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Just 35 Percent of Stanislaus Jobs Allow for Economic Mobility

A new report found that just more than one-third of the California county’s 190,000 total jobs were “quality jobs.” But a public-private initiative wants to upgrade the region’s employment by about 20 percent.

(TNS) — Only 35 percent of jobs in Stanislaus County, Calif., are considered "quality jobs" that allow for economic mobility, according to a new report. But Stanislaus 2030, a countywide economic development initiative, wants to change that.

Stanislaus 2030 is a collaborative effort among business, government and civic leaders to create a strategy and investment plan for regional economic growth and opportunity in the coming decade. Led by an executive committee of local stakeholders across industries, and advised by a 100-person community leadership council, the group has commissioned a comprehensive look into the county's economy and possible areas for job growth.

Unlike other economic reports with sweeping recommendations, Stanislaus 2030 takes a narrow approach, focusing on how to use existing industries to the region's advantage.

" Stanislaus 2030 was born out of the desire to intentionally build resilient future industries aligned around our strong agricultural base, and at the same time, ensure greater financial prosperity for local families," Dillon Olvera, Stanislaus 2030's co-chair and the president and CEO of Beard Land and Investment Co. said in the news release advertising the report.

Using data compiled by researchers with the Brookings Institution, a Washington D.C.-based think thank, Stanislaus 2030 leaders will produce "investment plans with buy-in and local ownership, identify and align policy and funding, set up accountability and governance structure," according to the report's executive summary. Catherine Larsen, Stanislaus 2030's marketing and communications lead, told The Bee that Stanislaus 2030's working groups are going to meet over the next 10 to 12 weeks to come up with an investment blueprint and action plan.

The Brookings report's main finding is that over half the county's population struggles to make ends meet.

Even as regional job creation remained steady, the Stanislaus economy has not generated the type of growth required for its workers and families to thrive, the report shows. In 2019, 39 percent of working families in Stanislaus were struggling, while 54 percent of the county's children were in struggling families.

Those who are young, less educated and part of marginalized communities struggle at higher rates as they compete with structural barriers to success on top of regional challenges. For example, while 32 percent of white workers in Stanislaus are struggling with economic success, 57 percent of Latino workers face the same issue.

A Blunt Assessment

The report considers only 35 percent of the more than 190,000 total jobs in the county "quality jobs." The metrics for what makes a quality job, Brookings nonresident senior fellow Marek Gootman explained, take into account whether or not jobs help workers achieve self-sufficiency and economic mobility or provide a pathway to another job with these benefits.

Within this category, the report further distinguishes between "good" and "promising" jobs.

To qualify as good, a job must pay at least a target annual wage to allow individuals to meet expense and savings needs without "safety net" benefits, provide health insurance or a proxy for similar benefits and afford stable options for future career development. In Stanislaus County, only 13 percent of jobs currently fulfill all these criteria. Promising jobs, which make up 22 percent of county employment, do not meet all the good job criteria but provide opportunities for career advancement to help workers land a good job within the next 10 years.

The remaining 65 percent of jobs fall short of these criteria, the report found.

Stanislaus 2030 wants to fill a gap of more than 40,000 quality jobs within the decade, equivalent to upgrading about 20 percent of the region's employment, according to the report. This would cut in half the number of children in working families that struggle to make ends meet.

It's a high bar to clear, Gootman said, but the decision to make the criteria stringent was a deliberate one. "The baseline data is supposed to be candid," he said. "It's a blunt assessment of where things are. That does not mean that nothing can be done about this. It's just a recognition of status."

Over the course of the next few months, Stanislaus 2030 members will meet with stakeholders across the county to find ways to spur job creation in the region, as well as ensure workforce training and development is in line with the changing economy and job market.

Focus On Sectors That Build On Region's Talent

The report also examines the region's economic sectors and identifies areas where the county can focus on innovation and job generation. Stanislaus County lags in the growth of "traded sectors" — those that sell goods and services outside the region and generate multiplier effects for the local economy. Between 2010 and 2020, the report found, these sectors accounted for only 15 percent of local job growth.

Most job growth is occurring in locally serving sectors, like retail and health care, which help the county's residents but do not bring new income into the region that would help increase wealth.

Though the county boasts a significant agricultural industry, the sector requires a lower skill set than most comparable traded sectors, and its primary products are commodities yielding narrow profit margins.

To combat this trend, Stanislaus 2030 identified six traded sectors that can provide the local economy with a much-needed boost, and factor in the region's existing strengths. The sectors include:

— Food production that creates new avenues for product innovation or facilitates the adoption of methods and solutions that require higher-skilled and higher-paid workers.

— Bioproducts and circular economy, a sector that helps transform agricultural waste into new materials, like bioplastics and adhesives, or fuel sources.

— Production technology, which leverages machinery manufacturing and automation systems that support agriculture.

— Construction components, a sector that focuses on building components for prefabricated, modular construction projects.

— Logistics, anchored in warehouse center jobs and distribution.

— Computer software and services, building on a small, existing talent and agency pool.

Gootman said making a focused effort to concentrate on specific sectors will help Stanislaus 2030 achieve its goals. By capitalizing on the region's existing strengths, the county can distinguish itself in these sectors and become known for innovation in these industries.

"You have to be specific," he said. "That's part of the challenge around economic development is that (often you) set out very big categories of industry or activities and then you can't influence that. Or it's just a catch-all. It kind of means nothing."

Gootman said the county has "to be specific in order to have impact."

(c)2022 The Modesto Bee (Modesto, Calif.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
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