Coffee! Finally! All week I’ve been searching the empty storefronts of the Fulton Mall for a cuppa joe, but Friday morning, Long and I managed to find the Fresno Brewing Company. I’d thought it was just a bar, but no, it serves coffee, too. We met Ephraim there and started learning his story – incubating small businesses (he’s got a luthier making guitars in the back and a bike shop – who loaned us *our* bikes – in the front), and helping to build the community. Great coffee, too, and he told would be a band playing that night.
Then it was on to the second annual San Joaquin Valley Regional Economic Forum. We got to hear from mayors and leaders from around the region, giving us a broader perspective on what’s happening here. For me one of the highlights was hearing from Bill Fulton at Smart Growth America talk about the importance of downtown in economic development He talked specifically about the example of Research Triangle Park being a suburban economic development, and how it’s seeing a lot of new companies instead choose Centennial Campus at NC State, in part due to the more dense integration of business, residence, and education.
This really resonated with me as somebody who lived for nearly a decade in Raleigh, working in RTP. Ultimately, I left and went back to the small city of Lancaster, PA. I made the choice in large part because we’d had kids, and we had a lot of family back in Lancaster, but one factor was the vibrant community there, with downtown restaurants, bars, and shops. I remember making a pros and cons list, and on the pros to moving to Lancaster was my favorite sandwich shop – something I couldn’t find in the suburban area I lived in around Raleigh. I guess I’m a boomerang, too, just like a lot of the people that Fresno is trying to attract and retain – people who have family or ag or business ties to the region already and would consider coming back. I’m not saying that a couple of restaurants in downtown Fresno would suddenly triple employment here, but it sure could help put a few more entries in the “pro” column for people like me who might consider either coming back or staying here.
So a few more meetings, then we broke for dinner. Pretty awesome murder mystery/dinner theater from Revive Cafe/Fresno Organic. All of the food was local, with tons of vegetarian and vegan options, all accompanied by local wines. In the midst of this incredibly productive agricultural region, it’s nice to be able to actually taste some of it now and again. We wrapped the night up with a trip back to the Fresno Brewing Co to see Jimmie O. and the Blood Brothers kick out a few sets. They’ve got all craft beers from all over the world – it was a great way to wrap up our first work week in Fresno.