Local business, government and education leaders connected over scrambled eggs and hot coffee Thursday morning, receiving economic updates that highlighted the growth of Turlock, as well as the need to continue training a skilled workforce for the area.
The annual Eggs, Issues & Economics breakfast hosted by the Turlock Chamber of Commerce at the Turlock Golf & Country Club has, according to Mayor Gary Soiseth, become one of the best economic discussions of the year, and guests were treated to updates from the Mayor, Stanislaus County Board of Supervisors Chairperson Vito Chiesa and Assemblyman Heath Flora, with Opportunity Stanislaus CEO David White giving the keynote address.
Flora shared with the audience his fight to make life easier for small businesses in the Valley during his time in Sacramento, adding that many in the legislature don’t truly know what it means to be a business owner. Last year, he said, there were 53 new bills passed which directly affected small businesses, and only 17 elected officials in the State Assembly have held private sector jobs – a majority, attorneys.
“One of the shocking things I’ve learned is how few people in the State legislature truly understand what it means to run a business, what it means to sign the front of a paycheck,” said Flora. “The regulatory burdens they put on us constantly hamper our efforts to keep our constituents employed…it’s not just one law, it’s the cumulative effect.”
To educate others in the legislature on the small business owners and farmers in the Valley will take a bipartisan effort, he said, and he believes a lot of that responsibility falls on his own shoulders.
Chiesa introduced Stanislaus County’s new CEO, Jody Hayes, to the crowd before diving into details about the County’s budget, water and even marijuana, which he said the Board will vote on at their Sept. 26 meeting. He also touched on Public Safety, stating that the County continues to struggle hiring qualified applicants on both the law enforcement and custodial sides, and the passage of Measure L to repair the county’s roads.
“The voters had finally decided that they had had enough, and so now it’s going to be up to Mayor Soiseth and myself to prove we can do what we said we’re going to do,” said Chiesa. “Measure L will bring about...five and a half million more dollars for road repairs.”
Soiseth was quick to point out the variety of new businesses coming to Turlock, including Habit Burger Grill, Ten Pin Fun Center, Hobby Lobby, La Quinta hotel and a Costco expansion before moving on to the City’s budget, roads and water. While the City is deficit spending by about $250,000, Soiseth explained that the City is very conservative with its budgeting and spends less than planned annually, all while working to pay back $6 million in debt.
Measure L and Senate Bill 1, or the Gas Tax, will help fix Turlock’s roads, but purposefully, said Soiseth.
“We don’t want to just pave roads for the sake of it. We want to pave roads and improve infrastructure that’s actually going to retain or attract businesses into our community,” he said, adding that roads all over town need to be taken care of, not just those in the newer parts of town. “We need to make sure that those businesses want to stay in Turlock and aren’t lured away to other communities.”
Keynote speaker White addressed the importance of training a capable workforce for vocational industries that are taking a hit as Baby Boomers retire, and he hopes that Opportunity Stanislaus’ new Valley Occupational and Learning Technical Institute, or VOLT, will do the trick.
VOLT was launched earlier this year with the goal of taking unskilled and semi-skilled workers and turning them into much higher skilled workers with greater earning potential. The program is housed in downtown Modesto in partnership with the Stanislaus County Office of Education.
“This whole idea is to take people who, for whatever reason, have been left behind in this strong economy that need a chance or opportunity to go forward,” said White. “That’s what VOLT is about.”
Driven by local industry leaders, like Foster Farms and ConAgra Foods, VOLT is a fast-paced training program which will have its students career-ready in 19 weeks. Daytime and evening courses will be offered beginning in September, with 25 students per class. More information can be received by emailing VOLT@OpportunityStanislaus.com or by calling 209-556-9102.
“As people have heard about this all up and down the Valley – even as far away as Sacramento and Bakersfield – this is something that’s very dynamic and exciting,” said White.