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To those turning their nose up at $15-an-hour jobs
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“Distribution jobs in Manteca at $15 an hour doesn’t qualify as good paying jobs.”

 - An e-mail from a reader who believes Manteca’s municipal leadership is encouraging the wrong type of job development.

I thought it was a joke or at least a reader being argumentative. But then I got follow up comments to another column on distribution jobs and realized I was either dealing with Rip Van Winkle or someone who is trying to channel “Fantasy Island.”

If you were to post job opening today for a distribution center with pay starting at $15 an hour you’d trigger a stampede. There is a 14 percent unemployment rate. And while the overall education level of the Manteca job force is improving, it isn’t exactly one that can fill highly skilled jobs that command significantly more dollars.

The best thing Manteca ever did in terms of planning for a stronger future for the local job market was to jettison plans to try to find a developer to pursue a Hacienda-style business park that’s in Pleasanton as part of development in southwest Manteca. There is no high-etch job future for Manteca on such a scale for a number of reasons. We are too far removed from where the action is in the Silicon Valley and even Pleasanton-Livermore.

Manteca’s experience with high tech jobs has proven to be a stunning flop. At one time Indy Electronics which morphed into Alphatec and then was revived as Turnkey Solutions provided hundreds of jobs in the Manteca Industrial District. At its peak, Indy employed almost 700 workers.

But guess what? Those workers for the most part earned minimum wage back when it was $5.25 an hour. And the vast majority came from Stockton.

The high-tech assembly jobs were outsourced to Manteca from the Silicon Walley because of labor costs. They were then outsourced to Mexico and then to Asia because of Manteca labor costs.

The building that housed Manteca’s high-tech employer has been vacant for more than a decade.

Distribution, on the other hand, has proven to be stable. Ford Motor Co. - with eight years in Manteca under its belt - has already outlasted both Alphatec and Turnkey Solutions.

Manteca benefits not just because of it being at the epicenter of 38 million consumers in 12 hours by truck but also due to the high cost of real estate in the Bay Area. Manteca leaders - working with developers - were wise enough to see the emerging trend and to start to set the stage for the next boom when it arrives. CenterPoint - the envisioned distribution complex with a series of one-million-square-foot buildings in Northwest Manteca - is the start. It will capitalize on the tripling of the adjacent Union Pacific Intermodal facility that is expanding due to a need to get out of the congested Bay Area.

And in case no one has noticed, there is a significant shift going on as the result of the drawn out recession.

The Cadillac-standard of compensation - United Auto Workers contracts - is getting down to fighting size.

The deals with the Big Three basically exchanges $28-an-hour jobs as union members retire and trade them for $12-an-hour jobs. In turn, each auto manufacturing will bring between 3,000 and 10,000 jobs each back to the United States from overseas.

That may sound like a step backwards but when we have been shedding manufacturing jobs by the hundreds of thousands each year with most heading overseas it is a step in the right direction.

It helps, of course, that emerging economies are seeing a rapid increase in compensation and are having pressing problems such as the drug cartels bathing streets with blood in Mexico.

It is also a partial testimonial to the statistic that American workers on the whole are four times more productive than their Chinese counterparts.

Manteca’s economic development staff is also operating under a different directive today than five years ago when it comes to agricultural processing jobs.

The goal now is to look for opportunities that would bring jobs that would work within the city’s wastewater and water systems. That is a huge turnaround from completely shutting the door as has been done in the past.

Eckert’s Cold Storage provides hundreds of solid jobs year round.

Canneries and such often provide primary and secondary household jobs. It allows people to raise families and buy homes on a modest basis.

The goal should be to bring all levels of employment to Manteca and to concentrate on the jobs that most would be able to fill.

It is better to have $15-an-hour jobs with less people in the unemployment line instead of chasing fantasies of $25-an-hour jobs and watching the jobless numbers creep up toward 20 percent.