Right: Workers in MESH, a Bakersfield coworking group in downtown Bakersfield, hard at work. Facing page: CSUB engineering student Josh Ward explains the functions of a milling machine in the school’s new fabrication lab (Fab Lab) at the School of Natural Sciences, Mathematics and Engineering.
T E C H N I C A L LY S P E A K I N G
PHOTO BY CASEY CHRISTIE
Bakersfield 2.0 A new frontier for technology By Anna C. Smith
f you think technological innovation only happens in Silicon Valley, think again. Places like Des Moines, Iowa; Kansas City, Missouri; Chattanooga, Tennessee; and yes, even Fresno, California, are quickly becoming tech hubs – communities with growing populations of technology entrepreneurs and startups. Priced out of many of large U.S. coastal cities, entrepreneurs are fleeing in droves to greener pastures in inland communities much like ours. Creative professionals are attracted to towns similar to Bakersfield because of their unique culture, opportunity, upward mobility and affordability. Bakersfield is also burgeoning. Young entrepreneurs are seizing the opportunity, and a tech boom is on the horizon. An often overlooked city nestled at the southern end of the vast San Joaquin Valley in California, passersby on their way to San Francisco or Los Angeles may only know of Bakersfield as a series of exits on the freeway. Visitors who stop and explore find that Bakersfield is a ruggedly beautiful
Bakersfield Life Magazine
city with authentic local flavor and city that constantly surprises. Born out of technological progress at the end of the 19th century, our population has been growing ever since. More than a year ago, my husband and I brought our focus back to our hometown of Bakersfield, attracted to move here from a much larger California city by a tightly knit millennial community, a walkable downtown, new industries ripe for innovation and career opportunities. Historically, our economy has been supported by resource-based industries (oil, gas and agriculture) but it’s beginning to diversify and attract creative-class, young professionals for knowledge-based jobs in science, technology, health care, engineering, education and others. With roughly half a million residents in the metropolitan area, Bakersfield has moved past its small-town stereotype. Bakersfield has a quietly growing technology community – freelance software developers gather for meetups, tech-focused co-working spaces such as Mesh Cowork are popping up in town, and CSUB has a “Fab 3-D printer to nurture a culture of innovation. And just outside of Bakersfield, Elon Musk’s SpaceX is literally launching people into outer space. However, there is room for growth. Bakersfield is not marketed as a
forward-thinking and innovative city, but rather as a traditional resourcebased economy built on conservative values. Unfortunately, this posture is less appealing to today’s cultural and business innovators who want to live and work in places that encourage progress. With low numbers of college graduates and high illiteracy, Bakersfield should take a more proactive stance in attracting innovative businesses and educated residents. Local business owners find it difficult to compete with other cities to attract talent, and this is due, largely, to a failure of marketing. As a city, we need to attract more young professionals to grow a professional workforce and creative culture. The people of Bakersfield are its greatest strength. The new wave of entrepreneurs developing would help our economy diversify. It would be wise for us to nurture them and position ourselves as cultural and technological innovators. Bakersfield was born in the Industrial Age and has the potential to thrive in the information age. Let’s work together on Bakersfield 2.0 and create a new frontier for technology right here in California’s heartland. Opinions expressed in this column are those of Anna C. Smith.