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City task force tackles economic development
blue Diamond expansion 1
One topic of discussion for the Turlock Economic Development Task Force will be bringing more businesses - like Blue Diamond pictured above - to the town's industrial park (Journal file photo).

Economic development will be the focus of a special task force meeting being held at City Hall Wednesday.

Mayor Amy Bublak and the Council-appointed task force members will be reviewing the City’s Economic Development Strategic Plan and sales tax revenue trends, while discussing economic vision and goals for Turlock with a focus on the City’s industrial park and retail shopping areas.

“My passion has always been economic strategies,” said Bublak. “It’s something we should have always been doing. I’m excited that we’re working toward it again.

Bublak said that while she’s been leading the charge in economic development for the City of Turlock for the past two years, this will be the first time in awhile that it has been the focus of special meeting.

“I’m working as fast as I can to create economic development. I recently met with Lenny Mendonca (Governor Newsom’s chief economic and business advisor and a native of Turlock) and he said you really need a business plan and have everyone together at the table,” she said.

The first order of business for the task force will be reviewing the City’s current Economic Development Strategic Plan, which was adopted in June 2017.

The strategic plan outlined the City’s strengths, its weaknesses, threats and opportunities.

Turlock was recognized as being a strong economic player in the region, with plenty of assets not available in competing communities.

“Turlock draws what cities two times its size do, especially for retail. Incomes, wages, home prices and other demographic indicators indicate more affluence than other communities in Stanislaus County.  Turlock is positioned to really shine if enough momentum and cooperation can be developed,” states the report.

The report also cites the City’s shovel-ready industrial park and downtown area as strengths.

Weaknesses identified included complaints about the Building Department being difficult to work with, labor shortages in technical fields and a lack of marketing for the City as a whole.

A shortage in housing, rising minimum wages and high utility fees were listed as threats and good city planning, expanding the Turlock Downtown Property Owners Association area and partnering with local colleges, universities and other agencies for increased workforce training were seen as opportunities.

The task force will also review Turlock sales tax trends.

The Christmas sales numbers were recently released and Turlock saw an increase of 4.1 percent over last year’s holiday sales. Finance Director Kellie Jacobs-Hunter told the City Council at their April 9 meeting that she expects the City to end the fiscal year with at least a 2 percent sales tax revenue increase over last year.

“We want our board to see all the numbers relevant to growth and opportunity,” said Bublak.

The Mayor said she wants to look at expanding the businesses opening up at the Turlock Regional Industrial Park.

“I want to diversify our portfolio when it comes to businesses and look at other opportunities that aren’t just food processing,” said Bublak. “I want all we can for Turlock.”

Marketing is also on the agenda for the Economic Development Task Force meeting.

In April 2017, the City of Turlock contracted North Star Destination Strategies to develop branding and marketing strategies for the City. In September 2017, the Council also contracted North Star Destination to develop a tourism strategy. It’s unclear what strategies North Star have prepared for the City of Turlock and if any have been implemented.

“I think we can do a better job of marketing our community’s assets for the betterment of Turlock,” said Bublak.

The special meeting will be held at 4 p.m. Wednesday in the Yosemite Room at City Hall. It is open to the public.

Economic Development Task Force members include: James Figurell, owner of Price Ford; DJ Fransen, owner of Turlock City News; Jeffrey Lewis, president and chief executive officer of Legacy Health Endowment; Chris Nichols, Atlantic Realty; Sam Romeo, Romeo Medical Clinic; and Rob Santos, owner Monte Vista Small Animal Hospital.