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Pat Patrick: A look into Lodi’s future

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Posted: Wednesday, March 5, 2014 12:00 am

We all wo-uld agree that Lodi is a very special place in which to work and live. But we face huge challenges in the future to keep Lodi livable and loveable. Ever-tightening local government budgets and looming public pension obligations have created a city that has been investing sparingly in economic growth.

While there has been some new economic growth as we slowly emerge from the recession, it is coming primarily from individual entrepreneurs and private investments, for which we are very fortunate. There can be no public jobs or public spending that does not come from a private-sector transaction.

Lodi, we need more private sector transactions.

The Lodi District Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors invited former City Manager Rad Bartlam to come and speak to them about the issues he saw facing the city before he left for his new position in Southern California. Rad said there was only one issue: public pension liability. He predicted that as more money goes to pay for the breathtaking escalation of pension costs, Lodi will see reductions in services supplied by the city. In other words, expect a decrease in “livable and loveable” for 63,000 citizens.

Lodi has been a city of 63,000 for more than five years now, and we are predicted to hover around that number for several more years. All the while, our costs of doing business (public and private) go up at the same speed of all the faster-growing communities. So that means when electric rates, water rates, wastewater rates and pension fund contributions go up, it’s the same 63,000 citizens and businesses covering all those higher costs. These, of course, are on top of our own costs for gas, groceries, health care and everything else — even taxes on the air we breathe.

All the books I’ve read on the subject of the new economy come to the same conclusion: Economic sustainability is in the hands of each economic community and its city. Federal and state governments will not — and cannot — be a “bail us out of trouble” solution; they are part of the problem. That may not come as a surprise to you, but we live and act like a populous who believes they will somehow bail us out.

So what must the collective “we” do for an economically sustainable future? The short answer is to create more jobs. Job growth through existing businesses is the “lowest hanging fruit,” as well as the most efficient way to grow jobs from a cost perspective. But expansion usually requires an attitude change, greater aggressiveness and programs to help entrepreneurs running small businesses grow to medium-sized businesses. The good news is that there are program models to follow.

We also need to locate new, larger businesses on the dozen or so vacant parcels in the industrial area east of Highway 99. We need to bring higher-paying primary-job businesses to town. We need to attract new employers. Traditional job-attracting strategies will not produce results Lodi needs.

Fortunately, Lodi has many under-promoted assets, which make targeted attraction possible. I believe we can partner strategically with others by tapping into and identifying Bay Area prospects that might like the idea of locating their production facilities in Lodi wine country, where the ground doesn’t shake.

Lodi has so many positives which have not been promoted outwardly. It is time to remove our light from under the basket and tell our magnetic Lodi story.

Positives ... here are a few:

  • Climate, weather, along with natural beauty and recreation.
  • Positioned between the coast and Sierras, in the country, near the city.
  • Surrounded by wine country and the California wine lifestyle.
  • A diverse economy, with its own electric utility.
  • A 62-year-old community-owned health care system.
  • Tree-lined unique and charming Downtown.
  • 90 miles away from the world’s most active job-creation center.
  • No fault lines.

Because of the success of our local wine industry, Lodi has an economic opportunity to enhance our attractiveness — not our physical appearance, but rather the valuable and desirable characteristics others value. Seizing this opportunity will promote tourism, but to do so, we must look at Lodi through the eyes of others.

Who are these “others?” Individuals in decision-making roles for relocating businesses, the young “others” who will be the next workforce which Lodi will soon depend upon, health care professionals and skilled laborers — both already in short-supply. Lodi needs a vision for attracting those whom we economically need.

Our community, as great as it is, has really come about through planning that is now decades old. Many of our community attributes have been developed without a community business plan. Some have said that we’ve developed through osmosis.

Will community evolution through individual effort provide Lodi its needed economic growth in the future? Not likely. What could the best business minds in Lodi create, working together with a goal of economic improvement?

Today’s environment pits us against every other city for job-creation and our economic well-being. Can Lodi benefit from a more planned outcome, designed to provide for growing needs and an improved financial position?

Therefore the Chamber is embarking on a new initiative entitled Vision 2020, which will be discussed in five future columns. The project will identify economic opportunities in five key areas. In each area, goals and strategies with corresponding action steps will be spread over the next six years, bringing the goals to fruition in 2020.

A quote by President Ronald Reagan provided a catalytic effect on our board of directors. I guess you could say the president threw down a challenge when he said, “No community will be much better than its business community causes it to be.”

Pat Patrick is the president and CEO of the Lodi District Chamber of Commerce.

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