The Nov. 25 print edition of The Business Journal 

Despite inflation and a limited housing market, Madera is still poised for a positive economic outlook for 2023.

With a slew of new projects waiting to come online, Madera County remains robust with strong growth in both the industrial and commercial sectors.

Darren Rose, the new executive director of the Madera County Economic Development Commission (EDC), said there is strong business interest in the county because of its location, workforce and business friendly environment.

Rose said that the industrial sector is seeing a lot of movement in the county, adding up to 1 million square feet of industrial space.

Cold storage company Amond World is currently building a 250,000-square-foot almond cold storage facility near the Madera Airport. Construction is expected to be completed by the second quarter of 2023.

Though they cannot be publicly named because of proprietary issues, a few local businesses in the county are preparing to expand, including a food manufacturer, a light-industrial construction fabrication company and an industrial component manufacturer and solutions provider.

Ready Roast Nut Company, an industrial supplier and processor of roasted tree nuts, is working with the city for its expansion as well, Rose said.

In August, ground broke for AutoZone’s Northern California distribution center, located in the Chowchilla Industrial Park near Highway 99. The $150 million project will create 300 full-time jobs.

The facility will cover 540,000 square feet and will be online by the end of 2023.

On the retail end, Rose said that there are inquiries from national brands, but with the national economic fluctuations, these companies cannot be disclosed.

“We have our eyes wide open — we are on the precipice of potential national recession, and retail tracks the economy very closely. We are excited, but we don’t know what the future holds from a national standpoint and what it would mean to locate a national company in the Madera market,” Rose said.

But the county does remain on the radar for national companies he said. The available workforce and land, as well as the transportation corridors, make the region attractive to national actors.

Madera will also be getting its first In N’ Out that will be going in the former space of the SugarPine Smokehouse restaurant near the Madera fairgrounds, which could open possibly by 2024, Rose said.

Rose said the ag industry in the county is expected to remain strong, but it is facing several challenges.

“The cost of fuel, supply chain issues with international markets are not as active and of course water,” Rose said. “Hopefully, the international markets begin to open and in turn help with commodity prices.”

Residential real estate is expected to remain active, but Rose said there is likely to be a slowdown because of the lack of available housing.

Madera City Manager Arnoldo Rodriguez said that the city has been fortunate this year with investment from private development, as well as grant funding for public projects.

For retail, Rodriguez said that Madera doesn’t have a single large vacant retail space, which is a challenge as the city is getting inquiries from national companies.

A Big Lots is going into the space of a former Save Mart, expected to open by early 2023.

Madera is expecting to break ground for its “Village D” master plan in the summer of 2023, consisting of 11,000 residential units and approximately two million square feet of commercial space near the Madera airport.

With the approval of Village D, and other subdivision housing projects, Rodriguez said the city is hopeful for a strong housing market.

“If interest rates come down a little bit, I think we will see a decent amount of development. With interest rates a little bit higher than average, people are skittish,” Rodriguez said. “While we can do a lot locally, some of it is dependent on national economic issues that we cannot control.”

With federal and state funding programs available, Rodriguez said the city has been aggressive in securing millions in grants for road repairs, new parks and park improvement, Fresno River conservation efforts and repairs for sidewalks.

The city also secured a $14 million grant to rehabilitate portions of Highway 145, which includes Yosemite Avenue, Downtown Madera’s main street. Construction for this will begin in 2025.

As well as attracting the attention of national companies, Madera County was able to attract national and international travelers as well.

Covid-19 restrictions in 2020, which carried into 2021, did lead to less visitors travelling to areas including Yosemite and Bass Lake, but the pent-demand led to a record number of visitors in 2022.

“The second quarter was strong — it beat all records,” said Rhonda Salisbury, CEO of the Yosemite Sierra Visitors Bureau. “2019 was the highest we had in tourism numbers, and 2022 beat that and 2021. But then the fires hit in July.”

California wildfires burned in the busiest time of the season, Salisbury said, which did bring down the number of visitors to the parks and lakes.

