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Kern's B3K economic collaboration gets a nod — and maybe more — from Newsom's budget revision

Governor Newsom at CSUB07

Gov. Gavin Newsom speaks during a press conference held at the mass vaccination site on the campus of Cal State Bakersfield on April 2.

Kern got a special mention in Gov. Gavin Newsom's May budget update last week, and if things go well, it might get substantially more than that.

In an apparent preview of the governor's plan for cushioning the blow his climate plans would deal the county's oil and gas industry, the Newsom administration said Friday it had set aside $750 million in federal money to support regional and local economic diversification projects.

The administration said money from the new Community Economic Resilience Fund will be awarded competitively to stakeholder groups looking to create quality jobs and workforce strategies "in those sectors or regions most affected by the state's transition to carbon neutrality, such as Kern County."

Immediately that message was interpreted as potentially offering money to B3K, also known as Better Bakersfield & Boundless Kern, the broad-based collaboration launched in early 2020 to identify strategies to reducing the county's reliance on petroleum production and agriculture, both of which were found to face major regulatory and market challenges.

Last year the state pitched in money to help get B3K off the ground. Now, it looks like Kern has become a "priority area for potential funding," said Nick Ortiz, president and CEO of the Greater Bakersfield Chamber of Commerce.

"The governor's proposal makes it clear that programming these funds was inspired by and intended to support the implementation of regional planning processes like B3K," Ortiz said by email.

Indeed, a deputy director and spokeswoman for the Governor's Office of Planning and Research, Sandra Lupien, said the resilience fund is an approach "similar to and inspired by that taken by B3K."

The office said in a news release the bulk of the fund's money will be spent in the form of grants awarded for carrying out strategies emerging from B3K-like economic initiatives.

"Transitioning regional economies to meet a climate-resilient, carbon neutral, and equitable economic future requires bottom-up planning and implementation of high-road economic growth strategies," Kate Gordon, the governor's senior policy advisor on climate, said in the release. "This fund responds to that need in a way that recognizes and builds on existing industries, regional diversity and current and emerging workforce."

B3K, led by the Washington-based think tank Brookings Institution, is composed of dozens of local business people, government officials, local educators and community activists. Its first big accomplishment was the release of an assessment earlier this year that found the county is falling behind peer regions by various measures of economic vitality.

After pinpointing a series of industries such as aerospace and energy that could benefit greatly by new focus and resources, the group hopes to build consensus on a series of strategies for promoting quality jobs that can be sustained over the long term.

Once that's done, possibly later this year, the idea is for the community to come together around the need for specific investments that would benefit job creation and shared prosperity across the county.

A summary released Friday by the state says the new resilience fund builds on the Newsom administration's "Just Transition Roadmap." That document, planned for release in July, is expected to lay out the governor's plan for phasing out in-state oil and gas production by 2045 without devastating regional economies like Kern's that depend disproportionately on the petroleum industry.

The summary appeared to describe activities seen as offering economic promise in Kern. It said collaborations similar to B3K will bring communities together to create good, accessible jobs in promising sectors.

"These include but are not limited to jobs in 'advanced energy' industries such as renewable energy, ZEVs (zero-emission vehicles), or energy efficiency; in future-looking industries such as carbon removal, advanced manufacturing and agriculture, climate restoration and resilience; and a wide range of other industries critical to the state's long-term economic growth," the summary stated.