The Focus

Valley banks had reason to cheer in 2014

It appeared to be a profitable year for some of the Central Valley’s larger community banks, though not all enjoyed the year-over-year growth that shareholders like to see.
Here’s an overview for local banks that have released fourth quarter financial information. They are placed in order of year-over-year growth in net income.

Homebuilders look increasingly to South Valley in ‘15

In 2015, real estate developers are increasingly selecting smaller Fresno County communities and parts of the South Valley for future homebuilding projects.
Many local homebuilders have either broken ground or opened new developments outside the City of Fresno’s sphere of influence during the last few months.

NEO evolves to connect Fresno County employers, workers

Fresno County is ready to make a big marketing push for its New Employment Opportunities (NEO) program that subsidizes the cost of certain new hires for businesses in the county.
The Economic Development Corp. serving Fresno County is the organization tasked with marketing the program, which is funded with $9 million through the Fresno County Department of Social Services.
While the latest iteration of the program kicked off in April 2014, the program traces its roots to 2011, when it was developed in wake of another wage-subsidy effort — the 80/20 Program.

Local Covered California HMO, PPO plans ranked

Nearly 3.4 million previously uninsured Californians signed up for health care coverage during last year's open enrollment period. While this year's open enrollment is several months shorter — enrollment opened on Nov. 15 and ends Feb. 15, 2015 — Covered California has set its sights on reaching the remaining 1.7 million uninsured Californians.

Westlands opens water wallet for Huron

Westlands Water District is pitching in to make sure the City of Huron is able to meet the town’s water needs.

The Westlands board recently voted to make emergency water available to the Western Fresno County city of under 7,000 people.

Assessor floats changes to Fresno County’s Williamson Act

Fresno County Assessor Paul Dictos spends a lot of time thinking about the Williamson Act, and he believes he has found a way to make it work better for family farmers.

Dictos has completed a draft proposal that aims to redistribute tens of million of dollars among Fresno County landowners who participate in the program, which gives farmers a break on their property taxes as long as the property is involved in producing food or fiber.

Central Valley represented with Energy Star-rated buildings

While Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification is an ideal way to prove a building’s green status, many property owners are content to show energy efficiency through an Energy Star rating.
Developed in 1992 by the Environmental Protection Agency, the Energy Star rating system has become a stamp of superior energy performance for banks, schools hospitals, retail stores, offices and several other types of buildings, though it may be more well-known to consumers as a ratings system for home appliances.

Kings County: Economic growth via the skies

A number of factors look to prep Kings County for some economic growth in the year ahead.
Perhaps the most anticipated new development follows a recent decision by the U.S. Navy to base a total of 100 F-35C aircraft at Naval Air Station (NAS) Lemoore. The new aircraft, made up of seven Navy Pacific Fleet Squadrons and one Fleet Replacement Squadron, will arrive in phases beginning next year to replace 70 aging F/A-18 Hornets currently on location by 2028.

Fresno County: Rail work, other factors drive optimism

Local economic development professionals see bright skies ahead for Fresno County in 2015, but the lack of rainclouds could signal continued trouble.
When it comes to the nonfarm economy, most agree the Valley is continuing on a positive trajectory. The unemployment numbers bear that out. In September, Fresno County’s jobless rate reached 9.5 percent — the first single-digit unemployment rate in six years.

Bank beefs up cyber security as threat level rises

In the wake of a high-profile security breach, Fresno’s United Security Bank has adopted tighter security measures in hopes of protecting customers.

The move comes as the banking and retail industries focuses its attention to cyber security as more hacking incidents emerge compromising millions of customers.

United Security Bank agreed in June to pay $350,000 to Bakersfield oil company TRC Operating Co. to settle litigation stemming from a 2011 cyber fraud incident. Dennis Woods, president and CEO of United Security Bank, said the bank has taken on additional security measures to protect corporate customers that frequently use the online money-wiring system.