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LOS BANOS A Merced County business advocate Wednesday praised Los Banos' approach to new businesses.
Fernando Palomino, president of the Merced County Chamber of Commerce, said Los Banos has "made the environment friendly for business."
"That shows today why they are in better shape than the other cities (in the county)," Palomino said at the chamber's quarterly luncheon, which drew chamber of commerce members throughout the county to discuss issues on all things business, from developer fees to enterprise zones and from jobs to toll roads.
A city staff that's willing to help a business through the process, Palomino said, is a big part of it. He said other cities in the county are working toward consolidating permit and paperwork processes, as well as being proactive, to cut out any roadblocks for new business.
"It's not, 'Tell me what you need,' " Palomino said. "It's, 'Hey, what can I do for you?' "
Los Banos has seen some growth in recent months and has other projects lined up. Wal-Mart plans to add about 500,000 square feet and 85 jobs in the city.
Les Schwab Tire Center began construction this year, and Time 4 Sushi and Pierre's Delicatessen both opened in the past month in existing buildings. Dollar General, Black Bear Restaurant and a combined am-pm and McDonald's restaurant are on the way.
Mayor Mike Villalta attributed some of the growth to the suspension of regional transportation impact fees, a levy on new development that was pooled by Merced County Association of Governments. City Council suspended those fees by a 3-2 vote in January.
Wal-Mart was approved for expansion in November 2010. The suspension saved Wal-Mart about $450,000. Dollar General Market, however, was approved last month.
Most of the jobs coming from the development are minimum-wage positions.
"Some people may not say these are the jobs we want in Los Banos," Villalta said. "Well, that's a dumb statement. We need every job we can possibly get."
Los Banos' unemployment rate is 18.2 percent. Merced County's rate is 17.3 percent.
Merced County's budget of $426.9 million, down this year by $9.5 million, has supervisor discretionary funds of $85.4 million, Supervisor Jerry O'Banion said. The rest is federally allocated.
O'Banion said that limits the amount of business-generating programs in which the county can participate.
"We truly don't have a lot of jurisdiction over a lot of the dollars we spend here in the county," O'Banion said.
Enterprise reporter Thaddeus Miller can be reached at (209) 388-6562 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.