Strategy for Merced's economy embraced

jsmith@mercedsunstar.comAugust 21, 2012 

— The city of Merced on Monday adopted a plan to boost economic activity that focuses on luring industry to the area, growing existing businesses and creating a business-friendly image for the city.

"The past is not a good indicator of the future," said an optimistic Frank Quintero, director of economic development and author of the plan. "We have a road map and we're going to use that road map to draw investment into the community."

The 2012 Economic Development Action Plan outlines general strategies for improving competitiveness, pushing industrial growth, expanding retail in the downtown area and promoting entrepreneurship.

To this end, Quintero will be collecting feedback from prospective and existing employers as to their experience working with the city, and then using that information to drive policy recommendations about improving the business climate in Merced.

"We're planning on making it a priority to meet with the business owners that are currently located in town," Quintero said.

Under the plan, the city also will continue to develop its economic development webpage -- http://mercedfirst.com -- which is designed to provide detailed information to businesses about development opportunities in Merced.

It's important to be realistic and bring in the types of businesses that will thrive in Merced, and the website will help toward that end, Quintero said.

"It would be great to announce we're bringing in a Nordstrom's, but we don't have the population to support a Nordstrom's," he said. "We wouldn't want to bring a company in to fail."

Earlier this year, the City Council directed city staff to focus heavily on economic development. As a result, the city contracted with two groups -- Chabin Concepts of Chico and Cleveland-based Austin Consulting -- to assess the city's business atmosphere.

According to the consultants, Merced needed to spend more on its economic development department, as well as lower development fees.

In response, the city recently redirected several of Quintero's responsibilities so he could focus on improving the city's ailing economy full time.

The economic development plan is Quintero's outline for how he will proceed in his newly appointed capacity.

"I really like it," said Councilman Josh Pedrozo of the plan. "I think it's aggressive. If you push them away, it's really tough to get them back."

Councilman Tony Dossetti also applauded the plan: "I think this gets us on the right track to bring businesses here."

As Quintero puts his plan into action, the city also has formed an ad hoc task force made up of local businesses owners, developers and real estate agents to assess the development fees.

The task force is expected to report to the city sometime in the fall.

The economic development department will follow up on the plan's progress with monthly reports to the council.

Reporter Joshua Emerson Smith can be reached at (209) 385-2486 or jsmith@mercedsunstar.com.

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