O’Neil: IWV poised to capture opportunity

Rebecca Neipp

News Review Staff Writer

O’Neil: IWV poised to  capture opportunityScott O’Neil delivered a keynote address that outlined potential for growth in both Navy and community ventures in the Indian Wells Valley, acknowledged challenges in the landscape, and urged stakeholders to work together to ensure a bright future.

O’Neil recently closed out a 40-plus year at China Lake, where he spent his last 10 years as the top civilian at Naval Air Warfare Center Weapons Division. After retirement he spent about a year consulting with DOD before returning to the valley to accept leadership of the IWV Economic Development Corp. and the China Lake Alliance.

Since taking the reins in January, O’Neil has met with leaders in government, health care, real estate, industry and education to analyze assets and liabilities in order to formulate a vision for the community and a plan for moving forward.

With the new federal administration, he said he expects to see increasingly business-friendly policies, more investments from corporate and private interests, improvements to infrastructure and more job creation.

As threats around the globe continue, China Lake is positioned to support national defense “because we look at things differently.”

The Navy today is functioning largely as it did 40 years ago, said O’Neil. “But I forecast a Navy in 40 years that will be significantly different. That means we need a different industrial base. We need to look at where technology is headed and build some of the necessary infrastructure right here in our community.”

The IWV is also perfectly positioned — in terms of geography as well as natural resources — to play a role in commercial space endeavors as well as alternative energy projects.

As the most significant player in the valley’s economy, China Lake has seen its employee population grow from 2,600 to 4,000 in the last 10 years. “That bodes very well for us,” he commented.

A decade ago, NAWCWD saw that a huge portion of its corporate knowledge base was on the cusp of retirement. Under O’Neil’s direction, the base ramped up its effort to recruit new and mid-career engineers and scientists. Today, the base is also making headway in pushing the average employee age into the younger sector.

Outside the gate, the population is growing, health care services are expanding, school enrollment is up, and the valley has more official visitors than ever.

“We have reason to be optimistic,” he said.

Summarizing the valley’s assets to be leveraged, he noted a stronger-than-ever brand at China Lake, breathtaking scenery and opportunity for outdoor recreation, clear skies, award-winning schools and improving infrastructure.

But he also pointed to some critical challenges that must be addressed in order to move forward.

“All of our natural resources are limited,” he said, pointing to current efforts to balance groundwater sustainability. “We can conserve, but we can also develop additional sources.

“We don’t have a water shortage, we have a clean water shortage. If we can clean water in an effective matter, we can solve our water issues.”

Despite a majority of China Lake employees getting a 13-percent pay raise last year, native businesses still struggle to capture local spending.

Finally, he cautioned residents against complacency, and an aversion to risk and growth.

“You’ve got to get over that, because we are going to grow. We are already growing. And there are a lot of advantages we can provide to society through this valley,” said O’Neil.

“We’ve got to check ourselves and be more positive and optimistic about how we move forward. And if we work together, we can do just that.”

As director of the IWCEDC, O’Neil has already begun working on existing efforts to increase tourism, improve infrastructure and work with the base to support growth.

Through the Defense, Energy and Aerospace iDEA Hub, there is also opportunity to establish technology incubators — eligible for federal funding.

“With the intellectual capital that is actively working and idle in retirement, we are postured to attract and build some small businesses in critical technologies,” he said.

“We have some assets that communities across the state and nation would die to have. We have a strong core team of volunteers, we have assets to invest — not just money and people, but space, facilities and land.

“IWVED is going to lead, but our success depends on your support and involvement. We can go forward and achieve this together. I look forward to working with you for the betterment of our community.”

Pictured: IWV?Economic Outlook Conference keynote speaker Scott O’Neil chats with Ridgecrest City Councilwoman Lindsey Stephens during a networking break. -- Photo by Laura Austin

Story First Published: 2017-03-03