In episode 3, we return from a short break to talk to the newly seated mayor of Ridgecrest Eric Bruen.
The City of Ridgecrest has been through a rough couple of years, with two devastating earthquakes in 2019 and then the COVID-19 pandemic. You would think the struggles would have a new mayor discouraged, but in fact, Bruen said Ridgecrest is thriving!
In this episode, we learn more about the development within the city, what we can expect to see out the nearby military bases, and why Ridgecrest could become the new rural tech hub of the Central Valley.
In 2019, Ridgecrest took a hit in the form of two earthquakes. First a magnitude 6.4 and then a magnitude 7.1.
The city was left in ruins. The quake leveled an entire theater. Officials estimated that at least one hundred homes and businesses endured significant damage. Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake, a massive military facility in the Mojave Desert, reported more than $5 billion worth of damage.
It took years but the city was able to rebuild itself. Then COVID-19 hit.
While every community has had difficulty weathering the storm that is the pandemic, Ridgecrest was just finally returning to a sense of normalcy when everything change.
Bruen wouldn't say the past year has been easy, but he does have a unique opinion.
"It's all in how we perceive things. The earthquake was a blessing. The earthquake was the greatest gift this community could have ever received, and no one wants to say that in those terms. But I'm willing too," Bruen said. "One of the reasons is we have now $3 billion worth of construction happening on China Lake to make it the most modern technologically advanced base on the western United States."
After the devastating earthquakes hit, the China Lake base began undergoing repairs. Local Congressman Kevin McCarthy was instrumental in helping the base secure funding at the end of 2019, which helped ensure those repairs would get done even when the pandemic him.
It's a great time to be part of the growth of Easter Kern and it's an even better time to be the regional hub for it."
Now Bruen hopes the base will help launch Ridgecrest into the technology sector and make it a competitive market within the industry.
"If you want to talk about an asset to a community's economical wealth for the future, that base has been the greatest asset and it will be a future greatest asset now for this nation and for this county. And you look at what's happening with the space development in Mojave and the opportunities that are coming from the solar and wind areas of Eastern Kern. It's a great time to be part of the growth of Eastern Kern and it's an even better time to be the regional hub for it."
Bruen said Ridgecrest has been able to withstand the harshest economic impact of the pandemic because 83% of its workforce is based in the naval installation and employed by the federal government. He said it's due to this factor that the city saw a less dramatic drop in income ratios.
During the virtual Indian Wells Valley Economic Outlook Conference in February, Director of the California Economic Forecast Mark Schniepp said employment in Ridgecrest only went down around 4% at the worst last April, as compared to nearly 16% for both the state and Kern County at the same time.
Along with becoming a competitive tech hub, Bruen thinks Ridgecrest is a hidden flower in the Mojave Dessert beginning to blossom thanks to remote working.
Ridgecrest is surrounded by four mountain ranges; the Sierra Nevada on the west, the Cosos on the north, the Argus Range on the east, and the El Paso Mountains on the south. You can drive 45 minutes and get to Mount Whitney, or drive an hour and be in Death Valley.
Bruen hopes with many industries adjusting to remote work life, people will begin to see Ridgecrest as an escape with adventure around every corner. He just needs to get people there, and that's where a new potential annexation deal comes into play.
Bruen said Ridgecrest is working to secure an annexation deal near Highway 395 which he hopes will help bring attention to the city.
The city will also be welcoming a California Welcome Center, which Bruen hopes will help inform people of various activities and tourism in Ridgecrest.
Ridgecrest residents who want to know more about the issues in their city or have concerns can tune in to DV Live: City Talk with Mayor Bruen or reach out to him at email@example.com.