Since Yosemite National Park will no long be requiring reservations to visit, Salisbury expects this will draw more visitors in 2023.

She added that the bureau is expecting around the same number of visitors in 2023, especially with a lot of international travel rates returning to normal. They expect the typical European travelers to return in 2023, as well as for agritourism and Central Valley wineries.

Even with higher gas prices across the state, Salisbury said that if people are committed to traveling, gas prices are not going to deter them from taking a trip to the area.

“There’s more options of places to travel,” Salisbury said. “For a while California just toured California. Thank goodness we have so much to see and do.”

Productive, Calif.: Fresno’s economic comeback ranks among top in the U.S.

Prior to the Great Recession, Fresno ranked as one of the least economically productive cities in America. Here’s how the times have changed.

Fresno’s increase in productivity has been measured as one of the largest in the nation over the last 15 years.

A study conducted by the University of North Carolina, titled The Power of Productivity, found that Fresno’s productivity increased by 17.3 percent in the last decade and a half.

That increase is the sixth largest among the nation’s 50 largest cities.

The study defines productivity generally as the level of economic output generated for a given amount of input.

That output is seen in Fresno’s GDP, which has grown by $18 billion since 2007, including $3 billion in the last two years.

Over the last 10 years, Fresno has also had its unemployment rate drop from 17.5 percent to 5.8 percent this last October.

And while Fresno’s poverty rate remains high at 20.6 percent, it has declined from a peak of 27.4 percent in 2014.

“In 2007, Fresno was third from last in our productivity rankings,” the study reads. “However, a painful reshuffling during and following the Great Recession to advanced manufacturing and its traditional reliance on agriculture, which – thanks to heavy mechanization – can be very productive, pushed its ranking up to spot number 36.”

Fresno’s per capita income has also grown nearly 70 percent in the last 15 years.

California Competes Tax Credit Program

The California Competes Tax Credit (CCTC) is an income tax credit available to businesses that want to locate in California or stay and grow in California. Businesses of any industry, size, or location compete for over $180 million available in tax credits by applying in one of the three application periods each year. Applicants will be analyzed based on twelve different factors of evaluation, including number of full-time jobs being created, amount of investment, and strategic importance to the state or region.

Application Period Timeline: For the remainder of the 2022-2023, applications for the California Competes Tax Credit will be accepted during the following periods:


Exeter-based California Citrus Mutual (CCM) and the Citrus Research Board (CRB) have received more than $1 million in new federal funding for critical research programs that support the U.S. and California citrus industries. Last week, Congress passed the 2023 Appropriations bill, which includes funding to help stop the deadly citrus plant disease Huanglonging (HLB) that has ravaged citrus production in Florida and other parts of the country.

The $1 million in new funding was approved to establish a citrus breeding program at the USDA Agriculture Research Service (ARS) field station in Parlier. “The commitment of the citrus industry to delivering quality research and innovation for all farm use has taken a big step forward with the support of congress funding the citrus breeding program in Parlier,” said Justin Brown, CRB Chairman.  The funding will be re-appropriated annually.

The program, which was championed by Sen. Alex Padilla (D-CA) and Representatives Jim Costa (D-Fresno) and David Valadao (R-Hanford), will identify new citrus varieties best suited for changing climatic pressures such as drought, consumer taste preferences and resistant to pests and diseases such as HLB. Parlier’s new program is an expansion of the existing national USDA ARS citrus breeding program in Florida, which focuses on varieties with higher yields, increased disease resistance, improved color and a longer shelf life. Based off of these advancements in Florida, the CCM and the CRB saw the need for a similar program in California that would work with unique environmental conditions of the state’s production regions.

CRB, a grower-funded organization aiming to further the industry’s research priorities, has committed $500,000 toward establishing the new breeding program in Parlier to bring additional representation to California’s industry. “The addition of the breeding facility in Parlier will make the ARS Citrus Program a truly national project,” said CCM President and CEO Casey Creamer. “We look forward to watching the growth of this program and its collaboration with the UC breeding program to find solutions to the issues California citrus growers are faced with every day.”

