That’s because the Madera Metropolitan Statistical Area — which includes the cities of Madera and Chowchilla, along with most of the rest of the county — was ranked No. 1 for short-term job growth among small U.S. cities on the Milken Institute’s annual Best Performing Cities list.
Over a one-year period, from September 2015 to the start of September the following year, the Madera metro area experienced job growth at a rate of 6.4 percent higher than the national average. That’s the highest rate over that period among any of the 201 metro areas in the list’s “small cities” category.
A big part of Madera County’s jump in employment is the result of Chukchansi Gold Resort and Casino reopening at the start of 2016 after being shut down for about a year and a half.
Bobby Kahn, executive director of the Madera County Economic Development Commission, said the casino reopening restored about 1,500 jobs in his county, but it wasn’t the only factor helping the area’s job growth.
He cited new businesses coming into the area, including the Deerpoint Group opening an agricultural chemical plant in Madera’s new Freedom Industrial Park early last year and Harris Farms continuing to expanding its Almond Co. almond processing plant in Madera’s Airport Industrial Park.
“It’s something, obviously we’re very proud of,” he said of the No. 1 ranking, noting that Madera County’s unemployment rate declined from 10.5 percent in December 2015 to 9.4 percent a year later.
“We can tell things are very healthy right now and things are going in the right direction,” Kahn said.
He noted that the recognition from the Milken report illustrates Madera County’s healthy economy, and the EDC intends to tout it to try to draw business developers and help motivate businesses already there to expand.
The Madera area’s economy didn’t rank No. 1 overall, as the Milken 2016 list is based on an assessment of U.S. metro areas based on increases in jobs, wages and and salary growth, along with technology output, over the past five years.
Under those parameters, the top-performing “small city” in the nation was the Bend-Redmond metro area in Oregon, while the Madera area ranked 61.
Among the eight California metro areas in the small cities category, San Rafel ranked three, while the Hanford-Corcoran area ranked 147.
The Milken Institute, a non-profit economic think tank based in Santa Monica, divided the nation’s 401 metropolitan areas — as defined by the U.S. Census Bureau — into two categories of 200 large cities, with the remaining metro areas falling into the small cities category.
Among the large cities, the San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara metro area took the top spot as the best-performing in the nation, while San Francisco-Redwood City ranked fourth.
Among the South Valley metro areas on the large cities list, Fresno ranked 56, followed by Bakersfield at 59 and Visalia-Porterville at 98.
As for why the Milken Institute has been generating its Best-Performing Cities list since 1999, Minoli Ratnatunga, a researcher and economist for the think tank, said the aim is to give civic and business leaders an idea of how their communities are performing economically, as well as how cities in their areas or similar cities in other parts of the country are performing.
“In some cities, you can look at peer cities and see what policies they are performing,” to determine if the successful ones can be tried in cities not performing as well, she said.
See the Milken Institutes’ 2016 Best of Cities report online at best-cities.org.