rains.
“You know, we’ve had four-plus years of drought—soil has been impacted with salt buildup,” said Jay Mahil, president of the Madera County Farm Bureau. “That wasn’t allowed to be leeched out, so this year’s wet winter really helped leech out the soil, which gives all of our plants a better growing area, so trees, vines, everything health-wise look a lot better this year.”
Farmers saw a gross value of production at $1.8 billion in 2016. This is a 9.8 percent drop from 2015, likely due to the change in the market price of almonds, but still a strong output. Mahil said that almonds remain the primary crop in Madera County, while pistachios, dairy, grapes and raisins are other strong sources of agricultural value.
Moving forward, Mahil said that farmers will face challenges with the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA), and creating a plan to achieve sustainability with underground water. additional challenges are posed by immigration policy and a shrinking labor force. There is also the matter of trade on farmers’ minds.
“Not knowing what’s going to be in place or the trade agreement really kind of puts the damper on some of these sells,” Mahil said.
With the agricultural industry, there has been further room for jobs surrounding this avenue, including processing and distribution.
“If you stick your finger in the middle of the California map, and you have your finger landing on what you believe is the exact center, more than likely it’s sitting in Madera County,” Herd said. “So I think we’re pretty accurate in saying that we’re the center of Madera County which again plays into distribution and warehousing.”
Herd stated that while these would not provide as many jobs, it still be attractive to the area. Agricultural waste, along with dead trees, has opened up more jobs.
“And another thing that has been coming up a lot for us lately is biomass with relation to all these dead trees,” Herd said. “The tree mortality issue up in the foothills.”
Biomass is used to create such energy sources like biodiesel and soil improvers like biochar. Opportunities for growth have served to drop the unemployment rate, which Herd said had fallen to 6.6 percent in September.
Poythress said that Madera County faces challenges with its retail market taking hits from online shopping. Infrastructure in the cities for and sewage are also aging, along with road issues. Tighter regulations in California raise concerns.
“And there’s challenges with educating our workforce,” Poythress said. “We need a highly-skilled workforce in terms of the trade. We’re moving in that direction, but there’s still a lot of work that needs to be done, so again, in spite of that, I think that 2018 is probably not going to look too different from 2017.
Despite its challenges, however, Herd said that she is hopeful for growth, as the economy in Madera County is going up, and one of the biggest challenges faced is meeting the need for real estate.
“We have had a vacancy rate at pretty much 0 percent for the past three years,” Herd said. “So shrinking is not a problem for us.”