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City antes up for economic development plan of action
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City officials put their money where their mouth is on Monday by hiring a firm they believe will help them push toward the city's number one goal: Economic development.

The Ceres City Council voted to spend $121,100 of general fund monies for a contract with Urban Futures to develop an economic development strategic plan. Bryan Briggs, the city's economic development manager, said the plan will become a "road map" for the city to achieve its economic desires.

"This may very well be the start of a new era in the city of Ceres.... to help to guide and grow the city," said Marshall Linn of Urban Futures.

With all cities having recently been stripped of redevelopment money by state lawmakers -- the "most dynamic tool cities had" -- Linn said Ceres "really needs a plan." He likened it to a football game, stating "unless you have a plan you won't win the game." Linn also made it clear that a plan won't result in an immediate interest in developing in Ceres.

"Economic development is a tough thing to do," Linn said, adding that city staff must continue "doing the hard work and knocking on doors."

In his pitch, Linn said Urban Futures will taylor a realistic and flexible program to target specific commercial and industrial firms that is not intended to sit on the shelf. He observed that many cities pay a lot of money for plans that do nothing because they "paint a broad brush approach."

Urban Futures' plan will assess Ceres' commercial base, see what's missing, examine the city's liabilities, examine impediments to growth, analyze public infrastructure and determine which companies Ceres would have the greatest chance of landing. The plan will also outline ways the city of Ceres can retain and expand the businesses that are already here.

"We have to be extremely imaginative. There's a lot to be done."

Linn said Ceres enjoys a stable political environment, which many business leaders look at as they decide if they want to locate in a community.

Urban Futures has developed implementation plans for over 100 California cities, said Linn, and helped the city of Manteca to develop Bass Pro Shop and Field of Dreams and a 600-acre industrial park in Dinuba.

The plan is expected to be available for public review in May and will involve a stakeholders workship.

"Everybody has got to buy-in," said Linn.

Acting City Manager Art deWerk said Ceres has not had an economic development plan but said "we need this ... it's critical to our future."

"Other communities have plans, they have energies, they are going places." He said Ceres faces a "future of mediocrity" without one.

A number of audience members chimed in.

Dustin Pack, chairman of the Chamber, said the Chamber supports implementation of a business plan.

Ceres resident Hugo Molina said Ceres is already a great place but said "we would like to see downtown grow and this become a business friendly city."

Former Councilman Guillermo Ochoa approached the podium and called for Ceres residents to pressure Citizens for Ceres to drop its opposition to the Mitchell Ranch Shopping Center to see some immediate economic development.

Bill Bassett, president of the Alliance of Stanislaus County, said he senses Ceres has a hunger for "something better" than it's experienced.

"You are what you are but it doesn't mean that you stay that way," said Bassett.

Bassett asserted that the community must have commitment in its stomach to see Ceres through the long-term process of economic development. The council will also have to manage expectations without overnight success. He encouraged the council to go with creation of a plan, saying "you have to spend money to achieve the readiness that you need."

Bassett also extended help from hid staff at the Alliance to help out with the process.

"We stand ready to work with you," Bassett told the council.

Durossette said he is eager to have Ceres establish its own business identity.

"We're not just the city between Modesto and Turlock," said Council Bret Durossette. "We're Ceres for crying out loud."

Councilman Eric Ingwerson said in today's competitive business world "if we don't do anything we're moving backwards." He said the plan would be a "giant step in the right direction."

Vice Mayor Ken Lane echoed those remarks, saying "if we do nothing, we're going to end up with nothing."

Mayor Chris Vierra said the council may catch flak for spending the money but stated "having no road map is a dangerous recipe for disaster."

"We don't know what businesses to go after so we're waiting for the phone to ring and ladies and gentleman those days are long gone," said the mayor.

Helping Briggs connect with Urban Futures with the economic development strategy will be Senior Planner Tom Westbrook, City Engineer Toby Wells and Recreation Coordinator Traci Farris.