Forward Thinker: Fresno’s Thomas Esqueda Aims to Build More Inclusive Path for the City

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Fresno City Manager Thomas Esqueda was one of the first hires by Mayor Jerry Dyer upon his election and together, they are working to implement the “One Fresno” vision that will address challenges facing the San Joaquin Valley’s largest city. In the latest profile in our Fwd Thinkers series, CA FWD CEO Micah Weinberg interviewed Esqueda in the above video.

“Right now is that moment where maybe we can look at this inclusive economic development to raise all the boats, to look at the investments that we make in communities,” said Esqueda. “Let’s put some investment in some of these communities that historically may have been underserved.”

Esqueda was born in Sanger, but his family moved to the Bay Area when he was a child to pursue better economic opportunities. He came back every summer to visit extended family. During those visits, he witnessed the region’s stagnant economy, but he still loved the area. He graduated from San Jose State and worked in different parts of the country. After his kids grew up, he and his wife were ready to go “home,” and that home is the San Joaquin Valley.

“That’s really the personal mission I’m kind of on – is to make this place somewhere that people say, ‘I can work, live, play, raise a family, start a business in Fresno and be successful,’” he explained. “I don’t have to go anywhere else and so that’s the enjoyment I’m having right now.”

Both Esqueda and Mayor Dyer entered City Hall in January and brought with them five priorities.

Beautify Fresno

They want to change Fresno’s “curb appeal.” The City has instituted graffiti abatement and beautification programs. Additionally, the City has a pool of 2,500 volunteers who show up every Saturday to remove graffiti, fix potholes, repair sidewalks and perform other tasks.

“We’re going to have to make the investment in ourselves,” said Esqueda. “Can we instill a little pride amongst our community so that as we look to attract other folks to come to the City, they have the same amount of pride?”

Homeless & Housing

One of Mayor Dyer’s goals is to eradicate homelessness in Fresno. To make that happen, the City is working toward purchasing motels to use as transitional housing. There are also plans to build new affordable housing and permanent supportive housing.

Inclusive Economic Development

Building on the Regions Rise Together initiative, Fresno is working toward building an economy that benefits everyone.

“For too long we have been chasing economic development, but we kind of did it without the lens of social equity,” explained Esqueda. “How do we provide opportunities for all of our residents and in some of those places where they don’t have access to the same education and economic opportunities as others?”

Downtown Development

The California High Speed Rail gives Fresno an opportunity to develop its downtown. It will be the location of one of the first high-speed rail stations in the country and Fresno is ready to create “The Station District,” which can make downtown Fresno a destination location for both locals and tourists.

Youth Leadership Development

“If we’re going to break some of the generational and cyclical things that have happened here in the City of Fresno for generations and decades, let’s go ahead and make an investment in our youth,” said Esqueda. Knowing that college is not an option for everyone, he and the City are looking at workforce development programs and other projects that will both attract young people to Fresno and develop their skills.


Nadine Ono

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