Before independence, Nakuru was the country’s economic and agricultural hub.
It attracted white settlers who grew wheat, maize, and sisal and kept livestock for beef and dairy products.
However, over the years this has rapidly changed. Large-scale agriculture declined and other viable commercial ventures like real estate, manufacturing, and the hospitality industry thrived.
Economic survey findings by various institutions show Nakuru is fast rising to become the most preferred investment destination for local and international investors.
It is projected that the county has an economic potential worth Sh200 billion in agricultural value addition, manufacturing, geothermal exploration, tourism, and real estate.
Two years ago, results of a survey released by the Institute of Economic Affairs showed it is easier to start a business in Nakuru town compared to five other populous urban areas.
Economists attributed this to the mainly reduced tax burden that has made it more attractive to investors. The study gave the county an overall score of 89 in the tax sub-cluster followed by Eldoret (78) and Machakos (67).
The bottom three in the category were Kisumu (64), Nairobi, and Mombasa (56).
The county saw its land prices rise by an average of 12.7 per cent in 2017, according to the 2018 County Land Price Report.
Further, the economic potential of the county was captured in a World Bank 2015 Survey which showed the county's gross domestic product per capita at $1,413, the fourth-highest in Kenya after Kiambu, Nyeri, and Kajiado.
But analysts say through smart master planning, Nakuru will be a more economically vibrant city and will rival Nairobi.
“Nakuru needs to correctly designate outlying areas for new industrial locations, residential estates for both higher and middle class and other institutions. The move should be followed by the provision of roads, water and power,” said Gitile Naituli, a professor of management and leadership.
Prof Naituli said physical planning and mapping will advise investors on where to put their capital.
The county government under the leadership of Governor Lee Kinyanjui has managed to leverage the economic activities with natural resources in the county like the lakes and the game parks.
“With the driving time significantly shortened by the planned highway from Rironi to Mau Summit, Nakuru can be an attractive weekend destination for local tourism," the county chief said.
He said most county hotels are strategically located and offer quality services, adding value to Lake Naivasha, Lake Elmentaita and Lake Nakuru tourism prospects.
Investors in the agriculture sector have immense opportunities in value addition and processing for pyrethrum, potatoes, horticulture, grains, dairy and wool.
Farming will need to be simultaneously scaled up with full county government support.
Geothermal power generation at the Menengai Crayer is also an economic opportunity that should be harnessed for agricultural industries.
The geothermal steam wells at the crater have a capacity of 105 Mega Watts with the potential to attract easy ‘green’ funding for new investments.
The Lanet Airport that is under construction targets the direct export of produce to Europe and other global markets.
The emergence of the Naivasha sub-county as another investment destination in Nakuru county has equally excited investors.
The establishment of the dry port in Mai Mahiu and the industrial park makes Naivasha town a competitor for investment opportunities with Nakuru town.
The business community has challenged the county government to ensure the competition between the entities is managed, to avoid wasteful duplication of investments. Naivasha has developed a niche status for local tourism, horticulture, and geothermal energy, and is also an emerging rail transport hub.
Governor Kinyanjui said his administration is determined to make Nakuru and its environs support the rejuvenation of the agricultural sector.
“We have invested heavily in the beautification of the city to regain the pre-independence label of the cleanest town in East Africa because we understand the importance of a positive image,” the governor said.
Mr Kinyanjui said farming is a proven path to prosperity and thus his administration is using it to spur economic growth.
“Agriculture contributes 26 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP) and another 27 per cent of GDP indirectly through linkages with other sectors," the governor said.
His administration has rolled out programmes to revive pyrethrum, avocado and macadamia farming.
“These dynamics will create many growth opportunities within Nakuru, among them farm servicing, agro-processing, urban retailing and food services,” he said.
Mr Kinyanjui said a bigger percentage of his constituents is involved in agriculture as smallholder farmers working on plots that are, on average, less than two hectares.
“As such, agriculture remains the surest bet on growing inclusive economies and creating decent jobs mainly for the youth.”
The extension of the Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) to Naivasha and the setting up of an industrial park are expected to open up more investment opportunities for both local and foreign investors.