By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
The next big thing for SJ County jobs to join Amazon et al? Try River Islands Park
This view of River Islands is across a manmade lake where 350 acres have been set aside for a business park.

Twelve years ago, there wasn’t an Amazon facility in San Joaquin County.

The unemployment rate was north of 15 percent.

Today it is half that, 7.5 percent.

This is a big deal.

Back in 2012, the San Joaquin County unemployment rate was double that of California. Today the difference is half that.

The biggest reason for closing the gap?

There are now 11 Amazon distribution facilities in the county. It represents a $9 billion and counting investment in San Joaquin County by Amazon.

Today, Amazon is the No. 1 private sector employer in San Joaquin County with more than 13,000 workers.

Distribution and fulfillment centers provide jobs to 17 percent of the overall workforce.

That makes San Joaquin County one of the top regions in the nation in terms of the concentration of distribution jobs.

This has some leaders who are tasked to varying degrees at shepherding the county’s economy a bit nervous.

It’s the old “all-the-eggs-in-one-basket” syndrome.

The blazing hot distribution center sector isn’t burning rubber like it used to when it comes to expanding.

There is also the little issue of automation that can trim distribution workforces.

Still, the distribution sector is expanding.

There was 364,000 square feet of new distribution center space that broke ground in 2023 within the county.

That’s down from roughly 7 million square feet in 2022.

Yes, times are a changing.

But it is light years from a death spiral.

Companies are still moving here.

This is ground zero for the second largest metroplex in the United States.

It means there are 18.5 million consumers in the San Francisco-San Jose-Sacramento triangle and affiliated areas.

There is also the added caveat that the death of the Silicon Valley and San Francisco have been greatly exaggerated

And yes, the economy is in flux, which actually works in San Joaquin County’s advantage — to a degree.

Contraction can work in San Joaquin County’s favor.

If one has distribution centers in Hayward and Sacramento and you have to streamline operations to save costs or to launch a more muscular and cost-efficient venture to change the narrative, then places like Lathrop, Manteca, Tracy, and Stockton that are situated equal distance from here major submarkets can serve you well.

Macy’s is in a bit of an economic jam.

They have distribution centers in Hayward and Sacramento.

And they have just leased sizable space in Lathrop.

Enough said.

Distribution isn’t going away.

But this isn’t about distribution.

It’s about San Joaquin County’s ace in the hole.

It’s a place that 34 years ago was growing watermelons on land where the water table was just a few feet below the surface even in mid-summer.

Today, the water table is more stable, and a bit lower.

All it took was solid engineering, patience, and investing for the long-range return.

The land, per se, is basically barren.

And it’s part of 350 acres.

On an outer Delta island consisting of 4,500 acres known by the United States Geological Society as Stewart Tract.

Everyone else knows it as River Islands at Lathrop.

But you say, it’s all about 15,001 homes.

That’s just part of it.

It’s also got a business park component.

Ah, more distribution, you say.

Not even close.

In fact, it would take a majority of the voters in Lathrop, including River Islands, to make that happen.

The 350 acres can’t have any distribution, or any operation that relies on trucks per se.

Think Hacienda Business Park in Pleasanton.

So how is that going to happen in San Joaquin County that has tried to do something similar a number of times but has only ended up doing the equivalent of face plants?

Look at who is buying $800,000 to $1 million homes as you read this that bring with them double the usual property tax assessment.

The homeowners tilt heavily to tech — with a heavy dose of entrepreneurship.

Get 15,001 such households drawn to a well-planned community that oozes with coveted lifestyles and a desired sense of community and you’ve got one helluva of an economic foundation.

It won’t happen overnight, but there will come a tipping point.

Maybe it’ll come after Valley Link is up and running from the planned transit village at the door step of the River Islands business park.

Within a paddle boat, bicycle, or a short drive will be 15,001 homes populated by a lot of people who are part of the forces disrupting the world.

Along with it is an umbilical cord for a reverse commute from San Jose, the heart of the Silicon Valley, and San Francisco.

Then there is seed money, if you will.

Each home bought on River Islands requires the initial buyer to pay a $5,000 fee that goes into a fund that will serve as an incentive to build in the business park.

That’s an incentive fund approaching $75 million.

So, you may ask, what does this do for people not plugged already into big paychecks?

Rising waters raise all boats.

Plus, it can also reduce the stress of lengthy commutes with those in the tech biz who are on this side of the Altamont Pass because they want to raise families here but like the idea of still partaking in Bay Area offerings.

All of which will be easier to do as the Lathrop Wye nudged up against Manteca’s western city limits is on track to emerge as the heavy/light passenger/commuter rail hub in Northern California.

Sounds far-fetched?

Not any more than trying to build a 300-foot wide super levee dealing with two dozen or so federal and state bureaucracies that makes Dante’s nine circles of hell seem like a parlor game in comparison.

River Islands did that and more.

River Islands is the platinum standard when it comes to a planned community complete with an environmental game plan with real commitment that won over the Sierra Club.

It won’t happen tomorrow but it will happen a lot sooner if the powers that be in San Joaquin County helped put the ball in play.

Mega-tech campuses may not be in the cards but if there was ever a satellite location in the outer Bay Area orbit that could draw talent invested heavily in quality of life that still wants to be within easy distance — especially by rail — of the  world’s most intense tech region, its River Islands.

This column is the opinion of editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinions of The Bulletin or 209 Multimedia. He can be reached at