Leaders unite for annual confab

Economic Outlook Conference theme seeks to leverage historic innovation for a brighter future

Rebecca Neipp

News Review Staff Writer

Leaders unite for annual confabPictured: IWV Economic Development Corp. Executive Director Scott O’Neil chats with Councilmember Lindsay Stephens at a previous conference. — News Review file photo


“What can we do as a community to move forward for the benefit of everyone?” Ridgecrest Chamber of Commerce CEO Suzette Caufield said that this is the ultimate purpose of the Feb. 22 IWV Economic Outlook Conference.

Each year, leaders in Navy, politics, public agencies and the business community gather to hear updates on the various endeavors toward economic prosperity, while flexing opportunities for networking and collaboration.

This year’s conference begins at 7 a.m. with a continental breakfast and business expo, followed by a slate of speakers who will share the latest on subjects ranging from health care to economic development to the mission of China Lake.

Caufield said that the community’s remoteness, coupled with the unique symbiosis between base and civic interests, create challenges that must be tackled by the community as a whole.

“We recognize that we have to find a way to function if we want people to stay here and be a part of our community.”

For this year’s keynote address, Caufield fed local data and statistics to Robert Kleinhenz, executive director of research at Beacon Economics.

“I also spoke to him about some of the challenges of our community, and our isolation from Southern California,” said Caufield.

She said that he plans to start with a broad overview, then narrow down to regional and community issues. “We’ve sent him a lot of data that he can review, and come up with some analysis.”

China Lake leadership — which represents the vast majority of employees in the area, will also bring updates on employment, opportunities and other areas of community interest. Speakers include Rear Adm. Brian Corey, commander of Naval Air Warfare Center Weapons Division; Joan Johnson, executive director of NAWCWD; and Capt. Paul Dale, commanding officer of Naval Air Weapons Station.

Other speakers include Jim Suver, CEO of Ridgecrest Regional Hospital — second-largest employer in the valley, and the institution tasked with public health in an ever-changing political and economic environment.

Scott O’Neil, who recently spearheaded the restructuring of the IWV Economic Development Corp., will review current and endeavors, goals and opportunities for the community at large to join forces in fostering growth and sustainability.

Karina Drees, CEO of Mojave Air & Space Port, will share the history and insights of operating one of the most successful commercial endeavors in the high desert region.

Kern County 1st District Supervisor Mick Gleason and Ridgecrest Mayor Peggy Breeden are scheduled to give remarks, while other political leaders will provide video greetings.

Built into the schedule are “network breaks” that allow conference speakers and attendees to connect.

“Most of the leaders in our community will be there — so it’s a very rare opportunity to be able to interface with them all at once,” said Chamber Board President Debbie Benson.

“Getting to meet and speak with people you may not see as part of our everyday business and social sphere is probably my favorite aspect of the conference.”

But, she added, “The information is always amazing and exciting. I learn something new each year, whether it’s the basics of a local bank and the services they provide, or where some of the prominent members in our community came from, why they are here, and what they are doing for the Indian Wells Valley.”

Tickets to the conference are $40 for chamber members, and $44 for the general public. Table reservations (8 attendees) can be purchased for $260 (members) and $310.

Caufield also noted that spaces are still available in the business expo — $200 for chamber members and $300 for non members.

Sponsorship opportunities also remain, which can boost the profile of local businesses and organizations.

For more information contact Caufield at chamber@ridgecrestchamber.com or 760-375-8331.

Story First Published: 2018-02-16