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Soaring to the Next Level: Business Climate Won’t Dampen AV Companies

The plain message at this year’s Antelope Valley Board of Trade Business Outlook Conference was that in order to bring innovation to the region, the business community will need to take risks, be competitive and change its way of thinking. The understated message was that government – local, state and federal – can sometimes be a hurdle to that innovation. Political columnist Dan Walters gave the most direct comments on how government and a dysfunctional political culture slows the development of new technologies and business practices but it was Mojave Air & Space Port General Manager Stu Witt who filled in the details. The space port, Witt said, is losing businesses to Arizona, New Mexico, Texas and Georgia – all states offering tax incentives. In April, the desert airfield will host a large delegation from New Mexico to get an idea how to operate a successful space port and perhaps lure away the companies located there. “The message must be let’s stop recruiting and let’s start retaining our small businesses,” Witt said. The work done in Mojave in creating rockets engines and space vehicles is one of two visible ways that the Antelope Valley has been innovative. The other is in alternative energy where large wind turbines sprout from the dry hills near Tehachapi and rows of mirrors to produce power from the sun have been a common site on the northern edge of Lancaster since last summer. Other solar projects are proposed for the area. The conference highlighted others examples of innovation. Marco and Sandra Johnson of the University of Antelope Valley envision transforming an area of Lancaster into a “university town” anchored by the two campuses of their vocational/trade school. The East Kern Economic Alliance has incorporated innovation into a new brand campaigning embracing its image of being in the middle of nowhere in a dry desert climate. That location makes eastern Kern County a hotbed of activity in commercial space ventures, renewable energy, and addressing the current water crisis with the creation of a recently opened water bank that recharges a near-surface aquifer. “East Kern is becoming more competitive and there is going to be regional competition,” said George Passantino, whose firm developed the branding campaign. “That is a good thing.” The air and space port in Mojave already sees that competition. Nemesis Air Racing, a small company making racing airplanes, recently moved to Arizona, Witt said. The airfield is intent on being the location for first flights, unveilings and testing of commercial space vehicles. In the past 10 years there has been more rocket engine testing in Mojave than in the rest of the world combined, Witt said. “The airport hasn’t done that,” he added. “The small businesses have done that.” Lancaster Mayor R. Rex Parris is jealous of Mojave but not for its strides in the NewSpace industry. Instead, he points out that the desert town has what it takes to become a major shipping hub for rail, trucks and planes. The 58 Freeway linking Bakersfield with Interstate 40 near Barstow will add dedicated truck lanes. The space port’s runway is large enough to accommodate the Airbus A380, the largest commercial jet in the world, which Parris foresees as primarily used for shipping freight. In his own city, Parris has made changes in the culture at City Hall encouraging the attributes that bring about innovation, such as taking risks and approaching problems with creative solutions. In the past year, Lancaster made national news with an economic stimulus program to boost local spending that became a model for other cash-strapped cities. Mandarin lessons for staff members give an edge in attracting Chinese investment to the area. Lancaster is on a short list for a Chinese auto manufacturing plant and if successful can use it as another example of the new fangled mindset the outlook conference was promoting. “For nearly 20 years (U.S.) manufacturing has gone overseas,” Parris said. “For us to bring foreign investment here that is innovative.”

Mark Madler
Mark Madler
Mark R. Madler covers aviation & aerospace, manufacturing, technology, automotive & transportation, media & entertainment and the Antelope Valley. He joined the company in February 2006. Madler previously worked as a reporter for the Burbank Leader. Before that, he was a reporter for the City News Bureau of Chicago and several daily newspapers in the suburban Chicago area. He has a bachelor’s of science degree in journalism from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.
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