Cheryl Scott

When businesses consider expanding or relocating, they have a long list of criteria to weigh.

“Availability of skilled labor” has risen to the top of the list, according to Area Development’s 2016 survey of corporate executives, a report that confirms what economic development practitioners hear on a daily basis from clients considering a move to (or within) Kern County.

“Availability” now ranks even higher than “labor costs.” It’s clear, businesses bring jobs to areas where the talent pool is skilled and ready to work.

Building that pool of talent can be a challenge, and there’s no silver bullet or quick fix. Some businesses require advanced degrees for certain positions; some are looking for a high school diploma and a first-rate work ethic.

Other businesses – especially in Kern County — seek candidates with something in between.

Community colleges not only provide the foundation for students to move on to four-year universities if they so desire, they also provide valuable technical training and certifications in specific skills. In fact, survey participants lamented a workforce that is lacking skills such as advanced welding or machine tool programming — exactly the types of programs provided by Bakersfield College.

This fall, BC welcomed 27,000 students to class, a far cry from the 3,000 students it served when the Panorama Drive campus opened in 1956.

Unfortunately, the college hasn’t been able to keep up with enrollment growth, or the technological advances of the past 60 years.

Improvements have been made here and there, thanks to a 2002 bond (all of which has been expended), and thanks to contributions by local businesses like Aera Energy, which funded the new $1.6 million Aera STEM Success Center.

But it’s not enough.

Measure J (“J for Jobs,” as some say) is a $503.8 million bond measure that will appear on the Nov. 8 ballot. If Measure J passes, Kern County will win big. The bond would not only fund major expansion and modernization for Bakersfield College, but its Delano campus will be improved, and the project list includes $25 million for an Arvin Learning Center, too.

As part of the Kern Community College District, Cerro Coso Community College in Ridgecrest would also benefit.

In terms of curriculum and programming, Bakersfield College is poised to meet employers’ needs. The college was selected as one of just 15 community colleges in California to offer a baccalaureate degree. Classes for the new Industrial Automation baccalaureate degree began this fall.

In terms of value, we already know Bakersfield College students secure high-paying jobs when they finish school. A 2015 Brookings Institution study confirmed that Bakersfield College ranked first in the state and sixth in the nation for value-added mid-career earnings among community colleges.

In terms of keeping up with demand and offering a competitive, 21st-century education, it’s time for Kern County to make another meaningful investment in our community college system.

Strong leaders, committed faculty, and cutting edge curriculum can only do so much. Bakersfield College needs up-to-date facilities with the latest technology, and it needs the space to serve our growing communities.

I encourage you to vote “yes” on Measure J. It really is all about the jobs.

Cheryl Scott is vice president of Kern Economic Development Corporation and a member of the Bakersfield College Foundation Board of Directors.

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