State of the County energizes leaders

Rebecca Neipp

News Review Staff Writer

State of the County energizes leaders“The past is a memory — it’s a thought arising in the present. The future is merely anticipated — another thought arising now. What we truly have is this moment.” Kern County 4th District Supervisor David Couch opened his keynote address in the vein of “It’ Is Always Now” at last week’s State of the County dinner.

He reflected on the obstacles and achievements of Kern in an address to nearly 1,000 attendees representing communities from all over one of the largest counties in California.

Local representation included 1st District Supervisor Mick Gleason, who lauded Couch’s inclusion of local assets.

“He did not fail to recognize the vital importance of Naval Air Weapons Center China Lake, and he called for greater collaboration between East and West Kern with a focus on the economic powerhouse that lies in wait if we can truly leverage each other’s best,” said Gleason.

Couch also spent time addressing the final year of budget reductions yielded by the 2014 collapse of oil markets.

Other challenges of 2018 included a contentious redistricting process that reconfigured the boundaries of Kern’s five supervisor seats. “A few months ago I wasn’t certain that I’d get to be here,” said Couch, who faced one of the toughest races of the election cycle. “And let’s be honest, some of you all weren’t so sure either.”

Supervisors also saw fierce debate over the legalization of cannabis, with voters ultimately deciding to limit cultivation, sale and recreational use in most areas.

Successes include forward movement in restructuring the county budget to save money where possible, and bring in new revenues to diversify historic dependencies on agriculture and oil.

The Launch Kern initiative to revitalize the economy includes the recent attraction of a new Amazon Fulfillment Center and a new corporate office complex for L’Oreal Paris.

“In May of last year, Kern County was named the Wind Capitol of the World,” said Couch. He noted that Kern is also a leading producer in solar energy and agriculture, as well as in oil and gas markets.

“Not celebrated enough is our attractive real estate market. We are the second most affordable county in the state.”

Turning his attention to East Kern and the Aerospace Corridor, Couch acknowledged Kern’s assets in Mojave Air and Space Port, Edwards Air Force Base and China Lake.

He noted that the military bases are both working outside their gates to improve their communities. “And while we’d love to tell you about all the work going on inside the gates … if we did Mick Gleason would have to kill you.”

“Our fiscal situation continues to present what some might call ‘character-building moments,’” said Couch. “In other words, it’s still tough and we still have cuts ahead of us.

“There is more road in front of us than there is behind us. We have huge opportunities here in Kern County, and we want to make sure we’re poised to take as much of that opportunity as possible.”

Preceding Couch’s keynote address, leaders in the individual communities of Kern gave video soundbytes of the ongoing efforts to foster growth and economic vitality in the various sectors.

Scott O’Neil, executive director of the IWV Economic Develop-ment Corp., gave an overview of the local efforts to bring agencies together to harness opportunities in technology, alternate energy and industry compatible with the vibrant defense sector.

“I really enjoyed the State of the County,” said Mayor Peggy Breeden. “It gave us an opportunity to see Kern County from the perspective of the other side of the mountain. It really opened my eyes because I realized I can’t just see what I want to see, but what is there.”

Breeden added that it was amazing to hear so much about East Kern. “Last year there was hardly anything, but I think this year we had a great nod to the potential of East Kern and an acknowledgement of our efforts to cultivate those opportunities.”

“There does seem to be a growing perception that the future economic base in the county is in the east,” agreed O’Neil. “That is pretty exciting!”

He said that the event was also a great networking opportunity — an important component in continuing to build relationships between East and West Kern.

Gleason also noted that Couch’s speech also represents a call to action. “He talked about living in the moment, controlling what we can and taking care of each other. A wonderful evening.”

Story First Published: 2019-02-08