Southern California Investors strike gold in Central Valley housing market

TULARE COUNTY – High-end rental complexes in the Central Valley proved to be a gold mine for Southern California investors, as the Mogharebi Group brokered the sale of yet another major housing community this year.

The Mogharebi Group (TMG) brokered Oak View Apartments, a 237-unit garden-style multifamily community in Visalia, Calif., once again, but this time for $50 million. This is one of the largest multifamily transactions ever in Visalia, according to TMG executive vice president Otto Ozen. The new buyer plans to upgrade 173 units of the Oak View Apartments. Built on a 16.46-acre site in 1990, Oak View Apartments is located at 4700 W. Caldwell Avenue in Visalia. While under its previous ownership, those rooms remained unrenovated and only one of the community’s 37 duplexes had been fully renovated.  The property comprises 48 buildings totaling 209,610 rentable square feet. The property features one-, two- and three-bedroom floor plans with an average size of 884 square feet.

Originally, the apartments were purchased by a private investor from Southern California on Nov. 3, 2020, for $42.5 million. However, two years later the property was up for sale again, and the lucky investor that scooped up the multifamily complex is also a private investor based out of Los Angeles. TMG specializes in the multifamily property sector throughout California, and this go around, they represented the seller, a private investor from Southern California.

The property also features two outdoor pools and spas, two playgrounds, three laundry centers, business center, fitness center, basketball/volleyball courts and reserved covered parking and garages. The property is adjacent to Linwood Elementary School, La Joya Middle School and is within a 30- to 60-minute commute to over 661,000 jobs.

This is not the first time TMG has helped sell large housing developments in the Central Valley, though. High-end rental complexes in the Valley have caught the attention of many Southern California investors looking to turn big profits on a tight housing market. Operations manager Brian Nakamura has said that many Southern California investors are buying homes within the Valley because it’s a much cheaper price per unit, and there is a much better capitalization rate in the Valley than in larger cities. Since their inception in 2015, TMG has been involved in the sale of more than 6,500 units in the Central Valley with sales exceeding $800 million.

A recent property TMG brokered the sale of was ReNew, a 128-unit development in Visalia from FPA Multifamily to a Santa Barbara-based private investment firm for $30.65 million in April 2022. In 2020 alone, TMG also brokered the sale of a 240-unit apartment complex in Bakersfield for $22 million, the sale of a 109-unit complex in Tulare for $15.66 million and a 237-unit complex in Visalia for $42.5 million.

In the last two years, 445 multifamily properties in the Central Valley have traded hands, 10% of those transactions brokered by TMG. Over that span, the average sales price per unit increased 21%.  The greatest increases could be found in 4- and 5-star properties which increased 28%.

There are plenty more in the permitting pipeline, as well. Apartment permits in Visalia were up 30% in the first two months of 2022 alone. Permits in Tulare are estimated to skyrocket as they are often priced lower than similar sized homes in Visalia, and the same can be said of apartment complexes as well.

Valley awarded $118M for clean ag equipment

More clean machines are coming to valley farms. The San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution District has accepted an additional $118.8 million to replace agricultural equipment in the San Joaquin Valley, with the funding from the California Air Resources Board seen as a step in reducing agricultural emissions through regulatory and incentive-based strategies. The FARMER Program (Funding Agricultural Replacement Measures for Emission Reductions) is a collaborative effort between the agricultural community, the air district and CARB in addressing emissions from agricultural sources, particularly in the San Joaquin Valley.

To date, the district has been the recipient of $432,129,600 in FARMER Program funding during the first four funding cycles. “The district appreciates the state recognizing the public health benefit that results from the FARMER funding,” said Samir Sheikh, executive director for the Valley Air District. “The San Joaquin Valley agricultural sector feeds the world and programs like FARMER are critical to supporting the ongoing transition to more sustainable and air-friendly practices.”

