EDC turns the tables at conference

Outlook Conf. attendees give input during EDC presentation

Rebecca Neipp

News Review Staff Writer

EDC turns the tables at conferenceScott O’Neil speaks at a previous Economic Outlook Conference — News Review file photo

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While the hallmarks of the annual IWV Economic Outlook Conference are critical updates relating to future market trends, this year’s presentations included one by the Economic Development Corp. that allowed stakeholders to give feedback to those working toward growing and developing a strong community.

“This is maybe the only event we have in our community where you have so many individuals from government, small business, the base and just about every other sector of our valley,” said Scott O’Neil, executive director of the IWVEDC.

In addition to giving listeners an overview about the endeavors of EDC, O’Neil said he also wanted to capture the pulse of the room about the demographics, priorities and even general awareness of civic enterprises.

“Overall we learned a lot, and some of what we learned was quite surprising.” Among those data points were the fact that 43 percent of the attendees who responded were in the two younger age brackets representing those age 45 and younger.

“We are always talking about the challenge of engaging the younger generations. Just the fact that so many young people were there means that they are already invested. I thought that was very encouraging,” he said.

“I also sensed a lot more energy in the room during this year’s conference, and I received feedback afterwards from people who thought that this year’s was the best.”

O’Neil also tested the audience’s knowledge about the size of the city’s budget, as well as its principle revenue streams.

His slides demonstrated that Ridgecrest has a general fund of about $9 million, compared to the median $25 million for similar-sized cities. He also noted that our top revenue source — sales tax — depends on vibrant local sales.

For top investment priorities, “quality of life” and “economic development” tied for first. O’Neil noted that considering the city’s fundamental budget deficit, economic development was a critical component to growing quality of life, as well as infrastructure and public safety considerations.

The News Review previously reported on a superlatively positive outlook from this year’s keynote speaker, economist Mark Schniepp, who noted that local economic engines are in line with the national trends projecting continued growth in a market with unprecedentedly low unemployment.

That presentation was corroborated by reports from top employers in the community, including China Lake and Ridgecrest Regional Hospital, that business is booming and services are expanding.

An underlying theme in O’Neil’s presentation involved numerous efforts spearheaded by the EDC to alleviate ongoing challenges to retain qualified staff. Topping that list of projects are new housing developments EDC has helped expedite and support.

EDC also continues research on building an aquatics complex — which would serve the public needs for recreational, competitive and therapeutic swimming. The complex could also bolster tourism efforts by adding recreational opportunities for surrounding communities.

“I also appreciated the feedback about what kind of support the business community is looking for,” said O’Neil. Given the choice between management training, apprenticeships/internships, soft-skills training, marketing, affordable financing and improving customer experiences, the greatest number of respondents selected apprenticeships/internships as their top choice.

“Now that we know there is an interest, we can sit down with Jill Board up at the college and figure out how to create a program for this,” said O’Neil.

“Overall, I think there are a lot of opportunities before us. We spoke to a number of developers who are seeing the potential for growth in our community and even more local people who are excited to find ways to participate.”

Story First Published: 2019-03-22