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Manteca in hunt for jobs
Austin Road, CenterPoint gives city two players
City Manager Karen McLaughlin at the November ground breaking of the Crothall Healthcare laundry complex that is bringing 89 jobs to CenterPoint. - photo by HIME ROMERO

Manteca is in the hunt for the next Amazon.

Landowners and developers working with the City of Manteca have taken a page out of the Tracy playbook of the early 1990s. Tracy had spent time during the recession that started in 1989 not licking its wounds but working on putting in place developable land for job centers complete with entitlements

That’s why when the economy started picking up in the mid-1990s, Tracy’s McArthur Boulevard corridor landed the lion’s share of new jobs brought to the Northern San Joaquin Valley via distribution centers and light manufacturing.

Manteca has repeated the Tracy strategy during the darkest days of the Great Recession that started in 2006. While other cities focused all of their energy on staying afloat financially, Manteca worked with landowners and developers to lay the groundwork to take advantage of the coming recovery.

That resulted in the approval of the CenterPoint intermodal business park in northwest Manteca between Lathrop Road and Roth Road west of Airport Way as well as the Austin Road Business Park in southeast Manteca.

• CenterPoint has the promise of 600 direct jobs with 3.1 million square feet of business park space.

• Austin Road offers the possibility of 9,134 direct jobs with 8 million square feet of business park space and 3.5 million  square feet of general commercial.

CenterPoint is currently working with a potential user that wants to use 1.2 million square feet. As such, it is running project scenarios through city staff to determine whether it can make the project work within the confines of the approved master development agreement for the project. The goal is to get the prospective employer to sign on the line to commit to Manteca.

“Not to take anything away from what they are doing, but this isn’t the first time they (CenterPoint) have submitted a prospective user proposal to the city,” noted City Manager Karen McLaughlin.

The vetting process is all part of the competition for employment centers.

Several years ago when Amazon was shopping for Northern  San Joaquin Valley locations for distribution centers Manteca made it onto the short list. But because entitlements such as a master environmental impact report and development plans were already approved and in place in suitable locations and not in Manteca, Patterson and Tracy ended up the Amazon distribution centers.

The importance of such entitlements being approved can’t be stressed enough.

Firms that need to build a complex to meet their needs want to be ready to move within six months after they make a commitment to a location.

In Manteca’s case, McLaughlin said they can do so within three months.

Without entitlements in place it can take a year to 18 months to do exhaustive environmental studies. That is on top of the rest of the review process that typically takes an employment center three to five years to go from paper to the point dirt can be turned. That is too long in today’s economy of on-time distribution to compete for jobs.

With a master development agreement in place that has already addressed everything from truck traffic and parking needs to sewer discharge, water use, and landscaping it means a developer putting together a pitch just needs to give the city staff specific impacts of the proposed user to determine if they fall within already approved parameters. That means the specific employer would not have to be subject to the EIR process which means it could move to construction within three to six months after committing.

The only public review would be a specific site plan for the proposed employer. That involves a hearing before the planning commission. A planning commission decision on a specific site review plan can be appealed to the City Council. If not, the planning commission decision is final.

The principals behind the Austin Road project are trying to land the initial employer for the 1,050-acre planned development. They are currently negotiating with a firm that would provide 600 jobs.

Just like CenterPoint, the Austin Road partnership and Manteca are competing against other cities and their business parks.

Mc Laughlin noted in order for a city to position themselves to be in the hunt for jobs they have to have landowners and developers willing to invest and take a risk.

It is what Tracy had in  the early 1990s. And it is what Manteca has today.

As such, she noted Manteca is now being seriously considered by potential employers.

In the past the city worked with landowners to jumpstart the Manteca Industrial Park. Willing  landowners also turned the demise of Spreckels Sugar plant into an employment center.

“Both Tracy and Manteca happen to have the location,” McLaughlin said. “But it takes a landowner that is committed to make it work. We have that in Manteca.”