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Building a Sustainable Rural Economy

Mariposa, California

December 1, 2012 / By Daniel Flaming
Underwriter: Economic Roundtable
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Executive Summary

The 25¢ coin that was minted in 2005 to commemorate California shows John Muir admiring the granite walls of Yosemite. Mariposa County is home to Yosemite, one of the most beloved places in California. This study explores what does this means when it comes to providing sustaining jobs for local residents.

Mariposa is a rural county with a population of about 18,000 residents and a stable, educated, aging workforce. The county’s economy does not provide enough jobs for all of the residents who need to work – 28 percent of employed residents work outside of the county.

Since 1990, all net job growth has been through self-employment. Hotels are the biggest employer, providing 30 percent of all jobs but paying comparatively low wages. Hotels, federal government and local government together provide two-thirds of the total payroll.

Ranching and farming yield modest incomes, however they preserve the rural character of a third of the county’s land area, with Yosemite National Park preserving another third of the land.

Mariposa’s economy is too small to capture many of the “multipliers” from local expenditures. However, some local needs are being fulfilled by businesses outside the county and present opportunities for local growth (“import substitution”).

Some industries have stronger connections with the local economy and capture more multipliers. Cattle ranching has the greatest local economic multipliers of any industry in the county because most of the things that ranchers buy are obtained locally. Mariposa’s cornerstone industries include cattle ranching, hotels and restaurants.

Vertical integration in the food production and distribution chain would have strong local benefits. One strategy is to promote premium grass-fed “Yosemite Beef” through a buy-local food campaign for grocery stores, hotels and restaurants, including those in Yosemite National Park.

Mariposa’s economy will also benefit from support local industries that pay higher wages and reach external markets.

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Area of Work: Economy