Kern leading state in economic recovery

Rebecca Neipp

News Review Staff Writer

Diverse resources and a diligent workforce are starting to pull Kern County out of an economic tailspin, Kern County 3rd District Super-visor (and newly appointed chair) Mike Maggard told his Bakersfield listeners last week.

“We still have a long way to go, but I like the direction we’re heading. And a nation that is starved for good economic news has noticed what’s happening here in Kern County,” said Maggard. “Kern County has helped to lead Califor-nia and the nation out of the recession, and we’ve made statewide and national economic news.”

According to Maggard, Kern was ranked as the nation’s third most competitive economy in a study that compared regional versus national job growth between 2010 and 2012.

State legislators Jean Fuller and Shannon Grove also recently noted that in terms of economic recovery, Kern County is also leading the state.

Job creation, new construction, a recovering housing market and surges in the oil and wind-energy industries are just a few of the indicators leaders point to in tracking economic growth and recovery.

In the neighboring 2nd District, Mojave Air and Space Port “has sparked a logistics boom, besides incubating all kinds of private aerospace and flight innovations.” (See also related story, this edition.)

Maggard also noted that in a Milken Institute index that tracks metropolitan areas on growth, salaries and technology, only Silicon Valley ranked higher than Bakersfield. In that study, Kern County ranked 19th nationally — a significant improvement from 47th last year.

“This is all very encouraging news. It means more people in Kern County are working, feeding their families, paying mortgages and moving toward a more secure future.”

That improvement in families and businesses also boosts revenues for local governments.

“Last year we finally began to turn the fiscal corner, adopting a budget that allowed us to begin restoring services, start some major maintenance projects that we had been forced to defer and rebuild the county’s reserves,” said Maggard.

In addition to adding positions back to the county payroll for such services as law enforcement, firefighting and more, the board also budgeted $20 million in maintenance projects and another $20 million for capital improvements.

On top of that the county was able to increase its various reserve funds by more than $93 million — including $40 million to the general reserve.

Maggard said that the county’s bringing pension liabilities to a “more affordable” level has also had a positive impact on county budgeting.

In his walk through the county, he noted the expansion of LeRoy Jackson Park in Ridgecrest. Phase I, which is nearing completion, will include a picnic pavilion, parking lot, restrooms, walking path and drought-tolerant landscaping. The next phase will include additional landscaping and playground equipment.

One project that will impact the entire county is a new 800-bed prison facility. The county is contributing $22 million, in addition to $100 million in state bonds.

Maggard said the new facility should help accommodate the influx of inmate populations county facilities since the state shifted offenders to counties in the “realignment” implementation that came out of Assembly Bill 109.

“Since the plan went into effect a little over a year ago, Kern County has received far more of these offenders from the courts and prisons than the state predicted.”

And because they can’t all be locked up, law enforcement is trying to supervise criminals still on the streets in order to prevent new crime. (On the local scene, Chief of Police Ron Strand has noted that a rise in thefts can be tied back to a revolving-door system that dumps convicted burglars back out onto the street in a matter of days.)

Maggard also expressed the board’s commitment to streamlining government in order to foster a healthy private sector — including lobbying for a reevaluation of the state environmental impact process.

“With possible defense cuts looming in 2013, California must also protect its military bases — many of which are irreplaceable national assets — from budget cuts.”

He noted that newly elected 1st District Supervisor Mick Gleason — a former commanding officer at China Lake and former executive director of China Lake Alliance — will elevate those efforts now that he is on the board.

“Kern County is still a place where we know and help our neighbors, where we pitch in together and get things done and where truly unique individual achievements are always possible.”

Gleason commented that Maggard delivered a positive message overall that gave a good overview of Kern County’s prospects and challenges.

“I was a little disappointed that we didn’t spend more time looking at issues like the economic opportunities we have in the IWV, the issues with the Isabella Dam, and the water issues here and in the northern Central Valley,” said Gleason.

He said that those, along with DOD issues, will be his focus this year.

“One of the things I am trying to come up with is an Inyokern-specific plan. I think that is one of the most underutilized areas in our district. Every community is special, and we need to find out what Inyokern brings to the table.”

Story First Published: 2013-02-06