I mentioned last time that the number of people employed by Merced's top ten biggest employers seemed kind of strikingly low to me. Specifically, in a town of 78,958 people, only 10,179 have jobs at one of the places in town that employ more than 311 people. It seems like that could have some ramifications for the local economy as a whole.
Just because it seems especially low to me doesn't mean that it is though. It's not like I'm any kind of leading expert on small city economies. But I can become one with less than 30 minutes and Wikipedia! Right?
So, looking for other "small cities" to compare Merced to I come up with Chico (86,187), Redding (89,861) and Santa Barbara (88,410). I'm sticking in California because theoretically there might be an advantage to not comparing across state lines and thus keeping the majority of laws constant, and realistically there's a handy dandy list of California cities in order of population right there on Wikipedia and I have a better chance of being able to tell the independent small cities from the large suburbs in my home state than I would anywhere else. Unfortunately there's only four cities that are anywhere close to Merced's size in California that don't seem like suburbs to me, so this whole exercise is pretty worthless. Especially since the fourth one is Napa, which doesn't seem to have the top ten employers info that I'm looking for, and might be too close to the Bay Area anyways.
But based on the shitty data that I do have, evidence seems to be that Merced is pretty completely normal. Chico's top ten employers provide 7409 jobs. Redding's provide 7560. Santa Barbara is the one that stands out with 22,450 jobs, 6200 of which are from UCSB alone, which I guess is a good sign for Merced's future. I'm not really sure why Santa Barbara County employs many more people within Santa Barbara than any of the other cities (4000). The population density is pretty much in line with the other places, except for Redding, and both Merced and Redding are county seats too. The number of employees at Santa Barbara City College seems odd, too. Assuming (based on nothing) that it's a pretty average sized community college with twenty to thirty thousand students, that's one employee for every ten students served. Maybe in Santa Barbara everyone gets their own personal garbage man and even community college students get the finest in personalized instruction? But that's a mystery for another day.
(In other news, the Atlantic just launched theatlanticcities.com, which I'm kind of excited about. Except I'm guessing Merced isn't really on their radar of important urban areas to cover...)
((Also, Matt Yglesias totally backing me up that an economy riddled with small-scale employers might be something to watch out for.))