The rebuilding begins

Navy leaders, contractors, subs, community reps meet for kick-off of $2.3-billion recovery

Rebecca Neipp

News Review Staff Writer

The rebuilding beginsThe oft-repeated theme from Tuesday’s kick-off of the multi-billion dollar reconstruction effort at China Lake was that both the immediate success and the long-term benefits of the endeavor will depend on the partnership of our community.

Navy Region Southwest, which oversees facilities at Naval Air Weapons Station, joined forces with the city of Ridgecrest to host an “Industry Day” event this week, where contractors and other service providers were invited to see the scope of an initial $2.3-billion investment into repairing the damage caused by July’s 6.4- and 7.1-magnitude earthquakes — the epicenters of which were on the installation.

“As most of you know, on the Fourth of July China Lake experienced a significant earthquake. Then, the day after that, an even larger one,” said Michael Oestereicher, commanding officer of the Naval Facilities Engineering Command, Navy Region Southwest.

The quakes caused damages to critical infrastructure — which he noted is part of the national defense structure imperative to protecting our way of life in America.

“Some of that work can only occur at China Lake,” since the ranges and facilities cannot be duplicated elsewhere. He emphasized the importance of bringing the base back to full mission capability as soon as possible.

Oestereicher noted that financial support from Congress, the Navy and the Department of Defense has been “absolutely unparalleled. Some $2.3 billion in appropriations, plus an additional $4 million in modernization, has already been approved for this year.

“So, why are we here today? There is no way we can bring a facility of this magnitude back online without our industry partners,” he said. “Keep in mind, at every part of the process, these projects are necessary for our national defense.”

He later added, “In order to be successful, we have to partner with the city of Ridgecrest.”

He introduced Capt. Laurie Scott of NAVFAC, who has been designated to “be on deck full time” at China Lake. His local counterpart will be Brad Harlow of the Naval Air Warfare Center Weapons Division.

“It is extremely important for us to be involved with our Navy partner,” said City Manager Ron Strand. He noted that in addition to being the city’s No. 1 employer, the base accounts for 85 percent of the local economy.

The city’s contributions include identifying local resources that can help streamline or save costs for the contracting process.

“A lot of questions come up that are outside of the Navy’s jurisdiction,” added Scott. “It’s nice to have the city here for when those come up.”

Strand said that the city is expecting some 3,000 visitors associated with the recovery process to come into the community over the next three to five years.

The city has partnered with several agencies — including the Ridgecrest Chamber of Commerce, the IWV Economic Development Corp., and the Ridgecrest Area Association of Realtors to address needs relating to lodging/housing, office space, food service, labor, materials and more.

Notes from both city and Navy briefings are available at navfac.navy.mil.

Chamber CEO Tim Smith said that, as contracts go out to bid, local businesses will have opportunities to participate in the effort.

“Billions of dollars are going to be spent on reconstruction. Providing local resources will have a tre-

mendous impact on all of us.”

Some businesses have chosen to partner, rather than compete, to provide services, he said.

“A prime example is how six restaurants formed a Ridgecrest Catering Collaborative to position themselves to support the reconstruction effort.”

Contractors will also be looking for people to work and materials for the rebuild. “Where is that pool of resources going to come from? We are uniquely positioned to provide what is needed as well as benefit across every point of contact,” said Smith.

“When all is said and done, this opportunity to rebuild China Lake will be transformative … perhaps the opportunity is unprecedented for our area as we see a short-term influx of people. But if we’re able to come together with the city and all our moving parts — as a whole we will see lasting growth and development.”

These goals parallel the chamber’s recently condensed mission statement, he said —to build community and strengthen the economy. “This is the heartbeat of the chamber, and I felt like it could have been the tagline for this opportunity.”

“When the reconstruction is complete, China Lake will be the most modern, state-of-the-art laboratory and test range in the Department of Defense,” said Scott O’Neil, IWVEDC executive director.

The Ridgecrest community will reap a lot of benefit from the Navy spending a projected total cost of $4 billion.

“This will bring in more sales and transient occupancy taxes and generally increase commerce in Ridgecrest,” said O’Neil. “Prior to the earthquakes, investors were beginning to see the opportunities in Ridgecrest. This new commitment to China Lake’s future has increased the interest.”

Local businesses are postured to capitalize, he said, “but we need to support this endeavor by being good, friendly, helpful merchants. We need to listen to what our new customers need — whether it relates to goods or services. We as a community need to welcome our visitors and make them comfortable while they are here.”

O’Neil speculated that this is the greatest opportunity for growth in the Indian Wells Valley since the Navy and Caltech came here in 1943 to build new rocket labs and test ranges.

“The recovery effort, along with China Lake’s reputation and mission to innovate new warfighting capabilities, will attract top scientists and engineers to the base and community.

“From the EDC’s purview, I think we need to think seriously about how we build the future Ridgecrest. A new laboratory needs to be supported by a ‘new’ community that offers a better quality of life for its citizens. I think we start this by deciding on what this new community is to be.”

That discussion with the community more formally began Thursday at the Economic Outlook Conference. More information from the defense, housing, education, government and economic updates at the conference will be published in future editions.

Pictured: More than 500 people pack the Kerr McGee Center Tuesday morning to hear briefings from the city and the Navy about the China Lake earthquake recovery effort. — Photo by Laura Austin

Story First Published: 2020-02-28