A look at Stanislaus County
BY SABRA STAFFORD
Stanislaus County has long been an agricultural powerhouse in the state, country and the world, and while the region remains a global food supplier, county leaders are seeking to bolster the area’s economy by bringing in developing industries that offer new opportunities to the residents.
More than 230 different commodities are produced in Stanislaus County, with the top 10 commodities making up 80 percent of the total economic impact of the industry. But when looking at agriculture in Stanislaus County, the scope goes further than just the commodities produced in the region. It also includes all the businesses that service the ag industry, including veterinary services, specialized vehicle sales, and seed production. A 2019 report looking at the economic contributions of agricultural in Stanislaus County found that the industry was responsible for generating more than $7 billion to Stanislaus County economy, from the commodities to the ripple effect on other businesses. That number grows to $14 billion when it includes products not grown in the county, but still processed here, said Stanislaus County Assistant Chief Executive Officer Keith Boggs.
“Agriculture is our most dominant Industry when it comes to industry specialization, as in how well we do ag compared to other typical counties,” Boggs said. “Ag had significant job growth of 13.4 percent from 2010-2019, far above the national average of 4.1 percent growth. However, between 2020-2025, the job growth is estimated to slow to a small 1.9 percent growth, much less than the national growth rate of 3.2 percent in the same time period. Based on regional specialization, Stanislaus County has the 17th largest share of all the counties in California. Average earnings in ag are higher in Stanislaus County ($48,831) than any of the other Central Valley counties or the California average. Also, we have 83.2 percent of the ag supply chain met in-region, much higher than most of the other counties (only Kern and Tulare are higher).”
Coming in at number one on the 2018 Agricultural Report list of top 10 commodities, almonds accounted for 30 percent of the county’s total commodity value at $1,107,328,000 in 2018, with the commodity’s value increasing by $51 million since 2017. This was largely due to an additional 8,500 harvested acres in 2018.
Milk production accounted for the second largest crop in Stanislaus County in 2018. It accounted for 17 percent of the total commodity value at $636,499,000.
Poultry also remained a strong industry in Stanislaus County, valued at $276,879,000 in 2018 and ranking third on the top commodity list. This was an increase of over $20 million from 2017, resulting from an increase of about two million chicks countywide and price increases for both chicks and chickens.
“Markets have grown and values have increased over time,” Boggs said. “As our report showed, we continue to be a diverse agricultural county and more resilient than a county that depends on one crop e.g. Napa wine.”
Agriculture is certainly a dominant industry in Stanislaus County, but there are ongoing efforts to diversify so that the region isn’t too reliant on just one industry.
“In the last few years, Stanislaus County has continued to diversify our economy in a healthy and sustainable way,” Boggs said. “Stanislaus currently ranks 805 out of 3,142 large counties nationwide with a 74.4 percent Industry Diversity rate, which is much higher than the national rate. This is an amazing testament to the fact that we are finding ways to draw new and emerging businesses and industries and to make Stanislaus a location of choice for business attraction.
“The benefit of diversifying our industries in a healthy and sustainable way is not just valuable, but also, very important,” Boggs continued. “Having a diverse economy allows a region to withstand unexpected downfalls such as recessions in a much more manageable way. It’s the ‘don’t put all your eggs in one basket’ theory. When an economy is reliant on just one or a couple industries specifically, if something negative happens that impacts that/those industries (like a drought for agriculture or increase in tariffs for manufacturing), the economy is not able to recover as quickly. When multiple industries are responsible for the economic vibrancy of a region, there are more options to keep that region sustainable if/when something does happen.”
Some of the emerging industries taking root in Stanislaus County are warehouse and distribution companies like Amazon, W.W. Grainger, Restoration Hardware, and CVS. The software development and computer technologies industries are creating a base in the area with the addition of Novo Technologies, Data Path, Varsity, Stickman Ventures, Bay Valley Tech, and other similar businesses. The Pre-Fabricated Manufactured Homes industry is starting to develop locally as well.
The government sector, which includes the county, cities and school districts continues to be a major driver of employment in Stanislaus County. Stanislaus County alone has 4,480 employees, while the three largest school districts (Modesto, Turlock, and Ceres) employ more than 7,000 people.
When it comes to drawing in new industries, Stanislaus County’s location plays a pivotal role.
“First and foremost, we are in close proximity (within two hours by truck or train) to one of the largest and most important markets in the world, the San Francisco Bay-Silicon Valley market,” Boggs said. “Via the SF Bay area, we have shipping access to the entire Pacific Rim. We are also within seven hours of the Los Angeles market. We have two major rail lines through our county (Union Pacific and BNSF), two major freeways (I-5 and 99) and are in close proximity (within two hours) to four major international airports (San Francisco International, Oakland International, San Jose International and Sacramento International). We also are within 30 minutes of Stockton Metropolitan Airport. We are within two hours of two major ports – the Port of Stockton and the Port of Oakland.”
There are other attributes that make Stanislaus County a viable draw for industries, Boggs explained.
“Stanislaus County has a growing, skilled workforce,” Boggs said. “Through intensive training programs, we are upgrading our workforce. Our total county workforce is comprised of the county’s population continues to grow with the average age being below the national average. The current workforce of 245,500 people has grown by 3.8 percent in the last 10 years. Our median age is 34.5 compared to the national median age of 38.2
“The cost of doing business is as much as 20-30 percent lower than the SF Bay Area. We have less expensive and more reliable electric utilities, adequate water sources, lower labor costs, and lower real estate/construction costs.
“We offer an exceptional supply chain for manufacturers and logistics companies. Our supply chain can provide more than 90 percent of inputs from local sources for many industries.
“We have a record and history of being able to facilitate the project entitlement and permitting process in reasonable time periods. We can fast track projects that will benefit the local economy. We had a dedicated, cohesive economic development team that works together well to facilitate expansion projects.”
That isn’t to say that there’s no room for improvement in the county’s goal of attracting new industries. Boggs identified the top five challenges the region needs to tackle to remain competitive:
“We need to continue to educate and train our workforce to even higher standards.
“We need to continue to build out the infrastructure so as to offer the best roads, rail, air and port options to serve industry needs.
“Each city in the county needs to look to the future and ensure that we have the sites needed to support industrial and commercial growth.
“We need to continue to improve our quality of life so that companies can attract the best talent and promote regional tourism and marketing messaging.
“We need to take a hard look at how efficiently our cities can serve the needs of business in terms of handling permits and other requests.”