Health Care Industry Adds to Kern’s Diversification

By Tamara Baker (Originally published in the August/September 2017 issue of the Kern Business Journal)

When looking at a region’s economy, it is important to have a diverse portfolio so that the community is not completely dependent upon one industry, or in other words, putting all of its eggs in one basket. The Kern Economic Development Corporation was created in the late 1980s primarily as a result of the lackluster oil and gas and agriculture industries. It became clear to several community leaders that Kern County could not solely depend upon the two sectors to maintain its economic strength. Thanks in part to growth in the local health care industry, Kern County is moving toward that goal of job creation and stimulation of a diversified and strong economic climate.

Thanks in part to growth in the local health care industry, Kern County is moving toward that goal of job creation and stimulation of a diversified and strong economic climate.

The Bakersfield MSA was recently ranked as the No. 2 most diversified economy among the largest metros in the nation. According to the United Nations Industrial Development Organization, “More diversified economies are less volatile in terms of outputs, and lower output volatility is associated with higher economic growth.” Kern County’s diversification in its top industries has helped strengthen the local economy and created a healthy business environment. These industries include transportation, logistics and advanced manufacturing; energy and natural resources; value-added agriculture; health care services; and aerospace and defense. Employment in the health care industry is increasing at an average annual rate of 2.2 percent, according to JobsEQ, making it the fastest-growing sector in Kern County. Home health care services is growing 5.2 percent annually; registered nurses represent the profession most in demand at a growth rate of 1.8 percent annually.

With more than 885,000 people living in Kern County, and over 379,000 in Bakersfield alone, local demands for highly skilled and innovative health care options continue to increase. (This makes talent attraction and retention efforts even more essential.) Kern’s growing number of health care providers are investing in the newest technologies
and offering the latest treatment options locally. Approximately 36,800 Kern County residents are employed in the health care and social assistance industry and earn an average annual wage of $47,723. That’s almost 1,000 more jobs than six months ago!

To put this into perspective, Kern’s health care industry is growing faster than that in Los Angeles and Fresno, and Kern’s salaries are higher, too. As stated previously, registered nurses are in high demand locally, and the gap is expected to increase. Kern County’s 4,300 registered nurses earn an average annual wage of $88,400 (nearly double the average annual for all occupations). Over the next 10 years, it is expected that there will be a shortage of workers among health diagnosing and treating practitioners, health technologists and technicians, occupational therapy and physical therapist assistants, nursing, psychiatric and home health aides, as well as other health care support occupations. With a projected employment of 25,745 among these occupations, Kern is facing a shortage of 260 workers. Local health care facilities include Memorial Hospital’s Sarvanand Heart & Stroke Center, Comprehensive Blood & Cancer Center, Adventist Health Bakersfield’s AIS Cancer Center, and Centre for Neuro Skills. With the development of cutting-edge facilities in Kern County, local residents no longer need to travel to other areas of the state for their health care needs.

Valley Children’s Healthcare recently announced its Eagle Oaks Specialty Care Center, a 52,000-square foot pediatric care center in west Bakersfield. According to President and CEO Todd Suntrapak, the center is expecting to see nearly 16,000 visits in 2019. The 34th Street Specialty Care Center saw more than 4,600 patients last year, and is expecting to see over 40,000 within the next decade. Dignity Health is in the midst of adding 78 beds to Mercy Southwest, bumping the total number of beds available to 198. In early July, it was announced that Kern Medical has joined with the University of Southern California’s Neurorestoration Center to open the central valley’s first epilepsy neurology center. Tehachapi Valley Health District and Adventist Health announced their partnership for the Adventist Health Tehachapi Valley Medical Center. The hospital is still in the works for completion. The fast-growing health care industry in Kern will only help to strengthen our local economy and our diverse industry portfolio. A dynamic industry means more high-paying jobs for community residents, which means more indirect and induced effects on Kern County’s economy. Everyone benefits from a healthy economy and a strong local health care

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