Economic Development Partners Debut Grant Coalition


A show of unity came Monday from the two organizations that last week set aside their differences in mutual pursuit of state money to support economic development in Kern County.

The Kern Community College District, making its first public outreach in a process of applying for tens of millions in state grant money, hosted a series of events that brought together groups dubbed “The Kern Coalition:” B3K Prosperity, Community Action Partnership of Kern, KCCD and the Kern, Inyo & Mono Counties Central Labor Council.

Representatives of the groups spoke of their desire to collaborate for the sake of increasing local prospects for what’s called a state CERF grant, which stands for Community Economic Resilience Fund, a $600 million pot of money set aside for increasing equity in communities at risk of being left behind economically.

“We know collaboration and working together is ultimately going to be a key ingredient in our success,” CAPK CEO Jeremy Tobias said at an 11 a.m. news conference that preceded a similar event online at noon.

B3K Executive Director JP Lake said it was a pleasure to join the new coalition in pursuit of CERF money, calling it an opportunity for a “new catalyst for a new era of working across the community.”

The unity on display Monday emerged within about the past week; it followed weeks of talks aimed at coming together to apply for a single CERF application instead of two competing bids for a $5 million planning grant that is expected to lead to an application for an award of perhaps $40 million or more.

In the end, KCCD was named fiscal agent for the unified application, while it, B3K, CAPK and the labor council would comprise the applications “co-conveners.”

For more than two years, KCCD and B3K have been working on parallel economic development projects, leaving it unclear who was in the best position to lead a unified effort.

KCCD’s dean of economic and workforce development, Jessica Grimes, said the college district will be responsible for making sure fiscal and programmatic aspects of the effort get reported properly. She said KCCD will also issue memoranda of understanding and subcontracts while ensuring the project stays on budget.

Grimes estimated the process of planning for the larger grant will take as long as two years.

Labor council President Imelda Ceja-Butkiewicz said the group is proud to represent not just members of the unions that make up her organization but all workers in Kern.

She added that in order for Kern County to grow economically, the coalition needs to “look at other industries outside of agriculture and fossil fuels.”

At the noon event, B3K was represented not by Lake but by Kristen Beall Watson, chief of staff to the president of CSUB. She said the collaboration taking shape was thrilling after all the work B3K has done gathering data and bringing community voices to the table to think seriously about how to create inclusive economic development.

Grimes said that by bringing together a diverse and inclusive group, the coalition will “bring more resources to those who need it the most.”

“I’m very, very excited about how this is going to look … in the coming days,” she said.

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