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B3K shares strategies for promoting local industry clusters

Collaborators in Kern County's B3K economic development initiative came together Tuesday afternoon to share ideas about what strategies they should pursue as a way of improving local job-creation efforts.

The group of about 80 members of the initiative's steering committee reviewed ideas generated by each of B3K's five focus clusters: advanced manufacturing, aerospace, business services, energy and entrepreneurship.

While the gathering made clear that some of the groups are further along than others, it also demonstrated the enthusiasm many of the business and community leaders have brought to the 14-month-old effort led by Washington-based think tank the Brookings Institution.

A central theme delivered by representatives of each of the clusters was the need to set aside competitive impulses for the sake of regional prosperity. Several expressed the need to come up with job-training programs and new ways of supporting innovation across their industry locally.

Marek Gootman, a senior fellow at Brookings who has helped shepherd the effort, noted the process has fallen behind schedule because of the pandemic but that progress is being made as people from different backgrounds across the county find value in working together like never before.

"Many people here don't have economic development in their title," he told the group, "and yet, there are so many contributors in the economic outcome" B3K hopes to achieve.

B3K, short for Better Bakersfield & Boundless Kern, was established in April 2020 with the help of local and state money to explore ways to maximize existing and future investments in the local economy. A primary goal is to build consensus on how to work and invest together to create good jobs available to all local residents.

Already participants have produced a market assessment pointing to substantial challenges facing the local economy. The task now is to identify strategies and tactics for moving forward.

During a panel discussion at the downtown offices of the Greater Bakersfield Chamber of Commerce, NaTesha Johnson, founder of Bakersfield business consulting firm Upside Productions and member of B3K's entrepreneurship committee, said discussions have determined women- and minority-owned businesses often do not know how to gain access to existing support services.

She outlined several priorities the group is working on, such as establishment of a business incubator to support young firms, and expanding geographic access to services that support beginning entrepreneurs.

So far, ideas for doing so include recruitment of Spanish-speaking business coaches, greater cooperation among the region's chambers of commerce and support for groups that traditionally have not engaged with the area's business community.

Another important goal, she said, is teaching people the value of starting a business.

"We can teach you how to get that DBA (a fictitious business statement), how to get that business license," Johnson said. "But what about that 'why'?"

Panelist Dana Brennan, a spokeswoman for local grower Grimmway Farms, said a positive outcome of B3K so far has been the pivot away from local self-interest as business owners see the project is "not about 'me,' but 'we.'"

"It's an exciting time," she said.