About 100 politicians and government workers in Merced County gathered in Los Banos on Tuesday for a message of unity and each community sharing in the other’s success.
The Los Banos Community Center hosted the City-County Dinner. The event, which rotates hosting duties among cities in Merced County, is designed to improve relations among the area’s seven municipalities.
Mark Hendrickson, Merced County’s director of community and economic development, gave the keynote address. Hendrickson said the cities in the county need to work together to improve their economic plight.
“Whether jobs are created in Los Banos or the community of Delhi, that’s a win for the county,” Hendrickson said. “The larger more urbanized areas, they’re approaching economic development from a much more regional perspective and they are competing more effectively. Economic development evolves and either we can evolve with it or we will find those economic opportunities will go right by Merced County.”
Mayor Mike Villalta endorsed Hendrickson’s unity theme after he off-handedly mentioned a project that may be located next to Interstate 5 on the “Westside.”
“I don’t want to think of east side-Westside. I’ve heard too much of that, we got to put that to rest. It’d be a county project, we’d all share in the revenue,” Villalta said.
Hendrickson said Merced County has a reputation for high unemployment and low wages. He said cities can change that reputation by streamlining the permit process and producing a better educated, more skilled labor force.
“We got a state-of-the-art university in our back yard. We’ve got a premiere community college in our back yard,” he said. “We need to promote those things.”
Hendrickson said many times businesses pass on Merced County because the infrastructure they need is not in place.
“We do not have enough shovel-ready sites,” he said. “We should have a well-planned industrial park somewhere here on the Westside. We got to give a reason for the private sector to invest in our community.”
Hendrickson said many businesses do not see California as business-friendly and so it is important to be affable when trying to get companies to relocate.
“The next Amazon (Distribution center) that wants to establish a presence, for example, like what took place over in Patterson, we should be doing that in our back yard,” Hendrickson said.