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Mayor irked Lathrop got Sprouts, wants Manteca to step up its economic game

Lathrop is getting a Sprouts market.

And Manteca isn’t.

Manteca Mayor Ben Cantu made that point Tuesday to press for the city to have staff dedicated to economic development.

City Manager Toby Wells successfully deflected the mayor’s concern by saying that was a budget priority the council had to weigh in on when the budget workshop takes place sometime in January for the fiscal year starting July 1, 2022.

But what Wells never volunteered to explain — or Cantu to ask — is why the city’s lone economic development specialist was never replaced earlier this year when he was among the people swept out of city hall.

The current council has made economic development a priority in terms of at least one position being dedicated for the purpose in budgeting cycles going back a number of years.

“I’m bothered by the fact this little community to the west of 15,000 to 16,000 people (Lathrop’s population is actually just a few hundred shy of 30,000) is doing consistently more when it comes to economic development than this community of 83,000,” Cantu said.

Cantu added he constantly gets hammered by those living south of the 120 Bypass that want to see a supermarket near them. The mayor noted that SaveMart appears to be getting ready to move forward again with a location along Atherton Drive after dropping the process several years ago when the city kept asking for more studies.

Wells then schooled Cantu on how Sprouts — when they decided on Lathrop — likely included potential nearby communities that had consumers willing to drive that far from a city like Manteca to shop at Sprouts.

The answer underscores how some on the council believe the city staff in recent years has lost its mojo to lure retailers in high demand to Manteca to snare other nearby communities from snagging them first. That has allowed Manteca to reduce sales tax bleed and bring in taxable consumer dollars from other nearby communities.

The list includes convincing Bass Pro to locate in Manteca and not Modesto, Costco to locate here instead of Lathrop, snaring Living Spaces furniture, and beating out Brentwood and Gilroy to secure the Great Wolf Indoor Water Park resort.

All of those were the end result of previous city managers working directly on such endeavors along with a dedicated economic development specialist on staff.

Under City Manager Miranda Lutzow the council talked about creating a full blown economic development department with multiple staff members. That discussion ended with the one-two punch of the pandemic hitting and the unearthing of a massive accounting snafu at city hall.

If the budgeted position is not filled until after the council decides whether it is still a priority in the next budget cycle, the likelihood Manteca will have even just one person on staff dedicated to economic development won’t happen until the late summer of 2022 at the earliest.


To contact Dennis Wyatt, email