‘The future of Kern County is here’

Rebecca Neipp

News Review Staff Writer

‘The future of Kern County is here’Kern County Supervisors Mick Gleason and Zack Scrivner update attendees at the EOC — Photo by Ian M. Terry

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County leadership outlined extraordinary opportunities — both under way and on the horizon — to start the IWV Economic Outlook Conference with an unprecedentedly positive tone.

At this time last year, Kern County was still in the throes of recovery from a devastating revenue loss caused by the declining values of oil. The Board of Supervisors was in a lawsuit that jeopardized East Kern’s representation. Two historical pillars of revenue — oil and agriculture — were under threat by political initiatives that left the future of those industries in question.

Kern County 1st District Supervisor Mick Gleason noted that the county is in its last year of recovery, with the nearly $45 million deficit expected to be closed by the end of this fiscal year. After redrawing supervisorial districts, Kern maintained two representatives in the east (with 2nd District Supervisor Zack Scrivner joining Gleason for the presentation).

Perhaps most importantly, Kern County has implemented a massive overhaul in management that has yielded some $17 million in savings this year, and through the offering of incentives helped bring locattions for companies like Amazon and L’Oreal Paris to the county.

“This was a phenomenal job by our employees, delivering consistent service — without loss our interruption — while still reducing our expenditures,” said Gleason.

“We empowered our employees, we asked them to take risks where necessary. They can implement fixes infinitely better than we can as supervisors, and they did. That fat – all that money we saved? Those are your dollars that were saved through streamlining service and increasing efficiency.”

He added that the attraction of new business is also critical to Kern’s long-term sustainability. “We have to diversify our portfolio, instead of suffering another devastating loss if oil prices plummet.”

Kern County — which he characterized as “an east-west county in a north-south state,” sits at a vital crossroads, providing an attractive location for companies looking to build or expand operations.

He also gave a little history on the lawsuit that led to redistricting last year. The Mexican-American Legal Defense and Education Fund sued the county, saying that the rebalancing of districts in 2011 (a routine procedure following each census) did not properly preserve minority votes.

A judge ruled in favor of MALDEF and ordered the county and MALDEF representatives to come to a redistricting agreement. While the judge highlighted creating a second “minority majority” district to cluster Hispanic populations in the county, Gleason said, his priority was ensuring two advocates for defense, aerospace, energy and other East Kern industries.

“You are very fortunate to have Mick Gleason representing you,” said Scrivner.

“He is passionate in advocating for the Indian Wells Valley, and he is one of the folks on the board that we always look to for wisdom and leadership.”

Scrivner and Gleason went on to summarize some of the county initiatives to capitalize on “East Kern Regionalization” — which coordinates efforts for economic potential and opportunity on the east side of the Sierra Nevada.

“We call it the Cactus Curtain,” said Scrivner. “That means there is not a lot of cross-pollination of ideas between the east and the west.

“We want to promote and protect East Kern, but it’s also important to develop the relationships in West Kern that will ensure our success.”

Among the initiatives are an effort to develop a headquarters for the federal Space Force-Space Development Agency in East Kern — which includes not only the Navy installation at China Lake and the Air Force base at Edwards, but also the commercial-space center at Mojave Air and Space Port.

Industries on both sides of the mountains can also work together to overcome shared obstacles — including water management and the need to attract skilled workers.

“Together we need to leverage each other’s best advantages to overcome common challenges,” said Gleason. “The future of Kern County is here. It is not there anymore.

“It is in our ability to regionalize and speak with a unified voice.”

More about the conference will appear in future editions.

Story First Published: 2019-03-01