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ANNA SMITH: It’s a good time to “Be in Bakersfield”

Columnist Anna Smith

Columnist Anna Smith

Imagine you are someone who’s never been to Bakersfield. You’re planning a trip for work or to visit friends in California, you’ve received job offers in multiple cities and are making a decision about where to live or you simply want to learn more about this place you’ve heard in the news. Where do you go first?

Google, of course.

So many of us, especially millennials, are very mobile now. And when exploring where to live, build a career and put down roots, studies show that the first place people usually go (besides hearing personal anecdotes from friends or family), is Google.

When googling Bakersfield, there’s a lot more negative press than positive. The search results are pretty dismal. And even the positive hits feel stale and inauthentic; they lack the organic grit and “raw cool” factor that this place possesses. This is not how we want potential newcomers to first interact with our city.

And what I hear from friends and readers is that this is not an accurate representation of the Bakersfield they’ve have come to love. It’s only a small portion of the story.

So there’s a big disconnect, and I’m a pretty impatient person. As a result, I’m not typically comfortable with complacency. We have to be proactive to combat this negativity. We need to take control of the narrative. We cannot gloss over the bad facts but should balance them with more authenticity, not contrived positivity.

As marketing guru Don Draper said on "Mad Men": “If you don’t like what’s being said, change the conversation.” So we are.

I am part of a group of energetic (perhaps overly committed) “young-ish” professionals working to address this problem. We hope to help change the conversation in the form of a new campaign under the Kern Economic Development Foundation. This Thursday, my husband and I, along with Shannon LaBare, branding and marketing whiz and owner of Purveyor House, and Daniel Cater, architect and owner of Cater Design Group, will be presenting the launch of “Be in Bakersfield.”

We have received seed funding from Adventist Health and other private donors, and we’ve already unveiled a website and Instagram account for the campaign.

We can influence the image that is portrayed about our city. In order to attract the most promising talent, we have to market the high quality of life here.

I’ve mentioned in previous articles that economic reports say our community lacks industry diversity. Data shows a low number of educated professionals, and I repeatedly hear from companies that they have a difficult time attracting and retaining highly skilled workers. We have limited marketing efforts, and that puts us at competitive disadvantage. There is a perception of low quality of life by outsiders, and many residents lack civic pride. Our campaign seeks to address many of these challenges in more targeted way than prior campaigns. Other campaigns have served purposes but tried to appeal to a much wider audience, seeking to be everything to everyone.

Millennials are looking for an urban environment with public spaces, bikeable and walkable spaces, an authenticity and uniqueness about the place, a sense of community, the ability to make a difference and work-life balance.

Bakersfield has all of these things, but we don’t actively market this to the next generation of thinkers and doers in a way they can genuinely relate.

In order to improve our image, our Be in Bakersfield team looked at other similarly situated mid-sized cities across the country. Places like Buffalo, New York; Cincinnati, Ohio; St. Louis, Missouri, and Detroit, Michigan.

We noticed that many of these cities have in place targeted online marketing campaigns - with integrated social media accounts and search engine optimization work - to improve their image and attract talented professionals to their cities.

Bakersfield does not.

Today, the best bet for a city of our size is to foster small businesses and make it a lifestyle destination (like Portland or Austin) where people really want to live - rather than constantly saying that we are “only two hours from everywhere.”

I wrote about our city’s raw cool. The good news is that we already have it. But we don’t sell it well. The momentum that will build from marketing our city in a more focused way could help attract new people and new amenities, which, in turn, might help diversify our economy and improve other statistics that we struggle with - like literacy, educational attainment, obesity and crime.

As the founders of this campaign, we live and work here and believe it's a great time to be in Bakersfield. We think that it's time to show the “raw cool” side of Bakersfield through captivating stories of real people that live here. We see the creative class thriving and growing. We’re in Bakersfield on purpose, and we want to share why.

On Thursday, April 12th, our core team will be launching the Be in Bakersfield campaign at the BYP Summit. Find the campaign on Instagram (@beinbakersfield), and check out the website, If you’d like to attend the BYP event this week, call the Chamber at (661) 327-4421.

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