For many of us, Labor Day is just an annual three-day weekend marking the “unofficial end” of summer. It may even be a chance to grab deeply discounted prices that are traditionally featured in stores.

But the meaning of this annual holiday, which is capped by Labor Day on Monday, is much richer than that and worth a moment of reflection.

The observance dates back to the late 19th century, a turbulent time, when workplace protections were few and the clashes between workers and employers were many. Labor Day marked the rise of protective trade unions and the “labor movement.” Its celebrations usually included parades and picnics to demonstrate workers’ solidarity.

In 1887, Oregon was the first state in the nation to make Labor Day an official public holiday. Other states followed. And in 1894, it became a holiday for federal workers. Unions pressured states and the federal government to make Labor Day the statutory holiday we have today.

But it is not only a celebration of the labor movement and unions. It is a celebration of our work.

In an opinion article published this year in The Californian, Lynnette Zelezny, president of Cal State Bakersfield, said it best: “The will to work defines us.”

Zelezny recounted the epic migration of people into Kern County during the Dust Bowl generations ago: “Thousands of families moved west across our nation to the beating heart of California for the promise expressed in one beautiful word: Work.

“Work that would allow them to feed their children. Work that would improve their prospects. Work that would give them security, roots, a home.”

Together with other people already here — descendants of the Yokuts and other tribes, as well as immigrants from Mexico, Asia, Africa, The Basque Country and elsewhere in Europe, “they would build a heritage of hard work and enterprise, a reputation that would extend throughout the world with every harvest, every oil discovery, every aerospace venture first recorded in the endless skies above our deserts.”

Zelezny is one of many local leaders in education, business, economic development and nonprofit organizations, as well as politicians, government officials and community activists, who have united around Kern’s willingness to work and to bring good jobs to the region.

In a county that consistently ranks among the highest in the state for its unemployment rate, and where its two key industries — oil and agriculture — are struggling under the weight of climate change, and marketplace and regulatory challenges, it takes more than a “willingness to work” to realize a thriving economy.

It takes a unified effort of diverse interests. It takes innovation. It takes everyone moving in the same direction.

The B3K initiative — Better Bakersfield & Boundless Kern — which was launched last year, offers great promise for Kern’s future.

A local initiative, it is supported by the Brookings Institution and has received financial support from state and local governments, and private companies and organizations. Its goal is to create and attract good jobs to diversify Kern’s economy, and add to the prosperity and security of families.

The Brookings Institution, a think tank based in Washington, D.C., has launched similar projects in more than 50 cities across the nation, including Fresno. The institution has been contracted to guide the effort, but otherwise the intent is for it to be locally self-sustaining.

Three challenges in Kern are being addressed — the pressures on the county’s historically prominent industries; lack of quality jobs; and the need to align the efforts and investments of various community interests behind common goals.

While energy and agriculture likely will remain the backbone of Kern’s economy, the idea behind B3K is to build on existing resources, minimize competition for local resources, and maximize production of good and services for sale outside the region.

“You always want to build off the DNA of a region,” said Brookings senior fellow Marek Gootman. “You cannot create whole new industries or sectors out of nothing.”

On this Labor Day weekend, we also should celebrate the creation of B3K.

To paraphrase the late Gerald Haslam, a beloved author from Bakersfield: We now have the hope of hope that a better future is within reach.