Local economy shows signs of rebound

John Lindt

Industrial, ag and hospitality industries show new signs of life as vaccines continue to roll out in the community

TULARE COUNTY – As the vaccine rollout continues to hit a fever pitch, the national jobs report reflects a robust improvement in employment. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employers added 916,000 jobs, and Tulare County is also seeing a bounce in the economy.

In farm country, tractor sales are up, there is an increase in farm jobs and citrus prices are in the green for a change.

In the county’s largest city, Visalia building permit valuation is up 45% compared to this time to last year, before the pandemic actually took hold.

Included in that figure is a 14% increase in the number of single-family home building permits, a nice bump in multi-family construction to 86 units so far (much more in the pipeline this year) compared to just six units this time last year, and an 18% increase in Visalians remodeling their homes.

Even more impressive is the commercial construction activity underway. New commercial buildings number 15 this year through March compared to seven last year at this time and the valuation has gone from $3 million to $12.2 million. Commercial alterations are valued $37 million versus $24 million last year, a 53% increase. Altogether, the value of all permits is $111 million versus $76 million this time in 2020.

“Demand is just amazing. Who would have thought that people would build new restaurants here with what has happened in the past year,” Visalia architect Thom Black said.

Around town, local restaurant favorites are inviting their customers to come back with COVID fading and more residents vaccinated.

In the Visalia Industrial Park with UPS and Amazon stoking the development fire, existing buildings are being gobbled up including a 50,000-square foot tilt-up at 8230 Doe Ave. recently purchased by ServiceMaster by Benevento who will be enjoying lots more space now for their business.

By contrast, Fresno commercial realtor Buk Wagner of Colliers says Fresno industrial space is harder to find than in Visalia given High Speed Rail’s demolition of properties and real and threatened lawsuits against the city in opposition of adding more acreage for the industry.

Happy citrus farmers

Switching to the countryside, orange farmers are catching a break for change this year according to Citrus Mutual. This week navel prices for size 48 navels are $16.50 a carton compared to $11.75 for the same week last year – about a 40% increase with more than half the crop picked. This week’s price is well above average. The industry has a tough couple of years and is glad to kiss red ink goodbye.

Taking a look at our number one crop, milk prices have been tough but futures are brighter in coming months according to market numbers and with restaurants opening up plans for lots of mozzarella are being made at local plants.

Meanwhile there is recovery in the ag job market with many farmworkers now vaccinated and spring crop season upon us. For February, EDD reports farm jobs year over year were up 700 in Fresno County, up 800 in Kern County, up 100 in Kings County and flat in Tulare County.

Tractor sales and hog prices

In another sign that the farm economy is recovering, manufacturing industry figures show tractor sales across the country are up 34% year to date, through February.

Case in point, Illinois based tractor firm Deere & Company reported a net income of $1.224 billion for the first quarter ended Jan. 31, 2021, compared with net income of $517 million for the quarter ended Feb. 2, 2020. Worldwide net sales and revenues increased 19% in the first quarter of 2021 to $9.112 billion.

“John Deere started 2021 on a strongly positive note,” John C. May, chairman and chief executive officer said. “Our results were aided by outstanding performance across our business lineup and improving conditions in the farm and construction sectors. In addition, our smart industrial operating strategy is making a significant impact on the company’s results while it also helps our customers be more profitable and sustainable.”

Market prices for staple crops like corn and cotton as well as livestock including hogs and cattle are up this year. Hogs went from 48 cents/lb on this date a year ago to $1.05 today.

As for the hard-hit hospitality industry, observers are expecting a big jump in Sequoia Park visitation this year helping the gateway towns as well.

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