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Let’s improve our quality of life so people will choose to stay here

Part 6 in a Series

By SCOTT O’NEIL IWV Economic Dev. Corp.– In the first five installments of this series, we examined the broader challenges of employee recruitment and retention by our local businesses and industry.  We found that some challenges lie within the realm of control of our employers, but many more are outside this sphere.  Although we cannot address every barrier, like our remoteness or state taxes, I’ll look at some factors we have more influence over and what we as a community might do about these.  If we want to strengthen our quality of life and offer more compelling reasons for someone chooses to come and stay here, it is all of our responsibility.  We have to be a proactive community that is engaged with everyone helping.  

Scott O’Neil

The Indian Wells Valley has a lot of positive attributes and some that can arguably be considered negative. The accompanying figure is a cursory SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) chart for our community.  We have many strengths to build on and huge opportunities, but there are also some weaknesses that we need to be aware of.  Many of these manifest as retention challenges.  For example, lack of adequate affordable daycare, limited entertainment and shopping, and inadequate housing are major challenges.  These are elements our employers can do nothing about.  

The city has a major role and is doing something about a public swimming pool (thank you, Measure P).  They are working on their permitting processes for new construction and are trying to attract more business to our community.  The most successful solutions for creating entertainment and social attractions and for providing critical services lie within us.  We need new businesses that increase variety in these areas.  Formal and anecdotal surveys indicate a serious desire for more entertainment and social establishments.  Our average income level is adequate to economically underpin such growth.  

When Ridgecrest experiences the opening of new businesses, whether it is entertainment for adults or our children, restaurants, new services, or retail stores we all have to consciously and actively support them.  Ridgecrest is at its best when there is a personal cause to rally around (for example, Relay for Life, Walk for Life, concerts/fundraisers/events that support individuals, groups, or schools).  Our business are very giving and so are we as citizens.  

We also have a myriad of existing clubs, service organizations, and signature events are languishing for lack of participation. Do we need to ‘modernize” these events and gatherings to increase appeal? Do we simply need to market them better? In the past we have had good success in community-initiated activities where we have helped our neighbors get a start or helped satisfy a community interest.  The Historic USO building, our two Museums, IWV Youth Baseball Association, and Desert Community Orchestra Association are all examples of how we citizens can take the initiative and collaborate to increase activity, service, and entertainment.  What made those efforts successful, and how do we duplicate those successes moving forward?  How do we increase participation?

Today, some economists and sociologists argue that creativity is emerging as a critical factor of our economy and society.  I think Ridgecrest scores high in creativity.  Generally, creativity is thought of as a rare quality; but in reality, we are all creative to some degree.  Corporate America is recognizing this and starting to compensate employees for innovative approaches to their work.  They are allowing people more freedom to pursue their ideas.  Such improvements not only increase their bottom lines in the long term but also improves retention, culture, and job satisfaction.  It’s been shown that creative ideas are not only good for companies but also for communities and they actually reinforce each other.  Communities that welcome creative people tend to attract creative people, this helps improve the retention of local workers and, subsequently, attracts or spawns new business and improves the general quality of life.

A creative community is one that welcomes new ideas and change, large and small.  It rewards and implements creative solutions.  Creative people come in all forms, so there has to be ethnic diversity and political openness. Creative communities have to be broad-minded and tolerant but they also provide adequate entertainment and leisure value.  Companies and locations that can provide this kind of environment, regardless of their size, will have an edge in attracting and retaining creative talent. And, with this will come increasing economic value.  Ridgecrest already has many of these attributes.  It will take us all working together to build this community. 

Ridgecrest can become a more desirable place to live.  We have jobs, but stimulating people to come to Ridgecrest and stay takes community involvement.  I believe if we build community, the business will follow.  I believe if we build community, people will come and stay.  We need a common way to tell our story, to talk about our attributes and why this is a great place to live.  We need to take care of our visitors and demonstrate our hospitality.  

So, in summary, we can continue on our current path…improving our streets, increasing our recreation, and providing access to our exquisite natural resources.  We should agree on how we want to be viewed and universally sell that view.  We should continue to be friendly to our neighbors and strangers; and, we should increase our openness and tolerance of the non-standard types that both visit and live in our community.  Building the future of Ridgecrest does not take a lot of money but it does take us all.  It may also require an ongoing commitment, from all of us, to continue evaluating our needs and challenges, identifying solutions, and working together to create the kind of place where we all can be proud to live.