Outlook speakers celebrate innovation

Rebecca Neipp

News Review Staff Writer

Outlook speakers celebrate innovationWhile the technical definition of “innovation” merely relates to the introduction of something new or different, the unspoken associations conjure up a subtext that these changes make us more efficient, more capable, more relevant.

The speakers on this theme — who addressed nearly 200 at the Ridgecrest Chamber of Commerce’s annual Economic Outlook Conference last week — explored this concept and its paramount role in thriving in our ever-changing world.

Keynote Speaker Chip Yates shared how innovation has won fame for his developing electronic fueling concept (see related story, this page).

Eileen Shibley, director of the Cal UAS Portal, outlined how innovation plays a role in the infancy stages of an endeavor. What began as a concept to bring unmanned systems work to Inyokern Airport has evolved into a thriving incubator for the technology. Her report included the unveiling of the Monarch, currently being developed by the Cal UAS team as an affordable solution for the burgeoning field of precision agriculture.

Lindon Blue, vice chair of General Atomics, gave an overview of how his privately owned company (operated by him and brother Neil) has becoming one of the largest DOD contractors in the U.S., and leads technological development on multiple fronts.

Speakers from China Lake included Rear Adm. Mike Moran and Capt. Richard Wiley, as well as Executive Director Scott O’Neil and Director of Land Ranges Andy Corzine. Military and civilian leadership alike addressed the innovation that has defined the local research, development, test and evaluation center for 70 years and how the installation stays on the leading edge of development.

Dr. Mark Evans of Cal State University, Bakersfield, addressed the unique demographics of the Indian Wells Valley. Although analyses of the local economy typically highlight the challenges of an isolated location, limited shopping options and a lack of industrial diversity, Evans also pointed to many factors that keep the IWV economy propped up.

While national analysts bemoan America’s shrinking middle class, that segment is alive and well in Ridgecrest, said Evans. Thanks in part to the community’s largest employer — China Lake — the bulk of local households make between $50,000 and $200,000 per year.

His presentation brought the theme full circle when he highlighted the areas in which the Indian Wells Valley leads national economic trends: innovation in research and technology. In terms of per-capita jobs in “technology employers” and “technology generators,” Ridgecrest comes out second in the nation in both categories for the research and development subsector.

Having that culture in close proximity to Ridgecrest presents an opportunity to expand that innovation into the private sector. With the designation of a California-sanctioned innovation hub at Inyokern Airport, and the groundswell of support for Cal UAS, he noted that the IWV is already moving down the path toward this goal.

Story First Published: 2014-03-05