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Foothills economy has bright outlook

Amid the global and national economic gloom, much has been made of how the credit crunch and Wall Street meltdown have hammered Main Streets across the country.

Merchants on Mother Lode Main Streets — and Broadways, St. Charles Streets, Twain Harte Drives and Washington Streets — are certainly feeling the pinch. But there are signs of encouragement in the darkness:

PriceCo — After doing without since Albertson's shut its doors 18 months ago, The Junction shopping center in East Sonora will get a new anchor supermarket in January. Randy Toy, whose family already owns Marina Marketplace in Stockton, said PriceCo Foods will open up in the long-vacant, 33,000-square-foot grocery store building. Toy said the new store will sell choice beef, seafood and organic food, will include a deli, and will hire about 70 employees, including some who worked for Albertson's.

Wal-Mart — More jobs and shopping opportunities would be created by Wal-Mart's plan to add a 27,477-square-foot market to its existing 130,000-square foot store, built in the early 1990s at the Sonora Crossroads shopping center. Studies that will be included in an environmental impact report for the project are now under way. There is no estimate as to when the new grocery store might open, and potential employment figures have not yet been released. But Sonora Adminstrator Greg Applegate was enthused: "We've got to get some jobs going here; we've got to get some economic vitality going on."

Lowe's — An amended EIR for the 111,000-square foot home improvement store, proposed on 10.7 acres off Old Wards Ferry Road, is within days of release. After a review period, the approval process will begin anew with hearings before the Sonora Planning Commission and City Council. Assuming the process goes without roadblocks, Applegate said, "groundbreaking could come as soon as late spring." The big-box store would likely hire more than 150 employees, say project spokesmen. Despite the lagging economy, they add, "we're ready to go."

Mountain Springs — Infrastructure work and road improvements will soon lead to significant job creation. As many as 400 ongoing construction jobs will be generated once the housing market improves and the development finally gets underway.

Downtown Sonora — Applegate says the city continues to receive license applications for locations in downtown Sonora, a positive sign. Not only that, but the Historic Sonora Chamber of Commerce has launched a "Sonora Passport" program aimed at luring shoppers and helping fund the WATCH Program's regular downtown cleanups.

Shop Local Campaign — The Tuolumne County Chamber of Commerce is promoting its "Shop Local" campaign. They want everyone to become aware of the benefits of supporting local businesses. Dollars invested with merchants here locally turn over many times in the community and those sales tax dollars boost our city and county services.

Columbia College — Construction of projects funded by the 2004 Measure E Bond program underway include the $2.3 million Madrone building expansion which houses auto technology, a $2.8 million Public Safety Building where work began in June and is expected to be concluded next summer and at 10 a.m. Friday ground will be broken for a $6.3 million Child Development Center. All these projects bring good jobs to our area. The Madrone building contractor is Sonora's Tri-Technic.

Economic Development — The timing here couldn't be better: The new Economic Development Authority, a joint powers partnership of Tuolumne County and Sonora, will have its first board meeting on Nov. 7 at City Hall. County Supervisors Teri Murrison and Dick Pland will join City Councilmen Hank Russell and Bill Canning — all four already appointed as EDA directors — in electing a chairman and vice chairman and setting a procedure for choosing three at-large members for the board.

With a start-up budget of $200,000 and guaranteed annual city and county income of $100,000 a year, the authority will be charged with attracting new business, retention and expansion of existing enterprises, creating jobs and expanding the tax base.

More worthwhile missions, particularly in these difficult times, would be hard to imagine.

Although full economic recovery may still be many months away, it's heartening to see that some strong vital signs here at home.


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