Those who track and chart economic winds and trends of Southern California’s high desert and mountain Aerospace Valley told a semi-annual conference that the region encompassing Northern Los Angeles and Southeastern Kern counties is well-positioned to recover from damaging COVID-19 fallout and statewide drought.
The data-driven 2.5-hour virtual conference presented by regional non-profit economic development organization AV/Edge, brought together leaders from across the economic spectrum to report on quantified economic impact of pandemic since 2019 and trends through 2021 to date.
In the role of moderator, veteran Los Angeles television news anchor/reporter Jeff Michael served to introduce widely diverse presentations into narrative links in the chain of actions and events leading to recovery and prosperity in many parts of community life.
The autumn edition of the Semi-annual Outlook Conference was seen by a pre-paid audience on YouTube on Oct. 6. For video access information visit avedge.org.
Cutting to the chase on announcements, news and other highlights of the midday program:
The great comeback
AV/Edge President Bret Banks and Executive Director Rhonda Perez announced that on Feb. 23, 2022, the Business Outlook Conference expects to return to its traditional in-person networking style event at the Antelope Valley Fairgrounds in Lancaster.
Air Force Plant 42 growing
David S. “Jester” Smith, PhD, civilian director of Air Force Plant 42 in Palmdale, announced the total number of persons working on the installation now exceeds 12,000, a number expected to grow among the facility’s major partners.
Smith said Southern California is doing the lion’s share of expanding aerospace defense work, and more can be expected IF the region does now what is necessary to attract and retain the talented human capital defense contractors and the military require.
Referencing other speakers on the program who stressed the need for physical infrastructure and quality of life programs and facilities, Smith said “the mission is all about the people,” who can choose to come here or not, based on the quality of schools, shopping, recreation, security, cultural and social life and even physical comfort in what can be a challenging climate for some.
In “setting the conditions for success for all these people,” Smith said, “even a few consecutive days of temperatures over 100 degrees can be enough to make people hot around the collar.” He suggested climate-controlled indoor recreation, a lead-in to modeling professional baseball’s farm team system for developing home-grown talent, beginning with the very young.
With Edwards Air Force Base equating to a major league team, “The Show,” top colleges would represent Triple-A teams; Community Colleges and Technical Education schools would be Double-A, and Single-A teams would be STEM and STEAM, the already growing science, technology, engineering, math and arts curricula from elementary grades through high school. On that note Smith pitched Starbase, an Edwards AFB-centered program in which 5th graders are schooled at the base one day a week for five weeks for a learning experience steeped in STEM in the home of aerospace legends.
Underscoring the national value added to the missions of Aerospace Valley, Smith told his audience, “We are providing the most advanced weapons systems on the face of the planet,” adding, “The National Defense Strategy is shifting from counter-insurgency to a near peer competition in which some states may choose to exercise their powers over us to change our way of life.” That outcome, he termed unacceptable.
A break for military spouses
Congressman Mike Garcia, R-25, reported a bill he wrote to have occupational licensing of military spouses recognized across state lines. The bill passed the House with bi-partisan support, and Garcia believes it will soon pass in the Senate, with Democrat support. In recent years, Aerospace Valley organizations including the former Board of Trade have advocated for interstate career credential recognition to remove economic hardship on military families assigned to new bases.
Defense work fully funded
Garcia, a member of the House Appropriations Committee, said he supported the $750 billion defense budget, and added that Aerospace Valley programs are fully funded with: $351 million for Tritons; $126 million for the U-2; $108 million for the B-21; $30 million for B-2 upgrades; just under $1 billion for Super Hornets, and $82 million to continue the NASA SOFIA research program based at Plant 42.
Garcia, a former Navy fighter pilot and Mideast war veteran, pointed out that the present urgency for upgrading American defense capabilities was created by politically driven defense budget sequestration cuts of 2012-2016. Garcia said the U.S. fell behind China during that period.
21st century gold rush? Lithium found in Boron
State Assembly Member Tom Lackey (R-36) delivered news from Sacramento, reporting that Rio Tinto is extracting rare and strategically essential lithium deposits from waste material left over from the company’s open pit Borax mine in Boron. Lithium, a rare earth mineral, is in high demand as a key component for production of batteries required to replace carbon-based energy.
Bridging the digital divide
Los Angeles Economic Development Corporation CEO Bill Allen briefed the conference audience on his countywide non-profit organization’s programs to assist business, industry and communities in dealing with setbacks from the pandemic but focused his presentation on what he termed LA County’s Digital Divide.
Earlier this year LAEDC and partner UNITE-LA, along with more than 100 other regional organizations formed the LA Digital Equity Action League (LA-DEAL) to create a coalition of stakeholders to overcome barriers to universal digital access. Specific barriers were identified as lack of infrastructure, internet affordability, digital illiteracy, lack of devices and public policy to achieve universal broadband access and adoption across LA County.
According to Allen, nearly 20 percent of LA County residents are either unconnected (11 percent) or under-connected (8 percent), meaning they have slow or unreliable internet service.
The LAEDC website (laedc.org) states, “This digital divide must be eliminated as a matter of equity in our modern economy because internet is used to enable remote schooling, remote work, access to Telehealth and access to other opportunities.” The organization’s Pathways for Economic Resiliency report found “this digital divide is concentrated in economically disadvantaged communities of Los Angeles County ó mainly in District 1, 2, and 5. LAEDC believes that addressing equitable access to internet will be a key factor in supporting an equitable and inclusive recovery effort for the region. The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted how essential reliable internet is for everyday life.”
Valley can’t ‘bank on water’ in drought
Officials representing the region’s water purveyors were eager to share news that thanks to farsighted underground “banking of water” during wet years, supported by a distribution system, the Antelope Valley ó East Kern Water Agency is in the unique position of providing a reliable supply of water in periods of statewide drought. Although AVEK customers may still be required to comply with expected state-ordered reductions in water use, the AVEK distribution system assures that water will be available.
TV anchor going galactic
AV/Edge Outlook forum host and former veteran television news anchor Jeff Michael made news himself in announcing his new job with Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic. Michael said he may now be seen around the hallways and runways of Mojave Air & Space Port where he covered the legendary launch of commercial space travel, beginning with SpaceShipOne.