Valley agriculture, in partnership with the district and CARB, has invested more than $1.7 billion in public and private funding towards replacing nearly 17,000 pieces of old, higher-polluting equipment and implementing other measures to reduce emissions associated with valley agricultural operations. In March, the valley district approved increases to incentive levels for its Agriculture Tractor Replacement program and added two new incentive tiers for smaller farming operations. Operations of 100 acres and less in size can now receive up to 80% off the cost of equipment, and operations between 101 and 500 acres in size can now receive up to 70% off.

Funding opportunities can be found on the program’s webpage at Smaller farmers also receive an increased incentive under the district’s Alternatives to Agricultural Burning program. The Valley Air District covers eight counties including San Joaquin, Stanislaus, Merced, Madera, Fresno, Kings, Tulare and portions of Kern.

California About to Become the World’s 4th-Largest Economy

With many California companies outperforming their U.S. and international peers, the Golden State is poised to become the world’s fourth-largest economy. That was the projection delivered Monday by analyst Matthew A. Winkler in a Bloomberg opinion column. California Gov. Gavin Newsom, who faces challenger state Sen. Brian Dahle in the Nov. 8 election, quickly touted the analysis on social media.

California Attracts Talented People

Predictions about California’s demise are hardly a new phenomenon. But they’ve heated up in recent years because of the state’s wildfires, housing shortage, rise in the cost of living, and the appeal of low-tax states such as Texas to both families and businesses. But, Winkler writes, “California’s economy has proven relatively resilient, first through the pandemic and now through the current period of elevated inflation. So much so, that the Golden State’s gross domestic product is poised to overtake Germany’s as the fourth largest in the world after the US, China, and Japan.”

According to Winkler, the California economy is being turbo-charged by investments in renewable energy and the ability to attract talented entrepreneurs and employees. “We value innovation but we also value diversity and equity,” said Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf. “It’s nice to see those values are economically rewarded because California was very much lambasted” during the Trump administration.

Golden State GDP at $3.35 Trillion and Growing

Economists calculated the state’s gross domestic product at $3.357 trillion last year. Although California’s new GDP won’t be known until 2023, estimates suggest the state may have already caught Germany. Winkler wrote that at least one forecast has California already ahead of Germany by $72 billion.

Central Valley agricultural industry gets a boost from federal grants

The Central Valley has received two federal grants designed to strengthen the agricultural industry through technological innovation and expanding equitable job opportunities. The Fresno-Merced Future of Food Innovation (F3) Coalition received $65 million through the U.S. Economic Development Administration’s “Build Back Better” Regional Challenge. The Central Valley Community Foundation, which leads the coalition, plans to use the funding to strengthen agricultural workers’ skillsets in utilizing new technologies. “As technology evolves, California has the opportunity to lead the world in innovative strategies to allow us to help feed the hungry world,” state Sen. Anna Caballero said during a press conference Friday morning in downtown Fresno. “But agricultural jobs must change, and the jobs that farmworkers do must as well.”

The Economic Development Administration also granted $23 million granted to the Fresno County Economic Development Corporation to expand equitable job opportunities across underserved populations and communities through its “Good Jobs” Challenge. The Valley is the only region in the country to receive both grants. “This is a great day for the great Central Valley,” Congressman Jim Costa says. “For all too long, we have been overlooked. But not anymore.” A portion of the funding will support agricultural education through a partnership between UC Merced, Fresno State and various community colleges. The grants are expected to reach the community by the end of the year.

Additionally, the Central Valley Community Foundation plans to renovate the Bank of Italy building in downtown Fresno to host a new headquarters for the F3 initiative. “There needs to be a dedicated spot on the globe where you can point to and say, ‘that’s where they’re figuring out how to grow food sustainably,’” says Ashley Swearengin, the president and CEO of the foundation. Swearengin says grant funds will not be used for the renovations.

These are the crops that California’s most agricultural counties produce

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (KTXL) — The majority of California’s top 10 agricultural counties are all located in one region: the San Joaquin Valley.

The San Joaquin Valley counties that make up the list are Fresno, Kern, Kings, Merced, San Joaquin, Stanislaus and Tulare counties. (The three remaining counties that make up the valley, which didn’t make the list of top agricultural producers, are Inyo, Madera and Mono counties.) Monterey, Imperial and Ventura counties round out the top 10 agricultural list.

