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In terms of jobs, Valley will never be the Bay Area
Dennis Wyatt

Want a head of household job in Manteca? Then go drive a truck.

Every election cycle in Manteca everyone running for council talks about the need for head of household jobs. It’s been that way since 1989 when a split 3-2 City Council at the time said no to Yellow Freight’s push to build a freight terminal on the southeast corner of the Main Street and 120 Bypass interchange. Yellow Freight declined a city suggestion they build instead at Airport Way and the 120 Bypass and went to Tracy instead. The community was split about the outcome. That prompted the battle cry “jobs, jobs, jobs” to become the part of the jargon of almost every municipal election since.

Manteca has been getting a lot of jobs since then. They’re not all retail, fast food or warehouse jobs — few of which qualify as head of household income. There have been a fair share of “head of household jobs” that today based on Manteca’s housing costs (rent as well as own) would need to gross around $66,000 a year. They’re called nurses, firefighters, teachers, police officers, managers, skilled construction jobs, and such. Granted not all of those jobs start a $66,000, but over time there are more than a few that commands $100,000 a year which is nothing to sneeze at on this side of the Altamont Pass.

Most require post-secondary education and paying your dues.

But there is one job that is practically going begging, has existing employees that are nearing retirement meaning a lot more job openings are on the way, and many companies are willing to start you out at $62,000 a year as opposed to teachers who start out in the $40,000s after accumulating enough college debt to make Daddy Warbucks flinch. The job is truck driving.

Many of the jobs involve simply starting and returning to the same point every work day. Of course you have to obtain the right license and pass a drug test that makes one’s use of marijuana a guarantee you won’t get a job.

So why do truck jobs go begging? Some of it has to do with perceptions that have created a stigma and that it’s a dead-end job with no opportunities for advancement. If that sounds like mumble jumble from a guidance counselor, you’re right. Our economy would shut down without truck drivers.  

Besides, a good paying job provides the key — read that the cash — needed to fulfill goals that aren’t work-related such as raising a family or supporting yourself at a level a number of notches above surviving. Not everyone is cut out to drive truck but when push comes to shove you can make a good living doing it.

Of course in recent years the trend has been to call for securing more high paying jobs so people who commute to the Bay Area can drop that grind and work on this side of the Altamont instead. You are not going to see the Northern San Joaquin Valley become Silicon Valley 2.0 for a number of reasons.

Besides, the pay in the Bay Area is based on the relative ease of being able to go down the street and make $1 a more an hour if you’re a line worker or potentially thousands of dollars more a month if you’ve  got a specific tech skill. It is why the Silicon Valley is the land of employee perks.  If gives people a reason to stay put.

When tech company line jobs have come to this area, they have a short shelf life. Remember Indy Electronics? They were at one time Manteca’s largest private sector employer with 750 workers. It was replaced by Alphatec and then Turnkey Solutions. The building that housed those firms in the Manteca Industrial Park has been vacant for close to 20 years.

The problem was each company that moved here from the Bay Area for less expensive labor found even cheaper workforces in Mexico and then Southeast Asia. Say what you want about distribution centers but those jobs aren’t going south of the border or overseas.

As far as the higher paying tech jobs, you might eventually see them here thanks to Cambay Group and their methodical — and flexible — development of River Islands at Lathrop. Not only are they pursuing a business park that bans distribution centers and other concerns that generate high truck traffic but they are patiently piecing together a better tech trap that anyone else ever has tried in the valley. It includes not just a mixture of housing nearby for worker bees to executives but they have now tossed in a transit village on a coming lifeline to the heart of both the San Francisco and Santa Clara Valley tech centers via the Valley Link to BART that is now moving forward.

Simply zoning for such businesses doesn’t work. You have to have what they want — think Amazon’s hunt for its second headquarters which is looking at a community’s entire package — as well as the patience which means a longer wait than most developers can stomach for pay day to roll around.

The bottom line is the job market in the Northern San Joaquin Valley will never mirror the Silicon Valley. And because of that, the head of household jobs created here will never be the same as the ones that have been created west of the Altamont Pass.

The fulltime jobs being created here based on strengths of the region — distribution and agriculture — tend to have staying power and stability.