Entrepreneur Witt’s outlook at conf.

By LAURA QUEZADA

News Review Staff Writer

The Ridgecrest Chamber of Commerce hosted the 35th Annual Indian Wells Valley Economic Outlook Conference at the Kerr McGee Center on Thursday, February 24. Dubbed the Twenty22 EOC, they offered a new component: a panel of entrepreneurs.

Stu Witt, CEO of S.O. Witt and Associates, sat on the panel and noted that there was a lot of great information shared but no real entrepreneurial questions were asked. So the News Review asked Witt what question he thought should be addressed. He replied, “What would you like to see happen in Ridgecrest?”

Witt went on to answer the question. “I’d like to see some bold thinking and I think there’s some really good people around that would rise up and respond. A bold thinking individual thinks differently than a lot of people here in town. It’s time for some new blood. I’ve even suggested in some of the committees I’m on to have the assignment of bringing in somebody half their age to the next meeting. And nobody comes.

It’s time to bring some new blood and get some fresh ideas. What does the next generation want in their community? That’s how you get change. You get creative thinking. Do they want entertainment? Is everybody just happy leaving town every weekend? That’s the kind of questions I think do need to be asked. I really think we need to focus on quality of life in Ridgecrest. We want to retain people and get some get some real thinking going.”

Witt loves Ridgecrest; it is his home. He doesn’t want to disparage it as he observes, “People in this town have a tendency to think small. And that’s what you get. You don’t get bold ideas. You don’t get big ideas. You don’t get what I call meaningful change.”

He uses one example, “Even when people are asked to consider some of the challenges we have in town, like drugs and alcohol, it doesn’t get anybody excited. Somehow we are living with an encampment of people out behind the old Kmart. And I find that disappointing to say the least. That’s why I’ve supported the local Ridgecrest Vineyard Church and The Refuge rehabilitation center. I not only support it with my voice but with my wallet. Because I don’t know a single family in this town that doesn’t have somebody that suffers from addiction. And if we’re going to change that in America, it’s going to have to be changed in every community. Christian-based programs are the only ones that work. Look at the numbers nationwide: state sponsored rehabs have about a 3% success rate, faith-based based have 80% or 85%.”

Witt is not a regular at the conferences having attended about half a dozen. However, he has attended Economic Outlook Conferences in other parts of California and found the local conference to be “Okay, a little anemic.” He references conferences held in Mojave, Bakersfield, and Northern Los Angeles County bringing in powerful speakers. In Mojave, “It’d be 1400 people and you get Mark Kelly, just back from space and you’d get video links to the International Space Station. You’d get Sugar Ray Leonard speaking in a very powerful motivational talk on the possibilities from somebody who had been all the way at the top and all the way at the bottom and then fought his way back literally. I just think we can do better. It’s not hard to get some real talent and promote something. I mean, Wynonna Judd singing at the Bishop Mule Days Festival. You know, their town is half the size of ours.”

Ridgecrest has not been without its bold moves. He cites the building of Heritage Village, the current head of Cerro Coso Community College demonstrates bold leadership, the 2019 post-earthquake efforts by Police Chief Jed McLaughlin and Mayor Peggy Breeden to host community events to bring the community together through movie night and the distribution of school supplies to children.

Witt himself is known for bold moves. He tells us, “I remember when I took over Mojave (Air and Space Port), I frankly thought they were kidding when former Representative Bill Thomas suggested that I do that. When I told my board that I thought we ought to apply for a spaceport they thought that was pretty silly. I said, ‘Not too silly at all.’ I thought we had a chance to make astronauts right here in Kern County. We did. I thought we had a chance to launch satellites. Three companies now launch satellites from Kern County. It works. And there’s a company down there now that’s going to land on the south side of the moon in December this year. I’d like to see other good ideas over the possible and if people say ‘It’s silly,’ then I’d say that’s probably a good reason to go do it.”

Regarding the presentation by Dr. Mark Schniepp, Director of the California Economic Forecast in Santa Barbara, Witt says his presentation was very good, “I would call him a futurist and an economic analyst who looks at past, present, and future trends housing costs, cost of living, employment base demographic, dividing it up. That has to be presented and offered to people if they’re curious about where we are and where we could be. I think those are the essential building blocks.”

Through his consulting business, S.O. Witt and Associates, Witt works with people all over the country. From this viewpoint he can see the possibilites generated by bold thinkers. “I got called in September by the mayor of Paso Robles, a town the same size as this, saying, ‘I’d like to hire you to do a job and it’s bold thinking and it’s gonna take us few years but you did it one other time in California.’ I’ve been working with them for six months and I really tip my hat to them. They’ve got a vision of where they want to have that city and where they want to fit in the state’s economy in two years, five years, 50 years. And I don’t hear those kind of things around here.

I love this town. I’m not going to move from this town. This where I live. Anything I want in this town, I know who to call and how to get it. People do the same with me.” Life in Ridgecrest agrees with Witt, “I know what I’m going to be doing tonight. I’m going to go home have dinner, go to bed because I got to get up early tomorrow and go back to work. But that’s my choice. But in the afternoon, I always go for a hike in one of the canyons. I love that every day or I go fly my airplane. That’s what I like doing but socially in this town: Not a lot to do. I think it’s going to take some entrepreneurial thinking on how we can change that. You know, we don’t really have a town center we don’t have a meeting place.”

S.O. Witt and Associates is based in Ridgecrest and consults primarily in three sectors: space, energy and a data center. “We tried to start the data center here in Ridgecrest. It’s now up and running in Albuquerque.”

Story First Published: 2022-03-11