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Keeping Doors Open

Richard Chapman President and CEO  Kern Economic  Development Corporation

While most of the country has been grappling with struggling markets and ever-increasing unemployment rates, the Kern Economic Development Corporation (KEDC) has continued to keep the county afloat, securing funds and jobs to ensure the growth of Kern County in the years to come.

For an organization that’s just barely been around long enough to be able to order a stiff drink, the Kern Economic Development Corporation certainly has a firm grasp on what it takes to do big business in our area. While most of the country has been grappling with struggling markets and ever-increasing unemployment rates, the Kern Economic Development Corporation (KEDC) has continued to keep the county afloat, securing funds and jobs to ensure the growth of Kern County in the years to come.

The KEDC was officially formed 22 years ago by a group of forward-thinking business leaders who realized that the best way to maintain a strong and stable economic climate was to first create a diversified economic base. So a private, nonprofit organization was born.

That strategy has ultimately paid off big time for our county. In their short history, the KEDC has helped facilitate the relocation of major businesses and corporations to Kern County, which has, in turn, helped boost our local economy and created tens of thousands of new jobs.

According to KEDC President and CEO Richard Chapman, on a very basic level, the organization looks to market our county to potential businesses looking to relocate. Think of them as our county’s talent agent, making us look good and putting us up for roles.

Thankfully, Chapman said, the county already has so much going for it, there’s very little trouble in making us look good to potential corporations.

“There are six industry sectors that KEDC actively markets within,” Chapman explained. “Value-added agriculture; transportation, logistics, warehousing, and manufacturing; energy and chemical; business and professional services; healthcare and medical technology; and aerospace and defense.”

And as many of us know, those are sectors in which Kern County has historically excelled.

“Not only do we recruit new business to Kern County,” Chapman continued, “but we help establish businesses with relocation and expansion efforts. And we work with local companies to provide economic data, workforce information, and facilitate the regulation process.”

Because, as you might expect, there is a lot of paperwork to fill out when moving an entire company to a new county or ensuring that the products and goods produced by a new company will adhere to county restrictions and regulations.

Photo Courtesy Of Kedc

The KEDC offers a one-stop service by assembling a team of experts from both private and public sectors to address every relocation or expansion need. They provide direct access to public and educational organizations as well as local businesses to help any relocating company recruit, hire, and train employees.

“Additionally,” Chapman explained, “we provide extensive data for these businesses. Everything from demographics, planning data, infrastructure and transpiration figures, to the city and county’s economic reports.”

The KEDC’s relationships with the County of Kern and real estate agents also give them access to available sites for rent or construction.

“We work with local, state, and federal government entities to not only expedite the process but are fully aware of economic incentives for companies that include sales tax credits, tax deductions, and hiring credits to help attract new jobs, investment, and development,” Chapman further elaborated.

The truly important question, however, is what has all that done for our county’s economy? Well, in the 2007-2008 fiscal year alone, the KEDC assisted efforts that ultimately created $67 million in wage income and $89 million in capital investment in Kern County. And between 2008 and 2009, they helped add $130 million in capital and $42 million in new wages to the county.

Over that 22-year history, they’ve been a part of some very big moves to our county including the Famous Footwear relocation to the Tejon Industrial Complex, which created 120 new jobs. Not to mention the Railex move to Delano which created 300 jobs and the FedEx Ground arrival in Bakersfield which added 200 new jobs to the county.

But there are numerous other companies who’ve found Kern County makes a great home for their company. In 2009, 250 new jobs were created when Men’s Wearhouse opened a distribution center in Bakersfield and, in 2008, 135 jobs opened up when Rio Bravo Medical Center opened its doors.

“We’re still finding that the greatest success for our county is coming from Southern California,” Chapman explained.

The reasons for this are plentiful. For starters, the cost of living and doing business in Bakersfield and Kern County is significantly lower than in the Los Angeles and Southern California markets.

According to the ACCRA Cost of Living Index from January 2010, to have the same quality of life one would have with a salary of $50,000 a year in Los Angeles, they’d only need to make $36,881 in Bakersfield.

Additionally, the population density and average commute times are far smaller here in Kern County, which obviously looks better to companies looking to relocate.

“Major companies will choose Kern because of our centralized location,” Chapman said. “No other county offers the easy access to all the population of California, let alone the entire Western United states.”

Not to mention, Kern County offers such diverse cultural and environmental advantages to other counties in California, from urban to rural; from agriculture to the arts. There is such an impressive diversity when it comes to job opportunities that the KEDC wants to make sure young people know the growing industries they can study within. That’s why they formed the Kern Economic Development Foundation, a 501(c)3. Money raised through this foundation, from events and donors, will help the KEDC administer new projects including a program for mentoring high school and college-age girls in the energy and utilities field. It’s a sector not usually thought of for women, yet many local women have found lucrative and interesting positions in oil and energy (for proof of this, turn to page 53). Many of these mentors educate young women in the importance of math and sciences—encouraging them to break traditional molds so that they, too, can be a part of emerging energy industries.

Because of the expansive lay of the land in our county, we are able to keep up with trends in industries that few other locations can. Not only are we a leader in oil and ag, but, thanks to the KEDC’s help, many new industries are coming into our county walls, including wind and solar energy.

For instance, not only is the Tehachapi Pass one of the world’s largest producers of wind-generated energy, but the Tehachapi-Mojave Wind Resource Area is anticipated to grow an additional 4,500-6,000 megawatts in the next 10-15 years.

And that’s not the only growth the KEDC is foreseeing in the county’s economic future. Studies have shown that Kern County will be one of the first seven counties in the entire nation to return to pre-recession employment levels sometime in 2011.

With more companies looking to expand as business improves in the coming years, the seven-person team at the Kern Economic Development Corporation will show them the smartest place to put their money—right here.

Article appeared in our 27-4 Issue - October 2010