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Manteca joins hunt for jobs
Austin project makes city contender for employers
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Work on upgrades for the Austin Road/Highway 99 interchange will start in the next few months. - photo by HIME ROMERO/The Bulletin

Build it and they will come.

That’s the mantra that drives private sector investors to develop business parks to the point they are shovel ready for a company looking to expand or relocate.

Manteca was bypassed for years by business park employers until a private-public consortium developed the Manteca Industrial Park at South Main Street and the 120 Bypass by putting in place water, sewer, and storm lines along with power and streets in the 1970s. It allowed Manteca to pull in several large employers in quick succession including Dana Corp (where Funsten Flooring is now located), Indy Electronics, Uniphase where some of the original checkout scanners were made, and Qualex that processed film for Kodak.

Most of the original employers are long gone. At one point the city’s first business park provided 1,500 direct jobs. Today some buildings are vacant while others have been taken over by either start-ups or a new generation of industries.

Manteca was out of the race for business park employers for most of the 1980s and 1990s while Tracy and Lathrop were landing them. That’s because private investors working with each city developed completed business park footprints with all necessary infrastructure in place.

Organizers such as the San Joaquin Partnership that work to locate employers in communities have long noted most corporations don’t have time to go through the long process of getting land zoned and developed to the point a structure can be built. They typically want to move weighing six months to a year.

That is why Manteca landed firms such as Ford Motor Company’s distribution center, Millard Refrigeration, Dryers Ice Cream and others in the last decade when a partnership led by Mike Atherton and Bill Folios was able to get water sewer, storm drains, power and roads in place for Spreckels Business Park.

None of the firms could have been snagged with vacant building or vacant land that existed at the time in the Manteca Industrial Park because they were either too small or not the right configuration.

That is why a new group of Manteca developers led by Filios and Toni Raymus are pushing to get infrastructure in place this year to open Austin Road Business Park. The 1,050-acre multi-use project approved by Manteca includes a 600-acre business park. The developers are pursuing the business park first. It will be nearly four times the size of the business park potion of Spreckels that is 362 acres overall once housing and commercial are included.

The Austin Road project is close enough to moving forward once the money is invested that Amazon was able to use it as an effective bargaining tool with Tracy. While it is highly unlikely Amazon was ever serious about locating in Manteca it does underscore the potential for the 1,050-acre project serving as an economic juggernaut for the next 20 years in Manteca.

The Tracy site, unlike Austin Road Business Park, was ready to fast track the building of an actual structure.

It goes without saying that to lure employers you need more than n just a business park that is ready to go. Tracy, Lathrop, Manteca and Stockton have been aggressively playing off their collective location when it comes to key transportation as well as being at the epicenter of 40 million consumers within an eight-hour drive.

The game plan to make Manteca a major contender for more jobs hits the ground this year with $2.25 million interchange upgrade at Austin Road and Highway 99 is key for the effort to add 9,134 direct jobs or close to 40 percent of the existing jobs already in Manteca. Work will start when the rainy season ends.

Ramps at the interchange will be widened including allowing the southbound off ramp to 99 to have two left turn lanes and a right turn lane.

There would also be traffic signals at the off ramps as well as Austin Road or Moffat Boulevard. The Austin/Moffat traffic signals would be tied into the Union Pacific cross arms similar to signals at Moffat and Industrial Park Drive/Speckles Avenue. Metering signals will also be placed on the onramps to control traffic flow onto Highway 99.

The improvements would allow the addition of more truck traffic through the Austin/Moffat intersection to reach distribution centers and such expected to locate in the 600-acre business park that’s part of the overall Austin Road Business Park.

Currently southbound traffic on Moffat often backs up past Woodward Avenue during the afternoon commute period. Widening to Moffat four lanes will ease some of that congestion.

In addition there wil be two northbound lanes that will go down to one at Woodward as the left lane would be dedicated to traffic heading into Woodward.

The work for widening the railroad crossing on Austin Road to accommodate four lanes is in a separate phase of improvements. The third phase of public improvements such as streets plus sewer, water, and storm pipe systems to provide access and service to the business park is expected to start later next year as well and would, include bringing Austin Road south of the interchange up to federal standards for truck traffic. It will cover work on Austin Road from the railroad tracks south to the actual business park portion.