IWV Economic Dev. Corp., director speaks to a vision for the future of RC

Scott Oneil, Executive Director Economic Development Corporation

IWV Economic Dev. Corp., director speaks to a vision for the future of RCLast year I suggested we start thinking about who we are and what want to be when we grow up. I had you conduct a quick survey at this conference. You identified a few things that were important. Most had to do with quality of life. Being thought of as an innovative, high technology community was also important. As was being seen as a place to visit and recreate. A gate way to the Sierra’s, Death Valley, the high desert. You wanted local conveniences like good health care, shopping, and greenways. With the pandemic, I didn’t get too far in working with you to further define this, but it did offer me some time to read a couple of books. One I found really interesting is The Rise of the Creative Class by Richard Florida. It’s a book whose ideas, I think, are very applicable to Ridgecrest and reinforces what we started to define last year. It argues that a creative class is rising and replacing the working and service classes in our national labor force. I want to share some of its ideas and discuss why I think these are applicable to us. I think this should be an element of building our vision for Ridgecrest.

I just find the whole concept intriguing and I think it has some pertinence to us. The idea that creativity is emerging as a very highly prized element of our economy is interesting. It brings new meaning to the cliché: people are a company’s greatest asset. Many companies are beginning to put new value in their people’s creativity. Generally, we tend to think that only few people have this quality; but in reality, we are all are creative to some degree. Think about it. We have all had new approaches to old problems…ideas on how we can make our jobs easier or better. Corporate America is beginning to recognizes this and is starting to compensate their people more for their innovative approaches to their daily jobs. They are beginning to allow people the freedom to pursue their ideas. They are finding that such improvements not only increase their bottom lines but also improves retention, their culture, and job-satisfaction. It’s interesting to me that creative ideas are not only good for companies but also for communities. Communities that welcome creative people tend to attract creative people, this helps improve retention of local workers and, subsequently, attracts or spawns new business.

Creativity is a social process. It has a dynamic quality. It is new ideas and new approaches. These are sometimes completely original, but they can be just improvements to old ways. Historically, our Nation, and our economy, have been built on finding new ways to create value. Think of our form of governing, the automobile, the airplane, personal computers, the savings account, credit cards, insurance, new software apps, etc. Creativity is not only the realm of technology, but all things. It can be spontaneous, the product of an individual or a team; but usually to realize its economic value, it needs to be nurtured. Ok, it is dynamic, multidimensional, multifaceted, can be the product of a one or many people. So, why is this important to Ridgecrest?

Ridgecrest is fairly affluent, our socio-economic structure is mostly in the middle and upper classes. We have only a small element in the working class. The middle and upper classes are services, sales, and professional jobs. It is to these classes that Florida argues the value of creativity is emerging and causing significant structural changes.

Both the working and service classes are branching from their traditional elements to include a creative counterpart. With the latter spawning higher wages. The traditional working class - those in production operations, transportation and materials moving, repair and maintenance, and construction work - continues to reduce. I’ll bet you noticed the ‘framers needed’ sign on the fence at the new Holiday Inn Express construction site. When job-knowledge becomes more complex and workers are more valued for their ingenuity in applying it, they begin to transition into the creative class. Take for example the traditional secretary job of old. She answered the phone, set appointments, took dictation, typed correspondence, and arranged for various functions. Today this person, the office manager, takes on a host of tasks once performed by large staffs. They channel and direct the flow of information in the office. They devise and set up new administrative systems, serve as a communications node, and often make key decisions on the fly. This person contributes more than intelligence or computer skills. He or she adds creative value.

As this examples shows, a creative class job requires more than just physical skills. It leverages and values a person’s full set of talent and skills - the learned and the innate - cognitive, organizational, social, physical, managerial, and leadership. It is one that is flexible and largely cedes control over how the work gets done. It offers challenges but also expects the concomitant responsibility. It provides an attractive, inviting work environment … a place where one wants to be. It, along with its location, offer good work-leisure balance. As employers we should take heed, unleash the creative talents in your workforce. Your productivity will increase and your bottom-line will improve, as will your job retention and job-satisfaction. Creativity does not wear out like material goods do…it keeps on generating. So, adjusting your work to embrace creative elements is one way for each of us to contribute to improved economic value.

Retaining creative people requires community, that is, a healthy social environment. In the community there also has to be a willingness to accept new ideas. Creative people come in all forms, so there has to be ethnic diversity and political openness. Creative communities have to be broad-minded and tolerant but they also provide adequate entertainment and leisure value. Companies and locations that can provide this kind of environment, regardless of their size, will have an edge in attracting and retaining creative talent. And with this will come increasing economic value.

Companies and communities around the world are embracing this and reaping the value. Look at Silicon Valley, Austin Texas, Boston area, Washington DC, and Raleigh-Durham North Carolina. These communities are embracing diversity, valuing creative people, creating a welcoming and inclusive environment and are leveraging their natural assets to balance work and leisure. The pandemic is accelerating this by removing old barriers and is enabling new creative ways to work. The idea of an office or organization where everyone physically goes is being challenged. Tele-working is becoming the norm. With it people are finding they can live nearer their vacations spots or in places where they can exercise their hobbies more routinely. As Bob Dylan declared “the times, they are a changin’” and with this comes opportunity.

