A Bay Area economic development strategist urged Kern business and political leaders Wednesday to promote collaboration among local industry clusters as a way of helping individual businesses and the region as a whole thrive amid changing times.
Speaking at a well-attended annual luncheon of the Kern County Taxpayers Association at the Bakersfield Country Club, James "Jim" Gollub suggested establishing "stewardship groups" composed of businesses and other stakeholders focused on specific industries. He said these groups should monitor their own cluster, share certain resources and tackle challenges they together face.
Gollub mostly avoided addressing specific aspects of Kern's economy or its industry clusters, other than offering a few profile statistics. There was some discussion afterward, though apparently no agreement, on whether local groups might want to contract his organization's services to help guide the creation and direction of local cluster groups.
The county has a centralized, multi-industry organization focused on recruiting outside businesses — the Kern Economic Development Corp. — and there are various clubs and other groups that deal with events and issues within their sector. But there are few, if any, local entities performing the particular roles outlined at Wednesday's event.
REGIONAL ECONOMIC FOCUS
Gollub, who has done economic development work internationally and around the country, opened by touting the importance of regional economies as opposed to national ones, and said these smaller geographies depend on the health of industry clusters that effectively export products and services outside their area.
The goal should be to create a regional portfolio of clusters, an "economic layer cake" in which constituent groups communicate with each other, he said.
Clusters can grow, he said, through innovation that can help businesses make things cheaper, faster and better. He advised trying to get necessary resources locally to the degree possible. He also cautioned that if a cluster becomes too specialized it may be susceptible to technological disruption, making self-monitoring important.
Groups composed of companies and other stakeholders within a cluster would want to share market research, he said, as well as highlight business opportunities and introduce potential business partners.
Others within the community hoping to support clusters should consider changing rules that raise barriers to prosperity and perhaps create one-time incentives to reduce companies' marginal costs. Enhancing local quality of life should be an overriding goal.
"It's … using your existing resources in new ways," Gollub said.
Bakersfield businessman and investor John Paul "J.P." Lake called Gollub's presentation encouraging and "definitely worth exploring for our region."
"I believe his structured process for catalyzing collaboration and innovation for economic growth and development is the right path forward," Lake said in a written statement.
County Administrator Ryan J. Alsop interpreted Wednesday's presentation as validating parts of Kern's existing approach to economic development, even as it pointed out strategies he deemed worth looking into.
"I think it's a lot of what we're already doing," he said, noting local government's recent work on improving infrastructure, offering business incentives and recruiting companies from outside the area.
But Alsop said more needs to be done in the areas such as taxation as a means of raising revenues that enhance local conditions as a means of attracting investment.
"I think that's something we (as a region) need to have a serious conversation about," he said.