A new survey conducted by the Greater Bakersfield Chamber of Commerce indicates a steady economy, as more than half of the businesses surveyed expected to see no change in their industry in 2017, and only one said it plans to subtract jobs this year.

The Chamber released these findings, among others, in its first "BizClimate Survey" Wednesday. Among the member businesses surveyed were Kaiser Permanente, Aera Energy, Pacific Gas and Electric, Jim Burke Ford and State Farm.

The purpose of the survey is to gather information about regulations businesses face, the local economy and the support businesses need to ensure a qualified and productive workforce. The survey was sent earlier this year to 35 businesses that are members of the Chamber.

"People are cautiously optimistic about job growth," Chamber President and CEO Nick Ortiz said.

When asked about job growth in their industries in 2017, more than half of the businesses said they expect no change. The remaining 43 percent said they see "better" job growth in their industry sector.

Ortiz said he was very excited to see only one company say it expected to subtract jobs in 2017.

Meanwhile, Ortiz said he was surprised at what businesses identified as their No. 1 issue in Kern County.

He had thought it would be regulations, like the California Environmental Quality Act. But that came in second.

No. 1 was the local workforce.

A little more than a quarter of the businesses sampled said employee recruitment and retention costs are their biggest challenge to businesses in Kern County.

Comparing that to results of other questions pertaining to education told Ortiz that employers are concerned there aren't enough STEM-literate and high-skilled workers for them.

STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics.

"Every section of the economy is becoming a tech sector," Ortiz said.

From January to December 2017, businesses reported they expect to need to fill a total of 300 positions that require STEM-related training or education. Three-quarters of those surveyed said current education and workforce programs in Kern County are providing their business with quality applicants.

We obliviously have good workforce programs with the schools, but the issue is having enough job applicants, Ortiz said.

Concerns about a shortage of skilled workers was fourth on the list of business challenges, and 43 percent of respondents said there are not enough quality applicants provided by education and workforce programs in Kern County.

That leads to retention and recruitment efforts.

Ortiz said the Chamber has attempted to be active in workforce issues, such as holding classes for youth to show them Bakersfield is a good place to have a career. For recruitment efforts, the Chamber had Vision 2020 — which included efforts to improve the city's image.

Cal State Bakersfield, area high schools and Bakersfield College have helped with retention as well by establishing programs linking the educational institutions, Ortiz said.

The recruitment concern even played into the top three issues businesses wanted the Chamber to focus on. Improving the external image of Bakersfield came in second on the companies' priority list for the Chamber.

Ortiz said he's heard from companies that even when they convince an employee to relocate to Bakersfield, they often have to encourage the spouse or family to move.

The retention, recruitment and image have all been issues talked about by Bakersfield leaders before, including Mayor Karen Goh at the State of the City Luncheon.

She talked at length about a growing movement in Bakersfield for businesses to hire local and retell the city's story to people outside of Bakersfield.

Goh said in an email she is pleased the issues prioritized in the Chamber's survey are consistent with the issues she's highlighted.

"A consensus has formed in our community that I believe will allow all in our city to accomplish focused action," Goh wrote. "I look forward to the implementation that brings visible improvements as the Chamber, businesses, government, educators, nonprofits, and faith-based organizations work together."

The Chamber will use the survey's responses when crafting its 2018 business plan later this year.

To see the survey or learn more about the Chamber visit www.bakersfieldchamber.org.

Dorothy Mills-Gregg can be reached at 661-395-7368. Follow her on Twitter: @TBCCityBeat.

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