Monday, March 21, 2016

Can Modesto and Stockton help each other improve?

Kevin Valine's recent column in the Modesto Bee highlighted a few issues that got me thinking about Modesto and Stockton.  First, in yet another dubious ranking,* Valine reports that U.S. News ranked Stockton and Modesto 98th and 99th respectively in their ranking of the best places to live among the 100 biggest "U.S. cities" (actually metro areas).  Second, he discusses a city financed consultant report studying the feasibility of reestablishing passenger service to the Modesto airport.

How can the cities of the North San Joaquin Valley improve their economies and quality of life?  There is no silver bullet strategy, but one approach that we have been advocating in the Center for Business and Policy Research is more cooperative action on a regional level in 3 areas: marketing, infrastructure, and education/workforce development. The struggles of the Modesto airport highlights one example of where a regional approach to infrastructure could make sense.

Cities in the region are struggling financially, Stockton has just left bankruptcy and Modesto is also dealing with serious fiscal issues and cutting basic services.  The Modesto airport is owned by the city and is losing money for a City with serious budget problems that has resulted in cuts to police staffing and other services.  There are several airports within a 30 minute drive of Modesto with longer runways and better freeway access that are also working to reestablish hub passenger service (most notably Stockton airport, which is owned by San Joaquin County, which has been successfully adding discount passenger service and recent expansions in cargo).  It seems to me that it would be more productive for the cities and counties in the region to work together towards the goal of regional air service.

While the Modesto has long enjoyed some passenger air service, it may be time for them to start thinking out of the box.  Perhaps they should evaluate alternative uses for the airport property that would make a fiscal contribution to the City and explore partnerships with other Counties and Cities in the region to develop convenient passenger air service. 

This is just one opportunity for regional action.  Economic development entities in the 3 counties have recently engaged in some cost sharing for joint marketing activities in the Bay Area.  The proposed expansion of ACE rail to Modesto and Merced is another important regional transportation infrastructure project.  I expect we will see more regional action in the future.

*The only place ranked below Modesto was San Juan, Puerto Rico.  Of course, it is easy to complain about the methodology of a best places to live ranking that does not include climate data.  While I think Modesto and Stockton have more to offer than these rankings suggest, there is no arguing that there are problems here.

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