Kern County's primary business recruitment and retention arm examined its own performance Thursday and concluded it must do more to engage with the community if it is going to be able to continue carrying out its mission.

While there was much to celebrate in terms of achievements and positive economic trends at Kern Economic Development Corp.'s quarterly board meeting, concerns were raised about the continuing failure of some of its members to keep up with their dues.

"Sometimes they don't pay," Geoffrey B. King, an auditor at the Bakersfield firm of Barbich Hooper King Dill Hoffman, told board members as part of an update on KEDC's finances.

Dues paid by the organization's private members — companies large and small that help fund KEDC's operations — came in more than $9,000, or about 13 percent, below budget in July and August, King reported.

Meanwhile, he said, total dues paid by government agencies that make up KEDC's public members fell more than $2,500, or about 7 percent, under budget. Individuals and entities who have fallen behind on their dues obligations were not identified at the meeting.

Overall, KEDC's net income ended up almost $24,000 below what had been budgeted during the period. That shortfall put the organization about 43 percent behind expectations.

Year over year, King reported, KEDC's assets were down 7.5 percent at $412,517.69 as of Aug. 31.

King's recommendation, echoed later by Chairman David Womack, senior vice president at Kaiser Permanente, was that KEDC make more of an effort to show the benefits of becoming a reliable member.

Womack actually took the matter a step further, saying KEDC's financial stability ought to trump the organization's top three priorities of business attraction, retention and growth.

He said member dues are always a "question mark" and that the organization will put a "fair amount of effort" toward asking its membership to stay current with their financial obligations to KEDC.

The meeting was by no means a lament, however. President and CEO Richard Chapman pointed to many signs of economic progress after taking the floor at the southwest Bakersfield headquarters of Kern Schools Federal Credit Union.

He and Womack spotlighted local initiatives designed to help the county's business startup community, including Bakersfield College's new Launchpad business center downtown, the Kern Initiative for Talent and Entrepreneurship and Fresno-based Bitwise Industries' plan to bring its brand of computer coding education, software services and a coworking space to downtown Bakersfield.

Chapman referred to 10 active projects KEDC was working on that could bring more than 2,500 new jobs to Kern. Eight are manufacturing operations; the remaining two are distribution companies.

State data he pointed to show most of the county's economic sector posted growth during the past year.

Of particular note, he said, were data showing a significant increase since 2014 in employment totals at young local firms, which is a measure in which Kern had previously been weak and declining.

Chapman also took time to showcase the county's and city's new, unified rebranding campaign. He called it a positive outgrowth of new collaboration among local government and industry.

John Cox can be reached at 661-395-7404. Follow him on Twitter: @TheThird Graf. Sign up at Bakersfield.com for free newsletters about local business.

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