Study: Merced ranked low in desirable places to do business

FRESNO, Calif.

On a list of 200 metropolitan areas, four Valley cities placed at the bottom. Peggy and Mike Biddison moved to Merced five years ago from Southern California to start their own business.

They love the small town atmosphere and Peggy's Insurance Business has doubled in just four years. But according to Forbes Magazine, the number of booming businesses in the Valley are few.

Their survey was based on 12 factors including income growth, educational attainment, crime rates and unemployment. Visalia, Stockton, Modesto and Merced make up four of the last five worst places in the country to do business.

"Those areas have been hit particularly hard because they saw a tremendous run up in real estate value in particular and then once that market collapsed, we've seen home prices slashed, we've seen unemployment soaring," Kurt Badenhausen said.

"I'm not suprised by it because merced gets a lot of negative press because of the unemployment rate. I think it's due largely to the number of itinerant workers," Peggy Biddison said.

The Forbes article reported only 11 percent of Merced adults have a college degree but former Merced school board member Tim O'neill says that statistic isn't completely accurate. "Our high school students do go in great numbers to college- unfortunately, with an unemployment rate hovering at 20 percent, a lot of them go elsewhere after they graduate."

Three college students Action News talked to say if Merced had more jobs they'd stay.

"Me and colleagues feel like if we left to go somewhere else there would be more opportunities to get a job," Brandie Slaton said. UC Merced is expected to grow to 5,000 students next year and eventually max out at 25,000. Those in Merced hope more students will mean more new businesses.

If the projections for growth materialize over the next few years at UC Merced, then Merced could end up a lot higher on Forbes list in the future. Fresno also made the list, ranking #179 just above Sacramento.

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