Community development — the other side of the coin

2020 Vision: Community Development

Rebecca Neipp

News Review Staff Writer

Community development — the other side of the coinFor decades, “economic development” has been a buzzword in virtually any group looking to protect or enhance our present and future. The all-too-often unsung harmony in that duet is community development.

Even as new jobs are created at China Lake or at other major employers, one of the primary challenges in recruitment and retention involves complaints from new — and especially young — residents that our community simply does not have enough to offer.

“I’ve lived in Ridgecrest for just over three years,” said Tim Smith, who was hired on as the executive director of the Ridgecrest Chamber of Commerce last May. “So compared to some who have been wandering these deserts for 40-plus years, I am certainly a relative newcomer.”

This 30-something, along with his wife and children, moved here from metropolitan Southern California.

“One of the first things that stood out to me was how friendly people in Ridgecrest are.” Having people smile and engage was a breath of fresh air.

“People think the desert is just dry and ugly, but after five years in the concrete jungle of L.A., experiencing four seasons was truly a blessing.”

Despite some perceptions, the community is centrally located for anyone looking for mountain, lake or cultural adventures. “I would rather spend two hours driving to L.A. than two hours sitting in L.A. traffic!” he said.

“While I think our community has a lot of positives, one of my first impressions — and one that still bothers me from time to time — is how our buildings, businesses and restaurants look. We look like we haven’t been updated in 20-plus years.

“We may be unintentionally saying to guests that we don’t care. Our residents enjoy traveling to other communities and admiring their ambiance, while we seemingly ignore our visual presence in our own neighborhoods.”

Then there are the other things newcomers often say they miss — a community pool and other recreational venues, more dining options or more varied religious offerings.

While the city, IWV Economic Development Corp. and a few other local agencies focus on attracting new industry, Smith said that his focus is in improving the current landscape.

“I think community development is directly tied to engagement,” he said.

He mentioned engagement across multiple platforms — not just the city and chamber working together, but inviting social services, nonprofits and churches to join.

“Another vital aspect is the general public. Without the people working together, we won’t see our great city grow and flourish,” he said, echoing the words of EDC director Scott O’Neil (see related article, page 1).

Smith said he believes that a willingness to listen and work with diverse people is critical to this goal.

“Community development, at its root, requires us to come together — bringing our individual and/or corporate strengths to the table to effect change.

“In ‘The Lorax,’ Dr. Seuss writes, ‘Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better — it’s not.’”

Among the more recent developments at the chamber are youth-oriented programs like the Young Professional Network and Leadership Ridgecrest — each of which offers latch points for up-and-coming leaders to get more involved.

“One of the collaborations that I’m most excited about, honored to be a part of and very interested in seeing how it develops is the K2C initiative between Sierra Sands Unified School District, Cerro Coso Community College, the base, the chamber and the EDC.”

The title stands for “kinder to career,” and promotes pathways from education to industry that allows youth an opportunity not only to see what’s available in the workforce, but also to develop guidance in how to equip themselves.

“Looking into 2020, I believe the chamber is positioned to help make a significant impact,” said Smith.

“Two assets I think we should think strategically about promoting are the general cost of living in Ridgecrest and our job market.

Together, these can really benefit our community — especially with our collective goal of bringing China Lake back to wholeness,” he said.

“Another is our location.

“Our proximity to the city, the mountains and the desert, in our urban trend maximizing every square inch, provides a unique oasis where one can step back and breathe in the good life of family, work and community.”

Pictured: The Young Professionals Network (pictured above) is one of the newest efforts by the Ridgecrest Chamber of Commerce to engage younger residents. — Photo by Kelly Walden

Story First Published: 2020-01-03