According to the California Department of Food and Agriculture, in 2020, Fresno was ranked as the top agricultural county, moving up one spot from 2019 and swapping places with Kern County. Ventura County broke into the top 10 list from the number 11 spot. Half of the counties in the top 10 have almonds in their lists of leading commodities. Other crops that appear more than once include grapes, pistachios and lettuce. In order of their rank for 2020, these are the commodities that each county grows and that helped put them ahead of other spots in California.

  • Fresno: almonds, pistachios, poultry (unspecified) and grapes (table).
  • Kern: grapes (table), almonds, pistachios, tangerines, and mandarins
  • Tulare: milk, oranges (navel), cattle and calves and grapes (table)
  • Monterey: strawberries, lettuce (romaine), lettuce (head) and broccoli
  • Merced: milk, almonds, chickens (broilers) and sweet potatoes
  • Stanislaus: almonds, milk, chickens (unspecified), cattle and calves
  • San Joaquin: almonds, milk, grapes (wine) and walnuts
  • Kings: milk, pistachios, cattle and calves, and cotton (pima)
  • Imperial: cattle (heifers and steers), vegetables, alfalfa hay and lettuce (leaf)
  • Ventura: strawberries, lemons, avocados and raspberries

Coalition involving UC Merced awarded $65 million in Build Back Better Funds

The White House announced today (Sept. 2) a $65.1 million award — the largest federal grant ever awarded to the Central Valley — to the Fresno-Merced Future of Food Innovation (F3) Coalition as part of its “Build Back Better” initiative to boost economic recovery after the pandemic. The funding will help launch a state-of-the-art agricultural technology hub that will serve and connect farmers across the San Joaquin Valley to industry and spark a new, more advanced era in agriculture-based technology in an effort to boost productivity, create jobs and build capacity for regional sustainability.

Composed of scholars and researchers from UC Merced and Fresno State, farmers, agricultural organizations, community colleges and manufacturers, the F3 coalition is one of 21 regional groups selected to receive grants from the federal government’s $1 billion Build Back Better Regional Challenge. The coalition’s proposal received the largest pool of funding from the challenge and was among 60 finalists nationwide. In total, the challenge garnered 530 applicants.

The new technology center, dubbed iCREATE, will serve communities across Merced, Madera, Fresno, Kings and Tulare counties. Ashley Swearengin, president and CEO of the Central Valley Community Foundation (CVCF) — the lead agency and coordinator of the grant — describes it as a place that will “bring together the University of California research arm with the engineering capabilities of our state schools, alongside industry and community, all under one roof at a dedicated facility.” “We are thrilled that the Biden administration has recognized the unique potential of our Valley in awarding this grant to the Central Valley Community Foundation,” said UC Merced Chancellor Juan Sánchez Muñoz. “UC Merced looks forward to working with all our partners shoulder to shoulder to advance this effort and make the San Joaquin corridor the foremost global destination for innovation in the future of food.”

Interim Vice Chancellor for Research Marjorie Zatz called today’s announcement a signature moment for economic development in Central California. “Linking higher education, from the UC and CSU, through our community college partners, to build next generation technologies and train the workforce of the future will continue to build the massive economic impact our faculty and researchers are already having on this region.”

UC Merced professor Joshua Viers, also the director of CITRIS and the Banatao Institute, a key research partner of the effort, has been working with the CVCF since the visioning and scoping period of the F3 coalition began back in 2019. As associate dean for research in the School of Engineering, he will be launching iCREATE as its first center director to spur collaboration among the project participants and helping to integrate workforce development at local community colleges and local food producer activity supported by University of California Cooperative Extension offices. “The Build Back Better funding of F3 will not only accelerate research and development solutions for climate smart food systems that benefit local communities in the Valley, but also transform how we produce and process food in the future,” Viers said. “We will continue to lead the nation in producing food but will lead the planet in how to do it in a more technologically advanced and sustainable manner.”