Reedley's employment and income growth between 2009 and 2012 earned the farming town in eastern Fresno County the distinction of being top-ranked among "cities on the rise" in California by a financial analysis website.
San Francisco-based NerdWallet.com reported that during the three-year span, Reedley -- with a population of around 25,000 -- experienced the greatest proportional growth in employment among the 325 cities it examined. The number of people working in the city grew by 17.8%, said NerdWallet analyst Maggie Clark.
Other Valley cities ranked among the website's Top 10 were Madera, at No. 5, and 10th-ranked Merced.
The website's staff based its rankings on three metrics from the U.S. Census Bureau's American Community Survey -- growth in the working-age population (ages 16-64), employment growth, and median income growth for full-time, non-seasonal workers. The three factors create an overall growth score.
The analysis doesn't purport that Reedley and the other high-ranked Valley communities are economically healthier than other parts of the state. Reedley's average unemployment rate in 2012 was 28.7%, compared to the statewide average of 10.4%, and unemployment rates across the Valley remain higher than the statewide average. Income levels in the region also tend to lag California as a whole. But NerdWallet says its report examines a community's proportional rate of growth.
"It doesn't matter where a city starts, because 10% is 10%," Clark said. "We don't care if the growth is in a struggling city versus a really high-income Silicon Valley city. If a city is growing, it's going to do well in this ranking."
Reedley ranked high not only because more people were working in 2012 than in 2009, Clark said, but the working-age population rose by 2.9% while workers' median income -- the point at which half of workers earned more and half earned less -- rose by 6.4% from 2009 to 2012.
Several years ago, Reedley's unemployment rate was above 30% and the community was on the verge of municipal bankruptcy, City Manager Nicole Zieba said. That represents the nadir from which the community has had to rebound.
"There is something good going on in Reedley," Zieba said.
The annual average unemployment rate last year had fallen to 25.2%, and over the last 18 months, the city has run a budget surplus and was awarded a prize for community policing. "Standard & Poors upgraded our bond rating, which is the litmus test that the financial community sees us doing something right," Zieba said.
A stainless-steel fabrication firm, UHP, opened in recent years and has expanded employment, and the takeover of the former Sierra Kings District Hospital by Adventist Health has also increased employment, Zieba said. Additionally, more smaller businesses are adding one or two employees at a time, making smaller dents in the unemployment situation.
Clark cautioned that because 2012 is the latest Census data available, the effects of California's current drought -- particularly on agriculture-dependent communities in the Valley -- are not accounted for in the NerdWallet analysis.
Cities on the rise
California cities with the greatest three-year growth score in employment and income between 2009-12:
1. Reedley 61.4
2. Coronado 61.3
3. San Ramon 58.2
4. San Fernando 57.8
5. Madera 55.3
6. Beverly Hills 54.1
7 (tie). Saratoga 53.0
7 (tie). Santa Paula 53.0
9. Gardena 52.9
10. Merced 52.4
Other Valley cities
25. Tulare 50.3
50. Hanford 47.4
56. Lemoore 47.1
74. Visalia 45.9
86. Dinuba 45.2
154. Corcoran 42.3
159. Clovis 42.2
193. Los Banos 40.6
253. Atwater 38.1
257. Fresno 37.6
263. Porterville 37.3
263. Sanger 37.3
307. Selma 32.7
Note: Growth scores are based on an analysis of increases in the working-age population, proportion of residents who are employed and median income.
The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6319, email@example.com or @TimSheehanNews on Twitter.