China Lake thriving in recovery

Rebecca Neipp

News Review Staff Writer

China Lake thriving in recoveryPart 1 in a series: in keeping with our 2020 Vision theme, the News Review will present in-depth reports from IWV Economic Outlook Conference speakers in the coming weeks


Between the launch of the recovery process and the report from the annual IWV Economic Outlook Conference last week, the unprecedented $3 billion fast-tracked through congress to facilitate China Lake’s recovery was a headlining topic of conversation among community leaders and stakeholders last week.

“You’ve heard the numbers and seen the statistics — it’s a good-news story,” Naval Air Warfare Center Weapons Division Executive Director Joan Johnson told hundreds of attendees at the EOC, hosted Thursday by the Ridgecrest Chamber of Commerce.

“If there has ever been a question about whether China Lake is relevant to national defense, I’m confident it has been answered.”

The China Lake update was introduced by a video capturing the effects on targets (mostly explosions) that are researched, developed, tested and evaluated at the Navy base.

“This is an exciting place to work,” opened Rear Adm. Scott Dillon, commander of NAWCWD.

“Resources are flowing to NAWCWD as a consequence of our ongoing ability to develop the products you just saw is played in the video.”

And the partnership between the base and the community is “unlike anything anywhere else in the country … the future is bright for China Lake.”

Despite disruptions caused by extensive earthquake damages to the infrastructure, new hires continue to show excitement about the work here, said Dillon.

All the while, China Lake continues to deliver at an equitable rate, to a similar volume of customers, of a typical year before the damages.

“We have an extremely resilient workforce working around setbacks,” he said. “China Lake still provides a better return on customer investment than anywhere else our customer can go.”

Johnson noted that, because a large chunk of their workforce will be retirement-eligible in the next few years, they continue to hire aggressively.

“As a result, more than 60 percent of our workforce has less than 10 years of experience,” she said. However, the problem-solving abilities, understanding of the digital environment and innovative ideas coming from the newest professionals “is really cool.”

Because their data suggests that some 50 percent of new hires move on after their first 5-7 years, officials have been conducting exit interviews to find out why they leave. Some of those reasons — wanting to move to be closer to family, for example — cannot be helped, she said.

The accelerated learning process for young professionals has been a draw for people who enjoy being engaged in relevant, meaningful work.

“But then you leave work and go home. I need everyone’s help here — this is a team sport.” She outlined the foundational needs under Maslov’s hierarcy of need, which include food, shelter and social opportunities. Johnson implored the community to engage on issues relating to quality, and affordable, housing, as well as opportunities for entertainment and enjoyable dining.

“From the NAWCWD perspective, we are all in.”

Cmdr. Pete Benson, public works officer of Naval Air Weapons Station, followed Johnson with a report that highlights the economic impact from the base — purportedly a driver of some 86 percent of our local economy.

The base employs 5,057, generating a payroll in the community of upwards of half a billion dollars.

The indirect jobs in the community that support the base operations and its employees is estimated at 4,849.

Visitors in off-base lodging spend more than $25 million on 150,000 room-nights a year — a benefit which is augmented by travelers spending per diem at local restaurants and retailers.

Now that the recovery has started, more contractors are expected to begin filling up hotels, restaurants and stores.

Following the recovery process, base officials noted that having the most modern installation in the country will continue to help attract a quality technical workforce.

“We are going to be better than ever,” said Johnson.

Story First Published: 2020-03-06