It's not a boom, but Los Banos officials see construction looming

June 19, 2013 

The expected uptick in home construction this summer is a sign that the economy may be turning around in Los Banos.

Community Development Director Paula Fitzgerald estimates 100 residential building permits may be issued in the next 12 months.

City Manager Steve Carrigan said many parts of the South Bay are built out and home developers are likely to start looking toward Los Banos.

"There are 2,000 lots and 15 unfinished subdivisions. We truly do believe housing makes the world go 'round,' " said Carrigan. "It starts with the construction workers. They get jobs here and spend money in our restaurants, hotels, stores."

He said an increase in housing fulfills one of the three elements businesses are most interested in when coming to a city.

"Companies look for median household income, traffic volume and rooftops," Carrigan said.

Mayor Mike Villalta said he's encouraged by home builders' interest in Los Banos but he wants to make sure that growth occurs evenly.

"I think we need residential and commercial. We are going to do it right this time, make sure there's a balance of everything," Villalta said.

More interest is being shown by businesses, and infill housing projects are on the rise, Villalta said. He said he believes the economy is "bouncing back," but he declined to predict how long it will take to see measurable improvement.

Los Banos' unemployment rate was at 16.3 in April (the most recent month's figures available), which is down from 18.1 percent in March.

Carrigan said the decline is a seasonal change because of the agricultural work available in the area. He said his goal is to see the unemployment rate much lower.

"Whether it's 18 (percent), 16 (percent) or 13 (percent), I know it's too high," Carrigan said.

John Whala, the executive director of the 400-member Los Banos Chamber of Commerce, said people are starting to spend money again. He says he's seen a recent uptick in people starting new businesses and the business community tells him they are seeing slight improvements.

Whala said he believes the local economy is growing, and he is optimistic about the future.

"Things seem to be going very well. When you think in a positive manner, positive things will happen," Whala said.

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