MOJAVE — Mojave needs private daycare for children of Mojave Air and Space Port’s workers, a drug store where residents can pick up their prescriptions and redevelopment of existing housing stock.
Those needs and the possibility to take advantage of the unincorporated Kern County community’s industrial properties for future development were among the topics covered at Thursday’s Mojave Chamber of Commerce Zoom meeting.
Amanda Barnes, Kern County economic development specialist for Mojave, discussed goals in the East Kern County Economic Diversification Plan developed by consultant TIP Strategies, which was funded through a $450,000 grant from the Pentagon’s Office of Economic Adjustment plus $50,000 in matching funds from Kern County.
Barnes is at the tail end of a two-year contract to implement the goals.
The first goal she discussed was the need for private daycare for Mojave Air and Space Port workers.
Mojave Air and Space Port could lease Mojave Unified School District-owned property near the airport that would allow them to develop private daycare under the umbrella of the school District. The airport was set to do a financial review to determine the costs involved and see whether employers would be willing to help develop that for employees, Barnes said.
The COVID-19 pandemic put a pause on the plans, however.
Barnes said they also discussed the need for a drug store in Mojave.
Mojave’s only pharmacy, the storefront Mojave Pharmacy, closed in 2017 over allegations it dispensed excessive amounts of controlled substances, specifically oxycodone and similar drugs.
According to the TIP Strategies report, a lot of Mojave’s prescription needs go to surrounding areas. Barnes met with representatives from the three major drug store brands — CVS, Rite Aid and Walgreens – to determine what criteria they require to move into the area.
“All three of them said we did not meet the criteria,” Barnes said.
Rite Aid had a drugstore in Mojave previously, but the store closed because it did not perform well.
Barnes said Rite Aid was not interested in opening another branch.
“At least in terms of retail chains, given the current economic climate in Mojave, none of the drug stores were open to further discussions about opening up a drugstore branch in Mojave,” Barnes said.
Barnes planned to meet with the retail chains again this year, but the conference was canceled due to the pandemic.
“COVID canceled everything, but it’s going to be on the list of potential things to do for whoever takes over these projects at the end of this two-year period,” Barnes said.
Another project that will continue past Barnes’ contract is the possibility of redeveloping vacant buildings in Mojave for office space or small businesses that can benefit Mojave through the Aerospace Valley Futures working group.
Barnes also touted Mojave’s industrial properties. She learned a great deal about transportation throughout the area at the 2019 Kern Transportation Foundation Conference.
“Mojave specifically has some great industrial properties available that have rail access and 58 and 14 freeway access,” Barnes said.
Mojave is about 120 miles away from the Los Angeles and Long Beach ports. With the available land in Mojave Barnes said, they could support possible logistics or warehouses in the community.
Barnes said they took advantage of an opportunity from GO-Biz, the Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development, to submit a Request for Information proposals about available properties that could meet the needs of a company looking to expand or relocate to California.
“We were able to gather up a pretty decent proposal for two RFIs,” Barnes said.
Altogether, they submitted two proposals covering five properties for East Kern.
“They’ll have us in mind maybe a little bit more than they did before because they were completely unaware of the amount of land we have available,” Barnes said.
Mojave will also likely need to redevelop existing housing stock as it currently unlikely the community can attract a developer for a new housing project.
“The main reason why nobody would pull the trigger on trying to develop a new housing tract in Mojave is costs were too high compared to what they could sell the house for given the current median price of the housing stock that’s available in Mojave. It was going to cost more than what they could get for the house at that time,” Barnes said, adding that was last year when building costs were high.
Barnes met with the Kern County Department of Planning to discuss housing options. They told her the condition of the current housing stock needed to improve before the community can expect any new housing projects.
“I went through an extensive few week long process of code compliance for Mojave. I had a few success stories where some of the businesses or houses that were extremely dilapidated were brought up to par,” Barnes said.
Barnes also tried to bring grant funding including Economic Development Administration money to east Kern County to help advance infrastructure.
Barnes also addressed the chamber’ iconic railroad caboose and the future of community events.