The 33rd annual High Desert Opportunity was a big success as business people from all over southern California converged on the Victorville fairgrounds to learn what the area has to offer.
During the morning’s HD Theater, Eric Schmidt, president of Exquadrum and Mayor Pro Tem for the City of Hesperia presented a large crowd with a historical review of “Firsts” in the High Desert. Schmidt has lived in the area for 30 years and graduated from Hesperia High School. He proceeded to shatter the concept that the High Desert is a “bedroom community,” saying that with a population of 440,000 people, it is the 8th largest “city” in the state, with it’s own base of consumers while still holding on to it’s “hometown” feel.
He went on to give examples of the High Desert’s rich history of innovation, with tidbits like how Jess Ranch had the largest turkey farm in the U.S. to the fact that Barstow’s Casa Desierta train station was the first “Harvey House.” Also pointed out was the retail and restaurants like to use the High Desert as a testing ground for expanding their products “out west.” Examples include the first Steak ‘n Shake, Beef O’Brady’s, Freddy’s Steakburger,
Golden Corral, Dunkin’ Donuts and Wood Grill Buffet. And, let’s not forget that the very first Del Taco was located in Barstow. Retail mentioned was Walmart and Super Target locations.
Education achievements include the first elementary school robotics program, and early college entry agreements where high school students are given the opportunity to graduate from college in two years instead of four, plus much more.
Schmidt also touched on subjects of tech, aerospace and industrial business growth in the area.
Next up was San Bernardino County’s 3rd District Supervisor James Ramos, who gave a recap of the region’s economic outlook.
He discussed the board’s business friendly action of eliminating a pre-application permit fee. The “County Vision” established a few years ago is a plan that encourages a cradle to career education of all children in the county.
The two community colleges plus the addition of Park University to the campuses is a big step in offering Bachelors’ Degrees locally.
A tourism summit in Lake Arrowead was touted as a way to showcase the beauty and recreational opportunities of the area to businesses looking to relocate here.
Ramos also touched on subjects like expanding city’s sphere of influence to give them control over solar, wind and other energy projects, for suitability and protect fragile desert areas.
Transportation issues included the HD Corridor project to facilitate movement of goods from Los Angeles ports, and completing the Devore and Ranchero Interchanges.
Also discussed was Prop 90 that helps seniors, affordable and hassle free development, and the local unemployment rate that is hovering at about 9.3 percent.
The HD Theater featured a panel of local experts who discussed regional resources and market forecasts, including land, labor, water, air and more.
The panelists were: Sandy Harmsen, Workforce Development Director for San Bernardino County; Lance Eckhart, Water Resources, Mojave Water Agency; Logan Olds, General Manager, VVWRA; Eldon Heaston, Executive
Director, MDAQMD; Jim Dye, United Furniture Industries; and, Mike Arias, Chicago Title.
They presented their views on subjects ranging from how biogas is being used to produce electricity at VVWRA, to how United Furniture is manufacturing 1100 pieces of furniture per day.
Statistics were thrown about, including how California is now the 6th largest economy in the world, to how median home prices went from $325,000 in 2006, to $139,000 in 2013, and has risen to $177,000 so far in 2014.
Job seekers and employers were a topic that focused on how to train potential employees for the jobs that local businesses are offering. These could be for the aerospace industry as well as technical and manufaturing positions.
Air quality (get less cars commuting down the hill), the future of water resources (conservation and State Water Project), and other issues were presented.
Luncheon speaker Peter Guber motivated the audience (see separate article starting on page 1).
A dessert and networking opportunity featured over 70 exhibitors and was the final activity of the day.
It was a chance to meet representatives of the five High Desert cities and the county to discuss any planning and development.