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Economic Development

El Centro is known as the largest American city which lies entirely below sea level – 39 feet below it, to be exact. It is both the largest city in California’s Imperial County and the county seat. It is located 117 miles east of San Diego in the southeast corner of California, only 15 miles from the border with Mexico’s Baja California and its town of Mexicali.

Because of Mexico’s proximity, El Centro has successfully merged the two cultures. Many of the city’s estimated 43,363 residents are of Hispanic descent and speak Spanish as their primary language. The same is true of all of Imperial County’s estimated 179,091 residents.

The majority of Imperial County’s jobs, services, housing, recreation, hotels, restaurants and retail outlets are located in El Centro, drawing people from all of the county’s seven cities and Mexicali on a daily basis.

“You can create a job anywhere in the County and El Centro will be positively impacted because people who work there will shop in El Centro and many will also choose to live there,” explained Timothy E. Kelley, President & CEO of the Imperial Valley Economic Development Corporation (IVEDC).

The residents and businesspeople of El Centro and Imperial County make the most of their area’s unique location, geography and natural resources. For instance, 85 percent of Imperial County land is devoted to agriculture because they count on their year round growing season, allowing them to plant several lucrative crop cycles each year. Local growers produce winter fruits and vegetables (lettuce, carrots and onions), alfalfa, sugar beets, cotton, grain and even seeds for the rest of the country, irrigating the land with water from the nearby Colorado River and transforming it from a desert to an oasis. They also raise and process livestock that is shipped throughout the country and around the globe.

The people of Imperial County also rely on the wind to blow and the sun to continue to shine brightly over 350 days each year in order to generate wind and solar energy for users in southern California and Arizona. In fact, the Imperial Valley is now the leading producer of solar energy in North America.

That wonderful, consistent weather also allows the military to train pilots in Imperial County, including the famous Blue Angels who use the area as their winter home. In addition, a geographic anomaly in the region allows companies like Energy Source, CalEnergy Generation and Ormat Technologies to produce abundant geothermal energy to add to the electric grid.

The area is also uniquely suited to the growth of algae, making it a natural place to develop a bRd.-based, economically and environmentally strong, long-term algae industry. Since 1983, algae based nutritional supplements have been produced locally by Earthrise Nutritionals and Synthetic Genomics continues to produce nutraceutical products from algae. Additionally there has been research and small-scale development of algae based bio-fuel production, and Imperial County has been recognized as an ideal location to further pursue the commercialization of these technologies.

El Centro’s proximity to Mexico is another “natural resource.” It draws scores of freight forwarders and international trade logistics firms that facilitate and execute shipments of crops, manufacturing components and finished products back and forth across the U.S. – Mexico border.

The movement of people across the border also benefits El Centro. Nearly 60,000 people cross the area’s three border crossings every day to work, shop, attend school, socialize and recreate in Imperial County, generating sales taxes and helping to pay for infrastructure, education and other vital services.

“People come from Mexico on a regular basis and they have a major impact on our economy. Most Americans go to the grocery store on a regular basis for small amounts of food because the stores are very accessible,” explained Kelley. “The Mexicans who come across the border to shop at the County’s three Super Walmarts, Costco and other stores, however, they buy a month’s worth of groceries when they come and probably some items that they plan to re-sell when they cross the border. So the per transaction dollar amounts in our stores tend to be very high.”

That is one of the reasons why retailers have been attracted to the Valley.

A large percentage of Imperial County and El Centro residents are employed by a governmental entity of some kind because government facilities are plentiful in El Centro and the rest of the Imperial Valley, once again due to the weather, geography and proximity of the international border.

Both the United States Navy and the Marines have a strong presence including a Navy SEAL base, a Naval Air Facility and bombing ranges where pilots from allied nations like Britain, Canada, Netherlands, Belgium and others also come to train. There are also two state prisons within the County, a County jail, an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention facility, as well as regular border patrol and U.S. Customs facilities and both city and county government facilities.

Kelley said that IVEDC is actively working to capitalize on their existing industries as they work to attract new businesses. They hope, for instance, that the fact that the Navy and even foreign militaries choose to train their pilots at NAF-El Centro will allow them to recruit commercial aerospace firms to the area.

They are also recruiting firms that would like to be near existing facilities in the County that would need similar infrastructure, workforce and financial backing that Imperial County can offer, according to Kelley. “This potentially includes aerospace companies, renewable energy firms, international logistics firms, food processing plants, back office processing/information technology/call centers and even bio-fuel firms interested in using algae in the production of nutriceuticals, diesel and jet fuel and animal feed.”

“For instance, Southern California and the Imperial Valley, in particular, is the perfect environment for renewable energy firms to locate. There is a market for the energy among the residents of southern California, Arizona and potentially, Mexico. We have the infrastructure and capability to transmit the energy from this location to surrounding markets. We have a very proactive population that is committed to renewable energy. And we have a proven track record of getting these types of ventures financed, permitted and constructed, so it is easy for these firms to do business here,” Kelley explained.

“We have also been successful in attracting business to the County because we have a growing population, plenty of Class A office space, low utility rates, competitive labor rates, inexpensive land and low housing prices,” he continued. “IVEDC gets to the principals of firms we are recruiting and those we hope to retain and we let them know about all of the workforce training programs that are available and we make them aware of the low cost of local labor and the state tax incentive programs. We also try to facilitate any financing they might need and help them to understand the process of starting, expanding or relocating a business. We are also currently working to streamline the permitting process in El Centro.”

But the IVEDC’s primary mission is to attract and assist commercial and industrial development to increase tax revenues to the County of Imperial and create employment opportunities for the betterment of our communities.


Civilian Labor Force:
El Centro — 21,000
Imperial County — 77,700

Employment by Industry

Imperial County:
Farm — 10,800
Mining/Construction — 2,500
Manufacturing — 1,000
Trade, Transport & Utilities — .13,900
Information — 300
Financial Activities — 1,400
Professional & Business Services — 2,400
Educational & Health Services — 9,500
Leisure & Hospitality — 4,100
Other Services — 900
Government — 18,300

Unemployment Rate

Labor Market Information Division – April 2015
Imperial County — 21.2%
El Centro — 19.7%

Imperial County — 8.00%
City of Calexico — 8.50%

Major Regional Employers
8A Packing, LLC
Allstar Seed Co.
Calipatria State Prison
Centinela State Prison
Central Union High School
Clinicas de Salud, Inc.
El Centro Naval Air Facility
El Centro Regional Medical Center
Imperial County Behavioral Health
Imperial County Coroner
Imperial County Office of Education
Imperial County Sheriff
Imperial Date Gardens
Imperial Irrigation District
Maui Harvesting
Paradise Casino
Pioneers Memorial Healthcare District
Quechan Casino Resort
United States Gypsum
US Border Patrol
Walmart Supercenters

Building Permits Issued (Valuation)
(U.S. Census Bureau 2013)

Imperial County (Annual) — $45,876,891

For more information about El Centro and Imperial County please visit the following websites:

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