‘What can the EDC do for you?’

Economic Development Corp. holds annual membership update Tuesday

Rebecca Neipp

News Review Staff Writer

‘What can the EDC do for you?’Chip Yates (left) and a project engineer work on the Silent Arrow project at Inyokern Airport — Courtesy photo

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“One of our focuses this year is finding out — what can we do to help you?”

Scott O’Neil, executive director of the IWV Economic Development Corp., said that he spent the first two years in his current role becoming better acquainted with leaders and organizations in the community and developing a better understanding of the opportunities and obstacles that shape the future of our valley.

“The EDC has many projects under way that will address both long-term and short-term benefits to our community, and we will talk more about those at our upcoming membership meeting,” said O’Neil, extending a welcome to the public to attend the Tuesday, Feb. 5, meeting at 5 p.m. in the SpringHill Suites conference room.

“But we are also reaching out to our members — both current and prospective — to find out what they need to grow,” he said.

“Some of these challenges will take more time than others to overcome, but working cohesively to better identify these restrictions and then building a coalition to address them helps everyone in the community.”

The EDC will also conduct surveys at the meeting to help them understand the environment. “Before we can chart our course, we have to have a clearer picture of our landscape.”

So far the EDC has already made progress on some of these partnerships, including a project to provide affordable housing to the hundreds of new hires at China Lake.

Terry Metcalf, who grew up on the base, put together a team to build an apartment complex near the Super Walmart. That complex will add about 200 new units to the community’s limited rental market.

“I read in your paper about Joan Johnson talking about the need for housing and how she was losing sleep over the fact that the community’s inadequate housing was an immediate threat to the mission of the base,” said Metcalf.

Last February Johnson, the executive director of Naval Air Warfare Center Weapons Division, said that China Lake was looking at a total of 700 new hires last year. However, “we don’t have 200 rental properties that will appeal to a $65,000-a-year engineer.”

Metcalf and his team immediately set to work procuring the land, developing a plan and seeking the permits for a project that will feature high-tech capabilities and other amenities. But when the developers began running into delays, O’Neil jumped in to help facilitate communications and support negotiations with the city to expedite the process.

“It is very difficult to find people to come to Ridgecrest and invest $17 million in a project because we are not one of the highly populated areas of California,” said Metcalf. However, the clear demand signal from the base helped demonstrate the need for such a project.

“First of all, it’s a huge advantage to work with someone who knows the ins and outs of he base,” said Metcalf, referring to O’Neil’s 40-plus-year career here before he retired as executive director in 2015.

“Scott and the EDC have been on the front lines with me all the way through this. I know he does not want to take the credit, but the bottom line is that his involvement was critical in moving our project forward.”

The plan is to break ground in February. Phase I will include a recreation facility, swimming pool and three buildings of 32 apartments (two- and three-bedroom units) each.

Units in the first building should be available for rent eight months after the start of construction, said O’Neil. “This is an exciting project, and it will be a very nice addition to our community.”

O’Neil and the EDC have also been working with Chip Yates of Yates Electrospace Corp. to extend the entrepreneur’s industrial footprint at Inyokern Airport.

Yates first came to the valley in 2012, renting Hangar 3 at IYK to work on his electrically converted Long EZ. Over the next year he would set about 10 world records relating to speed and altitude in an electric aircraft.

Yates then began developing Silent Arrow, a Navy research contract to build an electric power train. In 2015 he was awarded a contract with the Marine Corps. To design from scratch an autonomous cargo delivery platform.

Following the completion of that contact he procured another with an allied military force. “The U.S. Government still wants Silent Arrow, but Foreign Governments have been quicker to recognize the value,” said Yates.

The current technology involves disposable delivery packages, but Yates is pursuing the development of a reusable product line as well.

His company is now dividing development for the contract into two parts — one for tactical military resupply and another that will provide aid for civilian disaster-relief projects.

“We executed all of Phase I and Phase II at Inyokern Airport, and we hired local technical talent for the project,” he said. He is also looking to expand a second time, potentially building a new hangar to accommodate growth.

“I can say without exaggeration that the EDC has been helpful in our efforts to grow,” said Yates.

“Scott has been working with me for more than a year, but I’m looking down the list of names for the EDC board members, and there are at least another five people on here who have helped me.”

“While we want to work with our members to address their individual challenges, we are also working with the city, local developers and realtors to find ways to update the development-fee and permitting structures.

“This will be an important step toward incentivizing investment in our community,” said O’Neil.

“I also believe that having development projects actually under way will demonstrate the opportunities here in Ridgecrest and encourage additional investments.”

Story First Published: 2019-02-01