Outlook conference looks for hope in troubled economic times

Part 1: Messages from our elected officials

Rebecca Neipp

News Review Staff Writer

Outlook conference looks for hope in troubled economic timesEven after years of economic turmoil and the cloud of future uncertainty hanging over the valley as sequestration looms, local leaders focused on finding a positive way to move forward when they addressed a packed audience at the Ridgecrest Chamber of Commerce’s Economic Outlook Conference.

Many of those speakers also capitalized on the theme of “Entrepreneurship: The Way Forward,” noting that adversity often yields creative breakthroughs and solutions.

“The greatness of America rests with you, our entrepreneurs and innovators,” Rep. Kevin McCarthy said in a prerecorded address. He said that the event brings together the best minds in the community to work toward continued economic growth and success.

Although McCarthy, currently serving as majority whip, is now ranked as the third most powerful man in the House of Representatives, he noted that his own humble beginnings were as an entrepreneur.

When he was 19 years old, he built a counter in his dad’s garage and opened Kevin O’s Deli to help pay his way through college. He has often pointed to this experience of personal risk and accountability as a driver for efforts to reform the bureaucracy that governs small business operations — which he calls the backbone of American job creation.

“Though this and other endeavors I have found that great things come out of having a good idea and putting in the hard work to make it happen.”

McCarthy also said he continues to work to avoid sequestration — which triggers across-the-board cuts in military that would have devastating effects on communities like China Lake and Ridgecrest. The congressmen said that if those cuts are in the hands of the military — as they should be — the value of the mission at China Lake would shield it from algorithmic cuts.

On hand to present the Kern County perspective was newly elected 1st District Supervisor Mick Gleason. Despite national and state turmoil, Kern has been showcased in the national media as one of the leaders in economic recovery.

During his report, Gleason noted that 2012 saw a 5.3-percent increase in employment, housing prices climbing 4.5 percent, and the addition of 5,500 private-sector jobs. Many have attributed that recovery to streamlining of regulation and the diversity of economic drivers, which include oil, military, aerospace, defense, alternate-energy production and agriculture.

“There are a lot of things to be optimistic about in Kern County,” said Gleason.

But challenges remain. Among the greatest of those hurdles are the continuing effects of AB 109 – Gov. Jerry Brown’s 2011 initiative to “realign” the prison system. In an act to reduce the state’s cost of housing prisoners, California simply shifted duties to counties without providing additional funding. So when state prisoners began to fill county facilities, more than 1,000 county inmates were released en masse. And with the current overcrowding of prisons, convicted criminals can expect to serve a maximum of 25 percent of their sentences.

Gleason is approaching the problem by addressing one of the main root causes of criminal behavior — methamphetamines.

He told his listeners how during the campaign trail he learned some sobering statistics of this “insidious, horrible element of which none of us are really cognizant of the dangers.”

Some 39 percent of all felonies involve meth abuse. Roughly 37 percent of all drug-related instances involve meth abuse. The average age of a citizen’s first exposure to the drug is 13.

“This problem is there, it is horrible, it is destroying our kids, our families and our budgets. And we need to get on top of it.”

He praised Ridgecrest Police Chief Ron Strand, who Gleason said is already on top of the problem in our community. Gleason noted that because it is a community problem, the citizens need to unite to implement a community-based solution.

Speaking on behalf of our city was Mayor Dan Clark, who discussed the city’s efforts to brand and revitalize the downtown district.

He cited the Historic USO Building as a primary example of success in this endeavor. The city bequeathed the building — which was being used as storage for old parks and recreation equipment — to the Historical Society of the Upper Mojave Desert, which partnered with the community to rehabilitate the antiquated building into a popular meeting and concert venue.

Creating a distinctive destination point, such as the citizens were able to achieve with the Historic USO building, was at the heart of the downtown revitalization effort.

Attendees also heard reports on China Lake, education, real estate and other efforts to diversify the local economy. Additional reports will be published in future editions of the News Review.

Story First Published: 2013-02-27