Just because Ernie Phoenix is a newcomer to Bakersfield’s banking scene, don’t assume he’s coming in with the superficial notion that the local economy revolves exclusively around oil and agriculture.
Having grown up in Bakersfield before learning his trade in Northern California, Bank of America’s new Bakersfield market president sees nuances outsiders miss, such as the local importance of manufacturing and health care.
Not that he’s neglecting farmers and oil producers. Phoenix is doing what he can to increase local small business lending, and for now that means serving the needs of family farms — where 85 percent of the bank’s local lending was focused last year — and oil producers.
But he’s also looking beyond those staples to industries he thinks have great potential to expand.
“I’m very optimistic that we’re going to see a lot of new industries pop up,” said Phoenix, a 42-year-old West High graduate. “We have so many diverse businesses that people don’t think about that really make an impact in Kern County.”
Case in point: eastern Kern County’s burgeoning aerospace industry. He’s particularly interested in what’s happening at the Mojave Air & Space Port.
“When you actually go out and see what they’re doing out there ... it’s almost like a small city,” he said. “They’re doing amazing things for next-generation aerospace.”
He sounded just as enthusiastic about health care. Doctors adjusting to the Affordable Care Act often turn to banks for money to buy medical equipment or expand their facilities, he said.
Dentists are also big targets for Bank of America’s small business lending representatives, he said, as are veterinarians, who he said are experiencing big year-over-year revenue gains.
But what about oil? Is the bank doing nothing to help financially pinched local petroleum producers at this time of relatively low prices?
Sure it is, he said, but challenges facing the industry are many. Companies are trying to “right-size their business and get through the tough times.”
Some are doing better than others, he said, and so the bank must look carefully at individual companies’ situations before extending credit.
“Every customer’s different,” he said.