Numbers game – City officials consider census update

– City officials are considering updating census figures five
years shy of the next national survey in the hope that fresh
numbers could spell new jobs.
Gilroy – City officials are considering updating census figures five years shy of the next national survey in the hope that fresh numbers could spell new jobs.

In recent years, the city has successfully attracted Target, Super Wal-Mart and other major retailers, but officials now hope that updated figures will help the city bring in high-end jobs and service-providers that often overlook Gilroy.

Jane Howard, the city’s interim economic development director, predicted that the influx of businesses and homes since 2000, when the last census was taken, have driven significant changes in the city’s population.

“Gilroy demographics would look a lot different,” she said. “And that particular information is important because businesses pay close attention to the demographics in evaluating whether it’s a good fit for their them.”

The magic number for many corporations and retailers is 50,000, according to Howard. She said many corporations rely on that population figure as a cutoff when considering new business sites. Gilroy falls just short of that number based on its official population of nearly 47,000, as estimated by the California Department of Finance.

Raw population is not the only number that matters. City officials learned recently that Trader Joe’s, a specialty grocery chain, will not move to the region because not enough of the adults have a college education.

Officials believe the growth of high-end housing, especially on the city’s western edge, has brought the city within range of such as education and income targets.

“Over the last five or six years, we’ve seen a lot of growth, and most of it has been middle class and upper-middle class,” said Wendie Rooney, the city’s community development director. “Socio-economically the city has grown.”

She pointed out, however, that changes in Gilroy’s population alone will not increase its allure for major businesses, which typically analyze demographic information in a 10- to 15-mile radius.

While updated census figures for Gilroy could be offset by limited growth in surrounding areas, City Planning Manager Bill Faus sees clear and immediate benefits from new numbers.

“We rely on that information to support housing numbers, transportation numbers, grant applications,” he explained. “Why might the city support a census (update)?…It’s a planning issue. It focuses on housing and transportation. Where are those jobs created? Where are those people living? And where are those people commuting from?”

For the moment, city council has not directed staff to proceed with a study. The costs of an update remain unclear and will hinge on the depth of the study, which can range from a representative sample to an actual survey of everyone in the community, Rooney said.

In the meantime, Howard said that some businesses are waiting in the aisles for a different set of economic indicators before deciding on a move to Gilroy.

“Some of the numbers they look for in regional draw are actually a little light for them still,” Howard said. “They’re interested in seeing how the businesses here now are drawing. Even though we may not fit the perfect picture of what they’re looking for, they’re still considering us.”

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