So, what do we need to do? Well, first of all, last year when I discussed our future at this forum, all agreed that a good quality of life was important and was something we should strive to improve in our community. Improving our quality of life could be an attractor for creative people. Secondly, we have many of the characteristics that, according to the Rise of the Creative Class, give us a leg-up on building such community. Lastly, it does not require a big investment; but, it does require that we all share this goal and work together to build this community.

As I read The Rise of the Creative Class I kept reflecting on my time at China Lake. The whole notion of enabling people to freely pursue their ideas, underpins that organization. This reaches back to its origins. The solid propellant rocket industry was transformed here. The first guided missile, the first radar guided missile, stop-action TV, light-sticks, using credit cards for government small purchases, and a federal personnel system based on performance not just time-in-grade, were innovations that all got their start there. They all eventually caused transformations because of the value they brought forth. They were clear signs of China Lake’s creative excellence in both technology and management. China Lake is still revered as an innovative organization, even Tom Peters cited it in his writing on corporate excellence. An Undersecretary of the Navy recently declared that “China Lake is the Navy’s innovation cell.” In its early days, China Lake attracted creative people and the community that evolved on Base welcomed such people. These reinforced each other. Even though it was remote, people were attracted and loved working at China Lake because their creativity was valued and they could freely pursue their ideas. And these people loved living at China Lake because they were welcomed and accepted and their neighbors were non-standard just like themselves. They came from all walks of life and from all over the country. It was a true melting pot. China Lake was a place where no one punched a clock They were allowed to work on interesting projects on flexible work schedules. The environment resulted in people being more productive and working longer hours … often doing work over the backyard fence. China Lake was a microcosm and 50 years ahead of the concepts espoused in The Rise of the Creative Class. We still have many of these elements; so, I ask why can’t we rebuild that for Ridgecrest?

The essence of a good community is the quality of life features it holds. We all want to live in a place that offers more than just basic subsistence. Quality of life is not just a nicety it is a necessity! If you don’t think community is important for economic development look at China Lake, or what is currently going on in California. Industries are leaving the State for places like Austin, Texas; Albuquerque, New Mexico, Florida, Nevada. Why? It is not just for financial reasons, but that does play a role. Setting aside the current malady, why, in particular, Austin Texas? Austin is a community on the move. It is welcoming, tolerant, vibrant, open to new ideas, is inclusive, and diverse. This is not just for businesses, but artists, musician, hobbyist, government, and others are attracted there. Artists like being near other artists. Hobbyists like being near their hobbies. Austin is a community that says “nonstandard people welcome here”.

People are actively seeking to live in such places. Making Ridgecrest a desirable place to live does not have to cost more money, but it will take all of us to pitch in and do our part. We have much to build on. Ridgecrest is already known as friendly and helpful. We just have to build on this. Make treating one another with respect, kindness, and tolerance ubiquitous…to be neighborly to others who are different or, should I say, non-standard. These cultures take time to build. They start with an idea and frame of mind; not huge influxes of money. It takes leadership and everyone buying in to do their part.

So, what can we can do? Businesses can encourage employees to think about their work…ask them for ways to improve their jobs…celebrate their contributions…compensate them for their ideas that are implemented…be open to off-the-wall ideas. Trisha Miller at Eastern Sierra Custom Picture Framing portrays this value. Trisha was telling some recent high school graduates why she went into business for herself. She was trying to figure out what she wanted to do since her kids were all grown. She was thinking about getting a job, but her husband suggested she pursue her love and start a business. Eastern Sierra Custom Picture Framing came into being as an act of love. But, listening to Trisha’s story it is all about taking risk, having confidence, being free to create new products, being open to other’s ideas, and taking care of her customers. She is excited about serving others and being creative at the same time. Trisha is the personification of the creative class.

We need to focus on the young elements of our community…those coming from elsewhere to work here. Younger people, especially the highly educated ones, are the most mobile group in society. Forty-five or fifty-year-olds are one-third less likely to move than a twenty-five year old. Our major employers do a great job in attracting and getting young people to move here, but the facts don’t bode well for us in retaining them unless we are proactive. Communities have to accept the responsibility to focus on Improving retention and make it a deliberate objective. To do this communities must have a people climate that values every type of person and every type of family. People don’t give up their lifestyle preferences just because they get older. They don’t stop bicycling or running or hiking just because they have a family. They don’t stop valuing diversity and tolerance either. We all need to engage to build this climate. We cannot wait for someone else to do it for us.

It doesn’t take much to make Ridgecrest a more desirable place to live. Yes, we need jobs; but making people want to come to Ridgecrest to live takes community. I believe if we build community business will come. I believe if we build community people will come and even telework from here. We need a common way to tell our story, to a talk about the benefits and why this is a great place to live. We need to take care of our visitors and demonstrate our hospitality.

So, in summary we can continue on our current path…improving our streets, increasing our recreation, providing access to our exquisite natural resources. We should simplify and streamline our building processes to encourage development, both retail and domestic. We should agree on how we want to be viewed and universally sell that view. We should continue to be friendly to our neighbors and strangers; and, we should increase our openness and tolerance of the non-standard types that both visit and live in our community. We should ban the word ‘no’ and the phrases “that’s not our way”, or “that can’t be done” and find ways to get to “yes.” Building the future Ridgecrest does not take a lot of money but it does take us all. Significant growth happens slowly; if we do this, all of us, we will look back in 10 or 15 years and see our progress. And, I guarantee we will like what we see.

Story First Published: 2021-02-26