In the first ever Economic Trends Breakfast, the Turlock Chamber of Commerce joined together on Wednesday morning with business leaders and local officials to address the state of the regional economy and issues affecting local businesses.
“Turlock is having a renaissance,” said Turlock Mayor John Lazar. “We’ve been able to recover a little differently than neighboring cities to the north and the south. I know I always say this, but Turlock really continues to be a gem in the Central Valley.”
County Supervisor Vito Chiesa, who serves District 2 on the Stanislaus County Board of Supervisors, said that despite the previous downfall of the national economy, he believes things are beginning to turn around for the better.
“There are good times for businesses to be talking,” said Chiesa. “Things are getting better. Particularly agriculture. Right now in this region, ag is essentially going through a renaissance, with unprecedented growth in the ag sector. We’ve seen processing plants sprout up, business expansions, job expansions and continue to see unemployment rates drop, which is a good thing.”
While a main topic throughout the event remained how to bring new businesses to the area, Chiesa stressed the importance of ensuring the region has a quality, trained workforce to attract new industries.
“We have to make sure that we have a trained workforce,” said Chiesa. “We need to make sure that our folks are ready for the jobs that are available for them, that is important for government. We have a literacy program, as simple as that sounds, in our library system where we’re teaching people the basics of reading and writing. That is important because not all people are going to be college graduates, but they still need to be productive in the workforce.”
The keynote speaker for the inaugural event, Greenlaw “Fritz” Grupe, Jr., brought a wealth of knowledge to the table as his company, The Grupe Company, has created 50 communities in six states over the past 45 years.
During this time, the company has spearheaded development with over 50,000 for sale and rental housing units, 10,000 lots for other builders in master-planned communities, and over two million square feet of office, commercial and storage space. The company is currently buying foreclosed, single-family homes and retro-fitting homes to help make them more energy efficient.
Addressing topics such as housing, the United States GDP, unemployment rates, water policy, the growing middle class, and education, Grupe shared with the audience how he perceives the local economy and the Central Valley as continuing to improve.
“There’s a growing middle class in the world,” said Grupe. “Right now, there are 1.8 billion people in the world considered middle class. Now, of course the ‘middle class’ varies from region to region. But when people leave the poverty level and into the middle class, they start eating better foods than they did before. And that bodes really well for the Central Valley. Not many other places in the world can produce what we can produce here. If that trend continues, and there are 5 billion middle class people in the world by 2030, can you imagine what that is going to mean for the Central Valley? It’s going to be phenomenal. I think we’re in for some great times ahead.”
Much like Chiesa, Grupe also stressed the importance of having a skilled workforce for job growth. Noting that 1 in 4 public school students in the nation will drop out before finishing high school, Grupe adamantly pushed the value of education and its effects on business and the local economy.
“Had these students graduated, they would have spent millions in our county and more millions in investment,” said Grupe. “Their additional spending would also create new jobs, new tax revenue, and could grow by millions per year. They would have spent $900 million more in home purchases, and close to $3 million in auto purchases. There’s a big economic impact here. So for those who say, ‘it’s not my job’, or ‘it is the educator’s job’ or ‘it’s the schools job’, I’d say it is all of our job that is facing us.”
Grupe continues to work alongside his wife, educators and local community members to help improve literacy rates and school readiness for young students, and has helped reduce the dropout rate in his community in San Joaquin County by 70 percent.
“Just because you’re not an elected official, doesn’t mean you can’t help out,” said Grupe. “We can all help out. We have to deal with the failure to educate our workforce.”
In addition to being a previous president of the Urban Land Institute, Grupe is the chairman and founder of the San Joaquin County Business Council, the Golden Gate and Northern California Chapters of the Young Presidents’ Organization, the Stockton Chamber of Commerce, the Stockton Board of Realtors and the Builders Hall of Fame.