To Agriculture….. And Beyond!

By: Al Smith, Fresno Chamber of Commerce President and CEO

With special kudos to Buzz Lightyear  of Toy Story movie fame (“To Infinity… and Beyond”) this month’s cover story of Connect magazine deals with the tremendous economic impact visitors, tourism and conventions have on the County and City of Fresno.  As you will see in the story, tourism (at 1 billion) is second behind agriculture (5.9 billion) in the amount of dollars.  Tourism provides job to 11,900 of our neighbors.  That’s the size of two Boeing plants.

That’s a fact I am not sure a lot of people know.

However considering its importance – as we do with agriculture, the Fresno area needs to recognize, appreciate, protect and promote to visitors and tourist with aggression. It is a sizable economic driver.

Which speaks to the makeup of Fresno’s economy.

Remember when our parents use to say, “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket”.

Fresno has been pretty much an island in the middle of California.  It is agriculture based, and we thank God (and the farmers and workers) for that.  At the same time, we continue to hear complaints about air travel; fine restaurants; an active cultural community and the lack of top of the line shopping.

Experts tell us that these amenities usually succeed when a community has a solid corporate business foundation – companies with regional corporate offices and high-tech innovative products and services delivering a higher than average income.

Dr. Tim Stearns, head of FSU’s  LylesCenteron Innovation and Entrepreneurship pointed out recently that “Communities with economic vitality are those with a diverse economic base”.  Diversity in a community helps stop what is commonly known as the brain-drain – those who are educated here – then move away.  Dr. Stearns points out, “Recent graduates are more inclined to stay in the market having more choices.”

While diversification is still in an infancy stage in many areas, Mayor Swearengin has targeted areas like medical, education, government and military institutions;  industrial activity,  water technology. manufacturers, supply chain management and logistics as natural business extensions.

“We must take advantage of our location and our entrepreneurial nature to diversify our economy and prepare us for future inevitable economic cycles,” Swearengin states.  Her focus is “workforce development and adult education issues that will help provide workers with the skills they need to succeed.”

These categories will take some time to develop.  In the meantime, the quickest and most available economic stimulus is one we tend to overlook the most.  Three national parks, enthusiastic fishing and boating on our many lakes. Snow skiing in the morning; sunbathing in the afternoon. Top notch golf courses and a concert venue rated as one of the top in the world (the Save Mart Center).  These and more are all here and ready to be enjoyed, not just by us, but by those we invite to visit.

I remember going to a convention decades ago in Rochester, N. Y. and wearing my convention garb. Everywhere we went on the streets off that City, people would say, “Welcome toRochester.  Thanks for coming”.

The iconic archway leading on to Van Ness in downtown says, “Fresno, Best Little City in the USA”  Let’s add to that “the friendliest little city in theUSA” when our guests come to call.  After all, being friendly can be important to our health.

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