County points to economic development, progress on homelessness

Merced County released its annual report this week, highlighting progress on homelessness and economic development.

The Castle Commerce Center on the former grounds of Castle Air Force Base was praised for its growth in recent years, especially its automotive test facility which has attracted companies like autonomous driving firm Waymo. The facility, called TRC-California, was expanded last year to the tune of $2.1 million and includes a 2.2 mile test oval track, a one-mile city course and two areas for testing vehicle dynamics.

“The 225-acre site is also attracting a significant amount of business interest from major car companies. We expect expansion to continue in the coming years as testing demand at the site increases,” the report read.

The county also touted its efforts to curb homelessness, mentioning the Merced County Navigation Center that was completed last year. According to the county, almost 200 homeless people were served by the facility, resulting in just under 30 being able to find housing.

The Navigation Center costs around $1.8 million a year to operate, and the county is currently exploring options for funding the center long-term.

A census this year of the homeless population in Merced found a two percent increase in the overall number of people without consistent housing. The number of unsheltered homeless decreased from 455 to 368 – a 19 percent drop – while the number of sheltered homeless rose by the same amount.

“The shift in the homeless population is reflective of the regional efforts to get people sheltered, connected with the appropriate services, and permanently housed,” the report read. “There are multiple projects in the works by local jurisdictions to increase affordable and supportive housing, which is a key component of keeping individuals off the streets after they are stabilized at the Navigation Center or a distributive housing unit.”

The report also provided a snapshot of general trends within the county. An area where Merced has seen constant growth is, unsurprisingly, population – Merced is still one of the fastest growing counties in California. The population is expected to grow by 5.5 percent by 2025, which amounts to around 15,000 new residents. Merced came out high on the rankings for ethnic diversity, roughly double the national average for a town of similar size. Job growth dropped significantly due to the pandemic, but as of today it is roughly where it was in 2018.

On the agricultural side, the county’s top commodity is milk, worth $900 million in 2020. Almonds are the second at $421 million each year, followed by cattle, chickens and sweet potatoes. India is the largest importer of goods produced in Merced County, followed by Japan, Mexico, Spain and the United Arab Emirates.

When it comes to public safety, Merced County has more violent crime than the national average, at 5.47 crimes per 1,000 people. Property crime is a similar story at 24.84 crimes per 1,000 people. The national averages for violent crime and property crime is 3.53 and 19.79 respectively.

Merced CountyMerced County Navigation CenterThe Castle Commerce Center
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