It’s an interesting moment in Shafter. In the brief time since my last column was published on Shafter leadership, discussing David Franz and his integral role shaping the future of education in this rural town, there has been a shake-up in city governance. It remains to be seen how the sudden retirement by City Manager Scott Hurlbert, who replaced longtime manager John Guinn in 2014, will affect the city’s direction. Councilmembers who pushed for his departure apparently hope to disturb the status quo, although the public has not been let in on the details since councilmembers did not make themselves available for questions or comment after the decision was announced. All we know is that Hurlbert and the council “mutually agreed” to end his employment with the city effective immediately at a public City Council meeting Tuesday.
Not all residents are happy about this change, and many would prefer better communication. Deliberations regarding Hurlbert’s departure were not discussed in public; some residents have argued that the three councilmembers who voted for his resignation have not been transparent about their decision. For now, Administrative Services Director James Zervis has been named as acting city manager.
At this somewhat tumultuous juncture, the work of Shafter city leaders marches on.
Another new face in Shafter is Business Development Director Bob Meadows, who arrived with nearly 40 years’ experience in the banking industry. Meadows was appointed late last year.
As Meadows describes, “I’m still the new guy on the team with a lot to prove. Much like in banking, developing business is a process and it takes time to produce results. That has been emphasized to me by everyone from the folks at KEDC (Kern Economic Development Corp.) to the CALED (California Association for Local Economic Development) state economic development members. In striving to make a difference as soon as possible, sometimes I just have to draw satisfaction from being a positive influence in that process.”
In the world of economic development, I would agree with Meadows that growth does not happen over night and requires a concerted effort by multiple stakeholders. The smartest approach is a strategy that builds on existing assets and provides long-term value to attract a range of investments. All of this is incremental and takes patience and time.
I posed a few questions to Meadows recently. If you’re also curious about the city’s direction, read on.
Q: You became business development director for the city of Shafter in October 2018 after decades in the banking industry. What brought you to this work?
A: I was drawn by the challenge of leaving banking to help an already successful city grow and its local businesses become more prosperous. For over 25 years, Shafter has run the city as a business, not a government entity, and that also attracted me.
Q: As the business development director, how would you describe Shafter’s plans to promote economic development?
A: While we want new businesses with new jobs, we also need to help existing business owners become more successful. Workforce development is economic development, and we can make progress while we work at attracting new business. We will be hosting more workshops and professional seminars to help Shafter business owners learn more and do more.
Q: How does Shafter approach economic development differently than other rural communities?
A: I have taken a more grassroots approach by going to organizations with my “What About Shafter?” presentation to talk about our history, how we do business and highlight local attractions. I’m also working with financial professionals from my previous life as referral sources for new business and services.
Q: What has surprised you about your work in Shafter?
A: In my first department-head meeting, I was blown away by the collective excellence of the individuals who work here. Their depth and breadth of experience and expertise is astounding.
We also have a unique method of consultation with businesses considering coming to Shafter. We invite them to City Hall and to meet with leadership and several department heads. We consult the GIS map for potential locations and provide insight on planning, engineering, IT, public works, and building requirements. Prospects leave with a plan for the future and realize they can do business much faster in Shafter.
Q: How is Shafter seeking to diversify its economy and how does that relate to the larger Kern County economy?
A: We are letting the world know we have a need for more retail and professional services. As the fastest-growing city in Kern County, businesses should want to be here and grow with us. We discuss how Shafter is great for additional locations or related services provided by Bakersfield businesses.
Q: What role do you see Bakersfield playing in the future of Kern County and the entire region, including smaller communities like Shafter?
A: Shafter is the only city sharing a border with Bakersfield, so we literally compete across the street for some business. Bakersfield is the nexus of Kern County and will always drive the general state of the economy. Smaller cities need to continue finding niche businesses to thrive and create our own level of success.