Anna Smith

Anna Smith

Over the holidays, my husband and I spoke on multiple occasions around dinner tables with family members - mostly farmers. They spoke about downtown’s revitalization, expanding businesses, new product lines and growth industries like technology and healthcare. A common thread: their excitement for the future of our community.

And the experts agree - they forecast steady growth for 2018. And it’s optimistic, both nationally and at a local level.

The U.S. economic outlook is healthy according to the key economic indicators. The most critical indicator is gross domestic product, which measures the nation's production output. The GDP growth rate is expected to remain between the 2 percent to 3 percent ideal range. Unemployment is forecast to continue at the natural rate. There isn't too much inflation or deflation. This is what experts call a “goldilocks” economy.

Consumer confidence has exploded to a 13-year high. U.S. consumers haven't been this optimistic about the economy since the start of 2004, according to a recent survey conducted by the University of Michigan. The data suggest that consumer spending will likely continue to support the economy through at least mid-2018, at which time this economic expansion would become the second-longest since the 19th century.

As many of us know, Kern consistently ranks among the top five most-productive agricultural counties in the United States and is one of the nation’s leading petroleum-producing counties. Because of its unique geographical positioning and highway system, Kern has also become the distribution center for some of the world’s largest companies.

And the Kern County economy, built on oil and agriculture, is now expanding with health care, aerospace, alternative energies and other STEM occupations.

As we start a new year and continue one of the longest running economic expansions in American history, we should see infinite possibilities in this “Golden Empire” we call home. At the same time, our optimism should be tempered. Our community was built on oil and agriculture and they have served us well. But our position as primarily a resource-based economy makes us vulnerable to commodity market cycles. Community and business leaders must remain relentlessly focused on incorporating innovative growth industries into our local economy to ensure future economic sustainability.

According to a new report by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), over 40 percent of jobs today will be replaced by automation by 2030. And according to the World Economic Forum, 65 percent of children entering primary school today will likely work in roles that don’t currently exist. Cue Bob Dylan’s 1964 hit, “The times they are a-changin’”.

We must embrace new industries and fresh ways of thinking about our local economy. We can’t turn the page on a new chapter of our Bakersfield economy if we keep rereading the last one.

SUPPORT LOCAL BUSINESS

If you’re hoping to kick-start a healthier food regime as part of a new year’s resolution, support a local business and try a few of my personal favorites:

Vegan/gluten-free soups like Tuscan bean and broccoli “cheese” at Nature’s Juice Bar

Stone fruit salad at Locale Farm-to-Table

Hulk juice (kale, spinach, cucumber, apple, coconut water, pineapple and a squeeze of lemon) from Rio Acai Bowl

Hibiscus iced tea, rice noodle salad and spicy black bean hummus from Hen’s Roost

GOOD LUCK FOODS

Looking for good luck in the new year? Try these five foods:

1. Pork - The expression "high on the hog" refers to the choice cuts of pork, those from the loin, shoulder and upper leg, long reserved for the elite. So naturally, pork, with its rich, delicious fattiness has come to symbolize wealth and prosperity.

2. Lentils - Italians eat lentils on New Year's for wealth and prosperity because the flat legumes were believed to resemble Roman coins.

3. Soba Noodles - In Japan, they signify long life, but only if you eat them without breaking or chewing them. Slurp these long noodles in one piece for a good long life

4. Black-Eyed Peas - There are several different thoughts on why black–eyed peas have come to symbolize good luck. In America, the prevailing folklore dates back to the Civil War era, when black–eyed peas, also known as field peas, were used to feed grazing cattle. During the Siege of Vicksburg, Mississippi in the late spring of 1863, the town was cut off from all food supplies for nearly two months. The people were close to starvation and resorted to eating the crops previously reserved for feeding their livestock. If it weren't for the lowly "cowpeas" (as they're also known) many people wouldn't have survived.

5. Greens - Leafy greens resemble folded paper money symbolizing wealth and prosperity.

Anna Smith writes a weekly column about downtown Bakersfield. She can be reached at anna@sagebakersfield.com.

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