Written by The Business Journal Staff
For the first time in more than a decade, Clovis welcomed new members to its city council dais at a reorganization meeting March 27.
The new councilmembers fill vacancies left by Harry Armstrong, who retired in October 2016, and Nathan Magsig, who now serves on the Fresno County Board of Supervisors. In a March 7 election, Magsig’s former seat went to long-time Clovis Planning Commissioner Vong Mouanoutoua, who ran uncontested, and voters elected Drew Bessinger over candidates Paul Soares and Aaron-Jack Perry to fulfill the remaining two years of Armstrong’s term. Incumbent Lynne Ashbeck also ran uncontested and was reelected to a fifth term.
As fresh councilmembers, Mouanoutoua and Bessinger say they are ready to take on the challenge of leading a growing community, and as more and more residents move into Clovis neighborhoods, both councilmembers said it’s essential to attract new businesses to town that bring in revenue to support all the services residents have come to expect as part of the Clovis way of life.
Bessinger, who was chosen as Mayor Pro Tem by the council Monday, said there are three reasons people move to Clovis — it’s safe, it’s clean and it has great schools. Without a boom in business, however, the city would struggle to maintain the safe and clean streets citizens have come to expect. A former police officer, Bessinger said his No. 1 priority is beefing up the police department, but businesses bring the tax revenue needed to do that.
“We need to bring in businesses that not only bring in the sales tax revenue but also bring in good jobs beyond retail and fast food,” Bessinger said. “We want career jobs in Clovis so people can work here, afford to purchase a home here and also spend their money shopping here.”
“Businesses are the lifeblood in that without business, you won’t have police and you won’t have any extra money to do parks and trails,” Mouanoutoua said.
Though residential development has been lucrative, both Bessinger and Mouanoutoua said it’s vital that Clovis not become a “bedroom community.”
“We have to — and I think we have — plan very smart and very responsibly because the rooftops of homes provide some income, but it doesn’t build the city’s tax base to pay for all the services residents want,” Mouanoutoua said.
To attract businesses to Clovis, the councilmembers said they want to ensure the city is business friendly in its policies and that the process of opening a business in town isn’t needlessly long or tedious.
“Government cannot be the obstacle for businesses that want to come in,” Mouanoutoua said. “We want to have regulations, of course, but we can’t be so burdensome that a mom-and-pop shop can’t survive…Whether it is a big developer or someone opening a small business, they have the most to lose because they are the ones investing, and a month is a lot if we delay the process, so we need to look inside and make sure our staff is cross-trained so everything doesn’t come to a halt if one staff member is out.”
Bessinger said the city could even take it one step further and hire a consultant to aggressively pursue businesses Clovis citizens would like to see in town. Both councilmen also said community involvement is key.
“We should conduct a community survey, maybe through social media, to find out what businesses people would like to see come to Clovis,” Bessinger said. “For example, the first Cracker Barrel in California just opened in Roseville, and there are many people who would like to see one in the Central Valley. Knowing that, we should ask how we could attract Cracker Barrel to Clovis. I think it would be good for a consultant to set appointments with companies like this that we know our residents would like, and maybe have the data from the survey to show them. Then our staff can preselect some locations that would work.
“It should be as seamless as possible so when a business does come to town it’s such a smooth transition that they want to bring more here.”
While the retail and restaurant industry in Clovis has seen a growth spurt in recent years, especially along the city’s Herndon Avenue corridor, Bessinger and Mouanoutoua said its imperative to attract businesses that bring higher paying job opportunities to town.
Home to one of the Valley’s highest-rated hospitals, Clovis Community Medical Center, and burgeoning medical school California Health Sciences University, the councilmen said it would be a natural fit to bring more health-related industry to town.
“I’m encouraged by the industrial technology park and I think health is an industry we need to look at, and also biotechnology as it relates to health,” Mouanoutoua said. “We also need to be open in finding out what the next booming industry is and how we can attract them because we need to find high paying jobs. That way our sons and our daughters stay here. We need them because we need people who are attuned to what the Clovis way of life is who can perpetuate that because if you have too many transplants from other communities, then slowly you will lose that sense of community.”
Bessinger would also like to see more light industrial companies come to town.
“Fresno has Ulta coming and that’s exciting,” Bessinger said. “It would be nice for Clovis to get something like that, but we have to examine the trade off. What you get is a reasonable tax base from the jobs, a reduction in unemployment and that increases the viability of neighborhoods. Then, what are you giving up? Is it more than just some upfront costs? This is what we need to weigh and maybe we will decide we need to copy our friends in Fresno.”
While growth on the outskirts is booming, Bessinger said it’s also important the city be mindful of infill development and revitalization of old neighborhoods. He sees that senior living facilities could be a good fit for infill as they are a community need and since established neighborhoods are often near shopping, dining and services that seniors would want.
As growth occurs, both councilmen said its their duty to make sure Clovis is following a plan.
“If you fail to plan, you’re planning to fail,” Bessinger said. “You may not see immediate results, but if you stick with a plan for 10 years you’ll have something.”