Second Thoughts: With or without ‘Project X,’ diversity is key
by Jon Mendelson/Tracy Press
Jan 13, 2012 | 13993 views | 5 5 comments | 842 842 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Listen to the local experts, and they’ll tell you the same thing when it comes to economic development in 2012: It’s looking better, but not by leaps and bounds.

That sentiment made it even bigger news that Tracy hoped to land an employer promising at least 1,000 full-time jobs and taxable sales of $100 million a year. A big boost to a region searching for a tonic to a foreclosure-induced hangover.

I asked one of those economic authorities, Jeffrey Michael of the University of the Pacific Business Forecasting Center, what he thought that type of business could do for a city of 81,000 people. He said it could be a game-changer.

“Most things you see coming into the region are about 10 percent of that size,” Michael told me this week. “That would be major.”

A big fish for a small pond. And this time, it looked as if the anglers appropriately baited the hook.

Following Tracy City Council approval, the city offered a temporary break on taxes, as well as properly zoned land, an expedited permit process and a willing private developer. The city resolution also stipulated that Tracy residents would be given first crack at job applications, if the business chose to locate here.

City Manager Leon Churchill said the city put its best foot forward trying to reel in the prize.

“I feel very good about the proposal,” Churchill said.

But the lunker might not bite, after all.

Our sister newspaper in Patterson — a 30-minute jaunt south on Interstate 5 or Highway 33, depending on your preferred thoroughfare — reported Wednesday that an unidentified business promising as many as 2,500 jobs was primed to settle down at the 20,000-strong town in Stanislaus County. Locals are calling it “Project X.”

One guess as to whether it’s the same business Tracy’s been pursuing.

But the door hadn’t completely slammed on Tank Town as of Thursday. A special Patterson City Council meeting for Wednesday was canceled, the Irrigator reported, so the “developer and landowner (could) work out final details.”

Meaning that when this report went to press Thursday, Tracy still had a puncher’s chance. (Though the Irrigator’s editor told me late in the day that the kinks had been worked out and escrow with the “end user” was supposed to close today.)

The company that would ultimately set up shop hadn’t been disclosed Thursday.

Tracy officials have been tight-lipped about the business’ identity. But if I were a betting man, I’d put my coin on an Internet-based company with a hefty distribution arm, which fits nicely with Tracy’s economic sweet spot of logistics and transport.

It’s an analysis supported by Mike Ammann, president of the San Joaquin Partnership, a group that promotes commerce and industry in San Joaquin County.

“Tracy is really all about logistics and the highway infrastructure,” Ammann told me. “It will continue to be a sort of pivot point for logistics and services,” he added, pointing out that Tracy can serve the Central Valley, Sacramento and the Bay Area with ease.

“What you should understand is that San Joaquin County is always within the top 20 locations in the U.S. to be considered for a logistical location. So we’re already on that list every time.”

The sweeteners Tracy offered to Project X should have made the city even more attractive, hopefully enough to pull an 11th-hour coup.

Despite Ammann’s suggestion that our fair city will continue to be a distribution leader whether Project X calls Tracy home or not, diversifying our economic profile is critical to the region’s prosperity.

King Agriculture and Queen Logistics are great, but it pays to be more than a one- or two-trick pony.

The collapse of the local housing market proved the point in dramatic fashion. Five years later, we haven’t yet climbed out of that subdivision-sized crater.

“We’re still in a mess that’s been largely driven by the foreclosure crisis and the collapse of the construction industry,” Michael said.

It’s one of the reasons Tracy must set its sights on expanding its commercial niche, even while it continues to pursue distribution- and logistics-based industries. The city manager agrees.

“(Tracy) will continue to do well in logistics, and we should continue to expect to get more announcements in that area,” Churchill said. “Personally, I think diversification is important for Tracy’s economy. We want to push into medical, high-tech, alternative energy, ag science…”

Whether or not Tracy lands the big fish that swam oh-so-close, the city would do well to lure varied suitors with a blueprint similar to its Project X pursuit — turn on the lights, roll out the welcome mat, and work to improve its reputation as a place to do business, without giving away the store.

It’s not high-flying or groundbreaking. But it’s a tack that should yield results sooner or later — hopefully sooner.

• Second Thoughts is an opinion column by editor Jon Mendelson. Share your thoughts at
Comments-icon Post a Comment
January 16, 2013
All I can really say for sure is I work next door to the proposed site and something REALLY REALLY big is going there. They have been terrain leveling for a couple weeks now.
January 14, 2012
Amazing. The City attempts to make business arrangements with a private entity that will directly impact City finances and refuses to identify the entity. Let me guess, Jon – the City claimed “attorney-client privilege” and refused to identify the other party. If we look to the Public Record Act for guidance, such a “privilege” would hold for real estate negotiations to which the City is a party, for pending litigation, and for labor negotiations – nothing more.

James Madison wrote “A popular government without popular information or the means of acquiring it, is but a prologue to a farce, or a tragedy, or perhaps both.”

January 14, 2012
Actually, pcmiles, they have a right to not identify, especially if the company has not made the announcement yet. Usually the company asks not to be identified so they can give their own announcement in hopes it will possibly affect thier spot on the Street.

I think it may appear somewhat foolish of Jon Mendelson to even print this article. By my guess this type of speculative journalism might only serve to chase business away.

Is that really what the Tracy Press wanted?

I'm guessing the other newspaper (in Patterson) put him up to it, because this type of letter might actually chase business their way. Especially knowing that a this company might not have as much ammenities in Patterson and would certainly be less attractive.
January 13, 2012
Amazon is promising up to 10,000 new jobs in California. There are most likely multiple distribution centers in the plans. Placing a distribution center in Patterson would not necessarily rule out another distribution center in Tracy.
January 13, 2012
Rumor has it that Project X is Amazon.

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