Kern County Economic Road Map by Milken Institute cover

An Economic Road Map for Kern County

Mar 13, 2015
Publisher: Milken Institute

California boasts one the biggest economies in the world, yet is considered challenging for doing business. But strategically-located Kern County has proven an exception. Marked by its streamlined business permitting process, abundance of open space, and relatively low living costs, Kern has displayed strong economic performance, with rates of job growth higher than the state and the nation since 2007.

This in-depth analysis of the Kern County economy includes recommendations on how the county can continue its economic trajectory, and details both the success of the past and paths for the future.

On the southern end of the Central Valley, and just north of the Los Angeles region, Kern County’s economy has traditionally been driven by its wealth of energy resources and fertile soil. Nearly 80 percent of California’s active oil and gas wells are in Kern, and the county produces about 5 percent of U.S. oil. In recent years, Kern has diversified its energy portfolio with major new projects in wind and solar power. The county is also a breadbasket for the nation – more exactly, a pistachio, carrot, almond, and grape cornucopia. Agricultural sales were nearly $7 billion in 2013, making Kern the No. 2 food producing county in the country.

Kern County’s economic prowess is not simply the result of its natural blessings, but also its smart regulatory approach. With California’s position as a leader in environmental protection, every county in the state has regulations that a company would not face in other states. Yet Kern has demonstrated that such regulations need not be too onerous if managed sensibly. One example is Kern County’s streamlining of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) process, which encourages well-planned development from the outset, rather than in piecemeal and slow stages. Kern’s proactive approach to CEQA permitting is evidenced by comparing the number of environmental impacts reports it filed – 43 since 2010 – to its peers. Most counties filed merely a handful; only Los Angeles County came anywhere close, with 28.