Report: Merced in top 10 of rising California cities

tmiller@mercedsunstar.comJune 5, 2014 

Merced rounds out a list of the top 10 California cities on the rise, according to an inventory recently released by an independent consumer website.

Nerdwallet.com ranked 325 cities in the state, comparing changes in employment, population and median income from 2009 to 2012 as recorded in U.S. Census Bureau data. The website teaches consumers about finance.

“There’s information there so that people can see how their cities stack up against their neighbors,” said Maggie Clark, an analyst for the website. “It’s really kind of a benchmark for cities to view growth numbers for themselves.”

The report says Merced experienced “strong” population and median income growth during the years studied. Full-time, nonseasonal employees saw an 18.8 percent increase in salary to $39,041 a year from 2009 to 2012.

Retail, education and health care are the most common occupations for residents, according to the data. The working-age population, those between 16 and 64, grew by 6.6 percent through the years in the report.

Merced’s agriculture-based economy made it something of an outlier, Clark said. A city on the rise, unlike Merced, tends to be a suburb of a larger city, she said.

Topping the list was agriculture-heavy Reedley, the only Fresno County city on the list. Other cities that depend on agriculture also made the top 10, with Madera at No. 5 and Santa Paula at No. 8.

The other cities in the top 10 were either in the Bay Area or Southern California.

Frank Quintero, director of economic development for Merced, said there are signs of more improvements to come. Real estate sales are improving in Merced and homes are selling quickly. He noted that although the unemployment rate in Merced hovers around 14 percent, it is on a downswing.

Agriculture is the mainstay of Merced’s economy, and the city has seen recent growth in ag and related industries, Quintero said. “We are getting more inquiries for large-scale retail development,” he said. “And we have food processing and ag-related industries that are either expanding or coming in.”

Area leaders also point to UC Merced as an economic driver.

Councilman Josh Pedrozo touted the university and Mercy Medical Center as examples of recent improvements in the city that will continue to spur growth. It’s important for people inside and outside of the area to see Merced in a positive light, he said.

Merced occasionally makes a top 10 list, but often not in a good way.. “One of the things that I’ve tried to do in my time on the council is change the narrative of what we have going for us in the city of Merced,” Pedrozo said. “We’re starting to see a lot of good.”

The report notes that California’s drought, one of the worst seen in decades, was not taken into consideration. Although the drought is a concern, Pedrozo said, it is too early to tell how much it will affect the local economy.

Each city’s employment, population and median income changes held equal weight in the website’s formula to determine rankings. Of the 325 cities ranked, the website put Los Banos and Atwater at 193 and 253, respectively. Modesto sits at 244, and Turlock is 259.

To see the full list, go to www.nerdwallet.com/blog/cities/economics/cities-on-the-rise-california. Sun-Star staff writer Thaddeus Miller can be reached at (209) 385-2453 or tmiller@mercedsunstar.com.

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