‘If you want to go far, go together’

Economic Development Corp. unites stakeholders for community growth

Rebecca Neipp

News Review Staff Writer

‘If you want to go far, go together’Stuart Witt, a member of the National Space Council as well as the IWVEDC, speaks at a press conference during his tenure at Mojave Air and Space Port — Photo by Laura Austin

------

“There’s an African proverb that says, ‘If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.’ With the IWV Economic Development Corp., we are focused on the latter,” said IWVEDC Executive Director Scott O’Neil.

For the last two years, he has worked with the existing board to identify and add stakeholders who represent all aspects of the community, who can work cohesively toward smart growth and development in the valley.

“Laying a broad foundation takes time, but after two years we are starting to see some real progress,” said O’Neil. (Watch next week’s edition for some insight into some of those projects.)

“I think a lot of the positive development can be traced to the community investment and expertise of our board. The people who are helping define the vision of the EDC are highly engaged, successful in their fields, and committed to working together to capture the opportunities before us. And the opportunities here are abundant.”

O’Neil said that for decades, those who have analyzed the assets and challenges of the valley have come up with similar findings — abundant land, clear skies, low cost of living, a highly technical workforce and proximity to a premier naval installation.

But with those advantages come challenges — including the remoteness of our community and the incompatibility of some industries with the Navy’s mission.

“I announced at last year’s Economic Outlook Conference that I thought the future of our county lies in East Kern. We saw this week that the biggest media outlets in the county are reporting the same thing. It’s happening in other communities — and I believe we have not yet begun to capitalize on our potential here,” said O’Neil.

“If you wanted to start a campaign for successful growth, and distill that mission down to one word, it would be ‘permission,’” said Stuart Witt, an IWVEDC boardmember who is credited with building up Mojave Airport into a hub of commercial spaceflight, a haven for entrepreneurs and a center of renewable energy industry in California.

“If your campaign is ‘No, we are going to keep the Secret City a secret,’ I can tell you we are going to be having this exact same conversation 10 years from now.

“We can do much more in our community using the assets we already have and parlay that into permission for other industries to grow and thrive.”

He pointed to Inyokern Airport as one of the assets that could help attract investors.

“There are a lot of high-net-worth people who are looking for a space to build hangars. We catered to a lot of those investors at Mojave. But now that Mojave is all filled up, Inyokern would be a great place for these investors to build.”

He called China Lake a premier location for a data storage site. “You have a secure location, an alternative energy source [Coso Geothermal] and an accessible runway — everything you need to build a data storage center that’s off the grid … if you want to insulate your base from the next BRAC, that’s the way to do it.”

Witt said such an accomplishment would take only two things — “people with ideas, and people with a catchers mitt who are willing to capture and run with them.”

Dr. David Ostash, another recently added board member, said that he sees many parallels between what the EDC is trying to accomplish and his responsibilities at the Sierra Sands Unified School District — where he is transitioning from the assistant superintendent of human resources to the superintendent of the district.

“I think the big questions the EDC board is asking about the community are very similar to those I’m asking at the level of our school district,” said Ostash.

“Wherever you are on the spectrum of ‘good,’ you can still move to ‘great.’ And from ‘great,’ you can move to ‘superb.’ There are many amazing things about our district and our community, but I think you have to have a growth mindset to reach your optimum potential.”

In his current position, his focus is on recruiting and retaining qualified teachers to our valley. That has given him an awareness of what appeals to people about our community — as well as what else they want to see here.

“One of our biggest advantages is that we have the services and supports of a medium-sized city, but because of our unique location we have a small-town culture,” he said.

“I don’t know a lot of other places that remain as appealing. We have so many pillars that translate into a highly fulfilling lifestyle. Our schools are a big part of that and I think for many people a key consideration in where they live.”

He noted that both Sierra Sands and the IWV have accomplished legacies, “but that alone does not guarantee our future. You still have to be intentional about taking inventory of what you have, and maybe what you don’t yet have, if you want to attract and retain the best people. It’s a free market and a competitive world. When it comes to where people want to make their careers and their homes, I believe we are high up on the ladder of choice. But I think we can go even higher.”

“These are good examples of how the EDC board helps balance near-term objectives with long-term goals,” said O’Neil.

“Here Stu has brought forward a concrete suggestion about opportunities to pursue, and Dave gives us insights that help us crystalize our vision for the future.”

O’Neil that other members of the board are voices in health care, higher education, industry, property rights and other interests that help build a comprehensive picture of needs in the community.

“I am inspired — in awe, really — of the group of leaders we have on board. This is a group that is second to none. Each day I look forward to working with them and our members to build value today that yields riches tomorrow. And we are just getting started.”

Story First Published: 2019-01-25