Fresno's Detroit Problem - Pacific Standard

Fresno's Detroit Problem

A city can be beautiful and offer plenty of amenities, but if it's too close to known failures, it's going to have a difficult time attracting talent.
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Downtown Fresno. (PHOTO: QYMEKKAM/WIKIMEDIA COMMONS)

Downtown Fresno. (PHOTO: QYMEKKAM/WIKIMEDIA COMMONS)

I call this problem the Ann Arbor Dilemma. Ann Arbor has trouble attracting talent because it is located in a Rust Belt state and all too close to the face of urban failure, Detroit. This cute college town is plenty cool enough. More amenities won't work. Branding campaigns whither in the face of geographic stereotypes, the mesofacts. Remember Ann Arbor the next time someone floats another Creative Class boondoggle.

California is the new Michigan. Silicon Valley is the next Detroit. Visalia (near Fresno) struggling with the Ann Arbor Dilemma:

Of course, inland California remains a hard sell. (When I Googled “why should I move to Fresno?” the first link that came up was an article: “10 Reasons Not to Move to Fresno.”) But for those willing to make the leap, Fresno and the counties around it have never looked like a better bet. The cost of living is low; traffic is mild by coastal standards; and the physical beauty of the Valley is underappreciated. If you live in Fresno, Yosemite, Sequoia, and Morro Bay are all day trips. Technology and transportation investments are making it easier to stay connected to the coast, and crime and pollution, while too high, are going down.

If I were younger and looking for a job and not trapped by a crushing Southern California mortgage, I’d think hard about moving to Visalia, population 126,000, about 45 minutes south of Fresno.

Many Californians couldn’t find Visalia on a state map, but the city is an arts center, with its own symphony and opera. Its downtown has at once old-school charm, new-school functionality, and enough ethnic food options (Japanese, Mexican, Cajun, Indian, Chinese, Brazilian, Danish) to satisfy even an L.A. hipster. The minor-league baseball team, the Visalia Rawhide, is run with major-league style by members of the O’Malley family, which once owned the Dodgers.

Emphasis added. You go where you know. Visalia is located in Rust Belt inland California, all too close to Fresno's reportedly high unemployment and threatening municipal bankruptcy. More from the public radio segment:

Jacob Bollinger, a California-based data scientist at Bright Labs, part of Bright.com, which connects jobseekers to jobs, recently pointed out that when you look deep into the data, you’ll find that one of the places with the most job openings in California is, believe it or not, greater Fresno. Jobs abound not just in transportation but also in retail, professional services, and healthcare.

Greater Fresno has the job openings. It can't attract the talent. It can't attract talent because everyone knows California is doomed. There are no jobs. The state government is bloated and ineffective. Opportunity is elsewhere, in Texas.

Geographic stereotypes heavily influence relocation decisions. Mesofacts are difficult to change. Greater Fresno could do all the right things and still lose, no matter what the real estate developer or Mayor Bloomberg promises.

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