Bakersfield and Kern County Experience Economic Growth and Job Creation

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

UPDATE: Here’s a December 29, 2012 Associated Press article Din of Hammers, Oil Wells Signal Bakersfield Boom. Excerpts from the article:

Bakersfield and surrounding Kern County find themselves in lofty positions on key national lists measuring economic vitality: No. 1 metro area for long-term private sector job growth, No. 1 county for construction gains and No. 1 large metro area for annual economic growth.

Cheap land, affordable housing, proximity to Los Angeles, a location that’s within a three-hour drive of 90 percent of the state’s population, and a planning department that doesn’t throw up roadblocks are driving the region’s economic revolution, business leaders say.


The Los Angeles Times had a September 10, 2012 article reporting that Many Signs Point to a Bakersfield Boom. It opens with the following:

This mid-size city has become the surprise star of the Central Valley.

The state’s economic recovery has largely been concentrated on the coast, leaving behind much of the hard-hit San Joaquin Valley. But Bakersfield, perhaps best known for oil, agriculture and country music, has reclaimed an old title: boomtown.

Bakersfield has been adding population and jobs at a brisk pace and is a few thousand jobs from matching its peak employment level of five years ago. A price-fueled energy bonanza, low corporate operating costs and an advantageous location are contributing to the area’s good fortune.

Employment has grown across many sectors, including manufacturing. Even construction, which suffered mightily statewide during the housing bust, has strengthened. And unlike many struggling municipalities, in Kern County officials have recommended a budget increase that would allow hiring of more than 150 people.

Signs of growth are obvious.

Actually, it isn’t surprising that Bakersfield and Kern County are prospering. Kern County’s economic activity focuses on commodities, such as oil, natural gas, mineral mining, agriculture, and energy production. The states of North Dakota and Alaska are prospering for the same reason.

Of course, economic prosperity attracts parasites, such as state legislators from coastal cities who want to tax Kern County’s commodities and send the money to the University of California at Berkeley. (See my May 22, 2011 article in www.FlashReport.org entitled Culture Clash: The “Bakersfield Oil Field to Berkeley Sports Field Tax.”) Bakersfield’s business and political leaders also need to remain wary of the union political agenda that is so dominant in other parts of California.

I was disappointed to see that the Los Angeles Times article turns to Bakersfield union officials to report on the current status of the local construction industry, even though the region’s construction workers overwhelmingly do not belong to a union. The reporter should have contacted the Bakersfield-based Central California Chapter of Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC) to get the status of construction in the region. Any major construction projects in Kern County monopolized by unions have to bring in numerous union workers from outside the Bakersfield area.

Even worse, the article omits some important context in these two union references:

“We have work in the oil fields,” said Danny Kane, business manager for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Local 428, based in downtown Bakersfield. “We have a lot of solar work. We have wind. We are just fortunate to have those opportunities in Kern County.”

John Spaulding, executive secretary of the Building Trades Council for Kern, Inyo and Mono Counties, said that although hiring has increased in the last year, larger and more long-term projects needed to get off the ground to see the recovery accelerate. Spaulding said he was looking forward to the start of construction on a hydrogen energy plant late next year, which is expected to be a multiyear project that would employ thousands. “I think it’s going to get better,” he said. “There’s some movement.”

Why are unions officials so confident about working on the proposed hydrogen energy plant and on proposed solar and wind projects in Kern County? It has nothing to do with union productivity, efficiency, or competitiveness – it has to do with their “greenmail.” A Sacramento-based group called California Unions for Reliable Energy (CURE) routinely uses the Bay Area law firm of Adams, Broadwell, Joseph & Cardozo to object to such projects using the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) until the developer agrees to sign a Project Labor Agreement giving unions monopoly control of the construction.

Through the legal work of Adams, Broadwell, Joseph & Cardozo, California Unions for Reliable Energy (CURE) intervened in the power plant licensing process at the California Energy Commission and won Project Labor Agreements in the late 1990s and early 2000s for natural gas power plants in Kern County, including the High Desert, Elk Hills, La Paloma, and Sunrise power plants. Six unions hired the same law firm and for two years (2007 and 2008) used CEQA to try to block the proposed (but later abandoned) expansion of the Big West/Flying J refinery in Bakersfield. And California Unions for Reliable Energy (CURE) is again active in Kern County, this finding environmental problems with solar and wind electrical generation facilities proposed by companies such as Recurrent Energy and getting a Project Labor Agreement for the proposed Hydrogen Energy California power plant.

Will unions and taxes slow this boomtown down? I wouldn’t be surprised.

One comment

  1. […] city to establish its own policy concerning government-mandated construction wage rates. Hoping to sustain its economic boom and resist union-backed public policies dragging down economic growth and …, the Bakersfield City Council voted 4-2 (with one city council member recusing himself) on October […]