justin salters

Justin Salters

Life is the sum of the decisions we make, times the circumstances of our birth.

I was born in the Bakersfield in 1988. There is nothing I can do to will myself to be born in a different year or location. Some things are outside of our control.

However, we do have control over the decisions we make. How diligent a student we are. How often we work out. What we eat. Who we marry. If we choose to marry. Which jobs we pursue.

We can either dwell on the circumstances of our birth and believe our lives to be pre-determined, or we can strive to make decisions that develop the potential within each of us, that build on initial circumstance.

What is true for individuals is also true for institutions.

We live in Kern County. There are circumstances of our region that we cannot change. We are an inland region of the state, separated from the cultural poles of California by miles and mountains. We have an abundance of natural resources that forms the basis for strong oil and gas and agriculture industries. However, we’ve struggled to build a diverse economy.

While there is nothing we can do to change our landscape, there are policies and decisions to be made that can help move the ball forward. We do not have to accept our circumstances.

Last week, our county supervisors made a great decision when they approved a new economic development policy.

The new policy removes the cap on available tax credits and expands the number of industries able to receive tax incentives for bringing new business to the county. These changes are designed to both make Kern County more competitive in attracting investment and support local businesses looking to expand.

It’s impossible to overstate how significant this new economic development policy is.

Fresno County recently landed an Amazon fulfillment center. The county provided $30 million in tax credits to finalize the deal. Their $30 million investment is projected to generate $3 billion in wage taxes for Fresno County.

Kern County previously had a $500,000 cap on tax credits.

The new policy will help Kern County attract new investment through competitive incentive packages. It allows the county to develop incentive proposals on a case-by-case basis, evaluating the specific merits of a project before committing to any tax breaks.

Kern County’s unemployment rate is 8.1 percent. Average private annual wages are just above $41,000. This new policy allows the county to target, attract and incentivize the creation of the high-quality, full-time jobs we need.

But beyond addressing unemployment and low-wages, attracting new industries is critical to improving our quality of life.

Since the price of oil plunged in 2014 and property tax revenues tanked, Kern County has struggled financially. Wage taxes have decreased as oil producers and service companies have been forced to lay off employees and reduce contractors, further squeezing county budgets.

As a result, the county has operated at a deficit for several years while working to reduce expenses. Unfortunately, reduced expenses mean reduced services.

Reduced law enforcement and public safety. Reduced spending on parks and recreation. Reduced library hours. Reduced road maintenance.

Translation: A reduced quality of life.

If we want to see more sheriff's deputies and firefighters on our streets, cleaner parks and better roads, our county needs more revenue.

Again, our county supervisors made a great decision with their new economic development policy. They rightly realized that the best way to increase revenue is to grow the economic base contributing to county coffers.

In addition to increasing available tax incentives, the new policy expands the industries targeted by local economic development efforts. Some of the newly targeted industries include destination retail, e-commerce and high-tech.

New industries will help diversify the county’s economy while generating additional revenue for county programs and services. A more diverse economy is a more resilient economy. And a more resilient economy is good news for everyone who calls Kern County home.

If we want to grow our economy, expand opportunity and improve our quality of life, we have to make decisions that position us for success. Our circumstances are what they are. But, if we lean in together, pull up our bootstraps and make decisions that create opportunity.

Let’s reject the notion that our history and current circumstances limit what we can accomplish and who we can become.

Kudos to the Board of Supervisors for making a decision that moves us forward. Here’s to hoping this type of forward-thinking catches on.

Contributing columnist Justin Salters writes weekly on politics, culture and civic engagement; the views expressed are his own. Reach him at Facebook.com/thatjustinsalters, on Twitter @justinsalters or justin@justinsalters.com.

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