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Focusing on the Future
in Fresno

In Focus
NAME:Paul Nerland
COMPANY:Fresno County
POSITION:County Administrative Officer
The man in charge of Fresno County, California, may have been inspired by his heritage, but in bringing more jobs and affordable housing to the area, Paul Nerland is looking strongly to the future.

Working in the public sector has become something of a family tradition for Paul Nerland. He himself followed in his father’s footsteps, and more recently, has been joined by his son at the County of Fresno, the administrative body of the central Californian region known for its US$8 billion agricultural industry.

Yet despite starting nearly 27 years ago as a Junior Personnel Analyst, Nerland hasn’t been one to simply accept the hand he’s been dealt without questioning it. Rising through the ranks to become Director of Human Resources in 2015, followed by COO then County Administrative Officer in 2021, changing things for the better has been one of Nerland’s top priorities.

“We show growth when local governments and community-based organizations work together.”

“Some of the things you might hear about the culture in government are true. I came in noticing a lot of inefficiencies, like stacks of reports coming in that went nowhere. I would think, ‘Why are we doing some of these things that don’t make sense? Why are we using these antiquated ways of doing business?’” Nerland recalls.

“I’ll never forget what one leader told me. She said, ‘Paul, it’s oral tradition. We pass it down and this is the way we do business’. The theme I got was that it was almost like a torch being passed from one generation to the next. We don’t remember why. We just keep doing it.

“And that culture is something that I really fought against and I found most employees felt the same way. People wanted to do things differently, and wanted to change.”

Making a Real Difference

Across Nerland’s leadership career at Fresno County, that 10-year process of change has included cultural changes like communicating more openly and transparently, soliciting employee feedback for the first time, and attracting and retaining younger talent.

Meanwhile on a policy level, initiatives such as introducing more affordable housing, and tackling the issue of homelessness by tackling root problems across the county’s one million-strong population, are the direct impact results that make Nerland feel he’s making a real difference.


“The county just put out a brand new general plan, which defines our growth for the future and a big part of that includes more affordable housing. Part of growth and success is creating an environment where our young families not only have a good job, but they can buy a home in our community.

“We also have a significant unhoused population in our community and there’s a variety of reasons for that,” Nerland acknowledges. “Many of them are dealing with mental health issues. Many of them are dealing with drug addiction issues and so forth. There’s a lot of money thrown at those things.

“But to me, we show growth when local governments and community-based organizations work together. And now we actually have fewer unhoused, more who are able to get good paying jobs because we’ve given them the resources, the training or maybe the help because of the mental health issues that they’re dealing with.”

Challenge and Reward

Partners at the center of Fresno County’s success include the Fresno County Economic Development Corporation, which Nerland and his team collaborate with on strategies to attract new businesses to the area. They also work with Forefront Power on solar power projects, a field Nerland believes Fresno County is placing significantly more emphasis on than other counties.

Working efficiently with those partners, he says, means Fresno County can better understand improvements it can make to its planning processes, and to ensure all development brings good jobs to the community. Because despite a plentiful harvest of grapes, pistachios, almonds, tomatoes and peaches, among other crops, the county struggles with high unemployment.

Throw in climate-related issues like drought, wildfires and flooding, and Nerland’s job running the county comes with a high level of responsibility – and potentially stress, too – but it’s a job he wouldn’t trade.

“A public sector job, especially leading a county like this, is one of the most challenging roles, but it’s also one of the most rewarding and exciting.”

“In this state, we’re dealing with a projected deficit that’s larger than we’ve ever seen and that deficit will impact the county of Fresno. So we can do everything perfectly and something completely out of our control devastates our revenue and we have to repurpose, re-pivot and frankly focus on the most important issues,” Nerland says.

“There are a lot of things that we can’t control. So the level of creativity is that much more important as is the level of communication with our constituents as we deal with those challenges.

“A public sector job, especially leading a county like this, is one of the most challenging roles, but it’s also one of the most rewarding and exciting.

“It’s the greatest job I’ve ever had.”

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