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Lathrop wants to woo businesses in earnest
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LATHROP – To hire a consultant for $50,000 a year or to hire an economic development administrator for $150,000 a year: that is the dilemma facing the Lathrop City Council tonight.

Whichever way the council members go in their decision, the person who will end up taking either position will face a herculean task in these trying economic times: how to attract job-generating businesses to Lathrop and improve the local tax base, how to create and retain jobs and improve the community’s economic well being and the residents’ quality of life.

The discussion will most certainly focus on the cost needed for either position. The $50,000 needed for the consultant position is already part of the approved 2009-10 budget. However, the approximately $150,000 annual salary that will be needed for a full-time permanent economic development administrator would have to come from the city’s reserves. It would also need an amendment to the budget before this expense is approved.

If someone is hired in mid-October for this position, the financial impact on the current budget would be approximately $106,000.

The funding issue will be the other concern that the council members will need to discuss tonight in light of the more than $1 million deficit that the city is still trying to bridge in the current fiscal year budget. In trying to cover that budget shortfall, the city eliminated 15 positions in May – five of them were funded positions but were not filled – followed by job furloughs which translated into 10 percent pay cuts across the board for all city employees and closing City Hall and Police Services offices every Friday with the exception of emergency services.

It’s easy to see why Lathrop is taking on an aggressive stance of wooing businesses and developers into the city. Former mayor Gloryanna Rhodes stated it plainly and painfully during a special council meeting in July which marked the return of the once regularly scheduled study sessions.

“Everything in Manteca today was projected for Lathrop. Stockton is booming. Tracy is bringing people in,” Rhodes flatly stated.

Indeed, in the last few years, Lathrop has seen the opening of Target, the town’s first major retail outlet, plus the opening of several smaller retail outlets in the TCN Properties’ commercial developments on North Harlan next to the Save Mart shopping center.

But that’s still way behind the economic explosion that has occurred, and continues to occur, in Manteca. In the last few years, Manteca has snagged such major revenue-generating business attractions as Big League Dreams, Kohl’s, Costco, Office Depot and other prominent names at the Airport Way-120 Bypass alone, while at the other 120 Bypass corridor on Union Road came The Promenade Shops at Orchard Valley anchored by Bass Pro, the world-famous sports equipment and outdoor recreation goods store, the Kerasotes Showplace with its state-of-the-art 16 screens, Best Buy, and JC Penney.

“Everything in Manteca today was projected for Lathrop,” Rhodes said at the special meeting.

Other concerned leaders and citizens also pleaded with city officials to aggressively jump into the competition to attract new businesses to town and resuscitate Lathrop’s dwindling revenues.

Former mayor and Planning Commission Chairman Bennie Gatto went as far as telling city officials that they “should bend over backwards to help the two developers here. Let’s keep the developers happy. Cater to these people because they are the ones who bring the businesses here,” he said.

“Be developer friendly. Open doors and greet them with a smile,” added Rhodes.

Councilman Sonny Dhaliwal assured the former elected officials and concerned citizens that “attitude we have here at City Hall now is much better” and added that “it’s not important where we are; what is important is where we are going. I think we’re on the right path.”

City Manager Cary Keaten also commented at that time that the city will “need to do more to bolster revenues,” and the only way to do that is “to increase development – commercial, retail and residential.”

To contact Rose Albano Risso, e-mail or call (209) 249-3536.