Umm, maybe the weather? The temperature was the last thing I thought about when I agreed to take a consulting job in the great city of Fresno, California. The name itself takes me back to summer camp when my fellow teeny boppers, during a camp skit, proclaimed Fresno was ‘the armpit of California’. Fast forward to adulthood, and a number of my colleagues have since been sent there for work. The going mantra became “Fres-YES” not “Fres-No”, in a desperate attempt to spur some enthusiasm for the city.
Overall, from the various people whom I have randomly come across who have either lived there, went to college there or have worked there for a definitive timeframe, Fresno was either tolerable or ‘not that bad’. So when I got a call from a recruiter trying to convince me to accept a job offer to work in Fresno, I really weighed my options. Being a California native from the Bay Area and now living in Los Angeles, a small town in the middle of nowhere did not seem as sexy as living and experiencing San Francisco or LA. Or so I thought.
After a few phone interviews and negotiating my contract, I hopped on my trusted computer and did some preliminary internet surfing. I was surprised to find out according to Wikipedia that Fresno is the 5th largest city in California (Take that Sarah Palin from Wasilla, AK!). It is also the largest inland city in California and the 35th largest city in the nation. I began to rethink my assumption that Fresno was some small hick town that California should keep in the guest house out back like our mother-in-law.
I decided to table all my preconceived notions and take in this city with open eyes. I scheduled an in-person interview for this prospective job and drove the 3 hours (186 miles) from San Francisco.
One thing that stood out for me is that the drive was not too bad. Traffic was not an issue and the scenery dabbled back and forth from borderline city and borderline rural. Either way, there were no long stretches of barren land. Available and acceptable radios stations were in reach and you arrive at your destination before your patience runs out. Compare that to commuting back and forth between LA and San Francisco (300+ miles and 5+ hours without traffic).
While waiting to be retrieved from the lobby for my interview, I noticed a magazine on the table: Fresno Magazine (http://www.fresnomag.com/). I flipped through the pages and while flipping, a thought came to mind that there is truly a push here to instill some pride in “Fresnonians”. All the articles featured various resident stories about how they left Fresno only to later return and how they are either raising their families here or they prefer not living in big cities etc. One thing that intrigued me is that Yosemite National Park is about an hour away. Now there is a feather that I can support putting in the hat of Team “Fres-Yes”. Fresno is only an hour away from a number of National Parks:
1. Yosemite National Park
2. Sierra National Forest
3. Kings Canyon National Park
4. Sequoia National Park
For those who like to frequent mother nature, this city seems like a great location for that reason alone.
I complete my interview and head straight back to San Francisco. I haven’t been to my apartment in Los Angeles in about 2 months. Since I still have some play time on the calendar before I start working again, (oh, by the way, I accepted the position) I want to thoroughly enjoy San Francisco. A lot goes through my mind as I prepare for the coming weeks. I schedule some time with a few friends and colleagues to get their opinions and background experience surrounding life in Fresno. I am now especially interested since I will now be spending Sunday through Thursday of each week there for about a year!
In a nutshell, this is what I gathered from a number of informal conversations from current or past residents:
Housing & Lifestyle:
The cost of living is reasonable. A colleague of mine moved there specifically to be able to support her daughter through college. Downtime is a little shabby. The newly developed area Riverpark mimics most other newly developed areas with cleaner streets, newer accommodations, standard mall set up, department stores and chain restaurants. All these things usually make residents feel ‘included’ in the American lifestyle (just my take on it).
Healthcare & Employment:
Healthcare facilities are surprisingly a dominating factor as far as job opportunities are concerned. Especially since the national healthcare initiatives are pumping a lot of government money and incentives into this industry. A lot of movement is happening behind the scenes as far as new businesses being able to sustain themselves; hospital systems are revamping their IT systems which subsequently creates a culture of re-evaluating all their internal processes. Healthcare choices have been expanded for the community as a whole.
Although the healthcare IT industry may be doing well, I assume the impact our depleting economy has on the rest of the nation also affects Fresno. A friend of mine working full time in Fresno for the same hospital system that hired me was recently laid off.
Location, Location, Location:
A recurring theme, I keep hearing that residents of Fresno (the ones that choose to live here or have returned) really like the small town feel. They also do not feel too removed as 2 major metropolitan cities are only 2-3 hours away (Los Angeles and San Francisco). Beaches for swimming and mountains for skiing or snowboarding are not too far away either.
Fresno is known for its really hot summers. Wikipedia says the winters are moderately wet, typical of California. There are enough swimming pools and air conditioners here to keep your experience at least at bearable, if not comfortable.
I have not yet explored this. However another colleague of mine said he went to college in Fresno and California State University Fresno is known as a ‘party’ school. I assume from this information that when there is a will there is a way. So although Fresno is not anything close to San Francisco or Los Angeles as far as afterhours activities, I personally have concluded that life is what you make of it and I totally intend on either finding the nightlife or creating it myself.
In summary, I don’t think Fresno is a prime destination for weekend getaways. I see it more as a place to live for people who prefer a more laid back, quiet, sub-urban, community based lifestyle, lower cost of living and to possibly raise a family. It would be a nice place to stop if you are traveling through and it is adequate if you’re being paid a lot of money to work there through the week for a defined timeframe. I plan to make the most of it, visit the national parks, explore and enjoy what Fresno has to offer. As long as I can go home or where-ever else I want on the weekends, I will be more than satisfied.