Commentary

09/24/2020 by Nick Ortiz and Kristen Beall Watson

Commentary: Join us as we look toward the future


(Photo: Robert Sullivan/Flickr)

Originally published in The Bakersfield Californian.

What is the future of the Bakersfield-Kern region?

That is the question that keeps us up at night. Not because we fear it, but because, despite the very best efforts of well-intentioned organizations and hardworking individuals, every day we see the consequences of decisions, actions and policies that shape that future. This area is special, and the people of Kern and Bakersfield deserve a positive and prosperous destiny. Now is the time for us to come together, roll up our sleeves and create a vision for the future.

As we seek that future, we must be clear-eyed about the risks to our economy, our quality of life and to the health and success of our neighbors.

The businesses and industries that sustain our economy — including energy and agriculture — have been buffeted by regulation, market conditions and intense global competition.

For too many in Kern County, quality jobs that create pathways to the middle class are hard to come by.

From educational attainment and access to quality, affordable health care, to environmental quality and social justice challenges, there are many barriers that contribute toward inequitable social and economic outcomes, as evidenced most recently by the COVID-19 crisis.

With these challenges in mind, and that positive destiny as a goal, a diverse coalition of business, government, community and education partners have launched A Better Bakersfield and Boundless Kern: Regional Action for Economic Prosperity to develop an economic roadmap and investment plan for enduring economic growth, prosperity and inclusion in the region.

B3K Prosperity recognizes that the path toward a more vibrant and inclusive future for the Bakersfield-Kern region is growth. But that growth must look beyond traditional measures of economic success and toward a future of inclusive economic prosperity.

Inclusive economic development evaluates success not solely on the number of jobs created and dollars invested in a region. It also considers the quality of jobs created and the growth potential of the industries represented. The future vitality of our region depends on creating good, quality jobs that pay sustainable wages and diversifying our industry sectors so that every person who calls the Bakersfield-Kern region home can prosper.

We have to deploy the region’s assets and opportunities to compete for talent, investment and growth. Other regions are already organizing and having success in attracting investment from government and private interests. Up the road in Fresno, they’re aiming to be the leaders in agricultural innovation; while to the west, the Central Coast is organizing to rival East Kern as the focal point of California’s aerospace future. We can’t stand still. We must harness our boundless ingenuity, our grounded values and our collective desire to continue striving for something better.

B3K Prosperity builds on and leverages many of the institutions and leaders already working to advance regional prosperity in Kern County. In addition to the Greater Bakersfield Chamber and Kern Community Foundation, the B3K Prosperity Core Team includes the Kern Economic Development Corporation, Cal State Bakersfield, the city of Bakersfield and county of Kern.

B3K Prosperity has engaged experts from the Brookings Institution, one of the top organizations working with regional coalitions across the United States to address issues of economic competitiveness and inclusive growth, including five other regions in California

Next spring, we will produce a strategic action plan and prospectus to attract investment and promote growth, prosperity and inclusion. That said, B3K Prosperity won’t end when these deliverables are completed. Rather, B3K Prosperity will continue as the forum for our region’s diverse stakeholders to collaborate and cooperate on efforts that improve all of our quality of life for years to come.

The success of this work hinges upon support and involvement from residents. We encourage you to visit our website, www.B3KProsperity.org, to learn more about B3K Prosperity, sign-up to receive official communications and find opportunities to participate in future workgroups, surveys and other outreach and engagement activities.

We hope you’ll join us.

Nick Ortiz is the president and CEO of the Greater Bakersfield Chamber. Kristen Beall Watson, Ed.D., is the president and CEO of Kern Community Foundation.

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