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El Dorado, Placer counties looking for businesses

Greg Risling

The Sacramento region’s growth is unabated. How much of that growth will occur in the Sierra foothills?

The challenge is clear. El Dorado and Placer counties must lure businesses or be cast as bedroom communities populated with commuters.

Placer has had some success, attracting the likes of Hewlett Packard, Oracle and NEC. El Dorado County hasn’t kept up with its border buddy.

Both counties have beautiful landscapes, a variety of housing, a strong employee base, and space for industrial and commercial businesses.

El Dorado has two major industrial centers, the El Dorado Hills business park, and the area south of U.S. Highway 50 along Missouri Flat Road. Both areas have lots of room to expand.

The status quo in El Dorado means 85 percent of the people in the western slope will head into Sacramento on Highway 50. In the past 10 years, the commute to the State Capitol from El Dorado Hills went from 32 minutes to 55 minutes. To add to the problem, traffic is now bumper-to-bumper from 6 a.m. to nearly 9 a.m. Ten years ago, the rush hour lasted only 35 minutes. It is not uncommon to hit stop-and-go traffic at Cambridge Road in Cameron Park.

This mean El Dorado County must spend money on roads and bridges. If business locates here, and people don’t commute, the county can count its tax income instead of spending it.

El Dorado plans to steer toward a new economic future. An economic development coordinator will be hired to fill a position left vacant for five years.

The economic development corporation will tap the expertise both both local government officials and private business people. The budget has been established at $250,000.

“The main focus of the plan is job creation,” said.

Consultant Charlotte Whitney said the “main focus” will be “job creation.”

Placer is one of the state’s fastest growing counties, but it too exports workers to Sacramento. With a population of 209,700, an increase of 21 percent since the 1990 census, towns such as Auburn and Lincoln are home to relocated companies.

High-tech and skilled labor positions are being created in Placer and the unemployment rate has dropped under 4 percent. The census reported that more than 40 percent of Placer residents were commuting outside of the county. Now, Hewlett Packard employs 5,200 workers and NEC has more than 2,000.

Personal income rose 45 percent in six years. The greater Sacramento area grew 37.4 percent.

Ed Graves is Placer’s economic development coordinator. He helps market the community to interested companies. Graves said outreach by local government and businesses turned Placer from another struggling county to an attractive destination. It also doesn’t hurt to have thousands of acres of land zoned for commercial use.

Graves said he works to find high-income jobs, the type the primary wage earner of a family might hold. “Having these jobs saves a commute, improves air quality and we don’t have to widen our freeways.

“We don’t have the ability to attract the young, single crowd that is prevalent in San Francisco,” he said. “It seems we get them after they are married and want to settle down.”

El Dorado has many of the characteristics of Placer, but has not seen the same results. District 1 Supervisor Sam Bradley said they have tried to bring any business “that has a pulse” but noted it takes years for a company to relocate.

“We may get a major business but it will take four to five years,” he said. “We’ve never been up to Placer’s speed. They got an early jump on us.”

Whitney said El Dorado lacked focus. She wants to have commitments from the private and public sectors by July 1. Without a plan, she added, El Dorado County will continue to lose businesses to neighboring counties.

“You look around and see that they are in a better position than El Dorado,” Whitney said. “There are a lot of attractive features in El Dorado. Now we have to let the rest of the state know about it.”

Tahoe Daily Tribune E-mail: tribune@tahoe.com

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