There were big business plans for Imperial County in 2020, but those plans didn’t pan out due to the novel coronavirus, said a local economic development specialist.
“2020 began as a very normal year, with an increase in activities and grandiose ideas for our business plan,” said Tim Kelley, president and chief executive officer of the Imperial Valley Economic Development Corp. “Things drastically changed with COVID-19, but the uncertainty brought opportunity for IVEDC. We pivoted quickly to adjust to the additional roles and responsibilities.”
Kelley gave his quarterly report to the Imperial County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday, Nov. 3, which was apropos, he said.
“Today is Election Day, but for us, every day is Election Day and our candidate is Imperial County,” Kelley said, spoken like a true marketing specialist.
IVEDC works to promote the Imperial Valley to prospective businesses and projects, as well as helping businesses already in the Valley. And while COVID-19 slowed many aspects of business locally, it never slowed down business attraction for IVEDC.
The corporation saw a new company wanting to do business in the area about once a week, Kelley said.
He highlighted a few businesses that are in the land-acquisition portion of their project with the potential for thousands of jobs in the area.
“Project Duck” is a recycling project that takes green waste and converts it to biofuel, Kelley said. That project’s developers are working to acquire 75 acres that may be closing soon.
Calergy is another company looking to purchase land for a new project, specifically 160 acres, he added. Project Calico is also looking to buy 5 acres for food processing.
These projects all have total investment between $8 million and $150 million for the area, Kelley said. And these are just some of the projects that have been in the works in the last few months.
While Kelley touted successes in upcoming projects, Supervisor Ryan Kelley expressed his concern about the potential lithium investment to the region.
Supervisor Kelley asked Tim Kelley to talk to potential lithium developers about their observations of permitting projects in Imperial County, and to bring that information back to the board, “so we can learn and adapt.”
Getting Over the COVID-19 Hump
Supervisor Jesus Escobar asked what the county needs to do to get over the economic hump of the pandemic, especially as there have been projects like “Project Eagle” that haven’t come to fruition yet.
“Project Eagle” was a renewable-energy project that promised to create 6,000 direct jobs and capital investment totaling nearly $1.4 billion, according to IVEDC’s 2017 report to the county board.
According to Escobar, the area celebrated before it got the touchdown of a project on the ground.
“We’re the freaking Chargers in Imperial County,” Escobar said. “We can’t figure out a way to win. We seem to screw it up, either directly or indirectly, on a consistent basis.
“What can we do to make ourselves more viable so that we can score that touchdown?” he asked. “We can backtrack for over a decade with how we basically fumbled that ball, threw a pick six, not converted the first down on fourth-and-one, etc.
“There’s no sense in going back. Let’s move forward. Let’s see how we can really make a difference and get this really big project in Imperial County,” Escobar added.
Tim Kelley said he would look into deficiencies that the county can work on to draw those big businesses or projects into the area. Anything that holds these projects back can kill them, he admitted, adding that IVEDC and some county departments move very quickly, but there are still things that slow projects.
“Timing is probably the most important thing,” Kelley said. “We’re very well positioned. We’ve got land. We’ve got water. We’ve got energy. We have a workforce.
“We have to convince people we have those things, and that is a challenge,” he added. “We have to convince people where we are, who we are. We try to let people know this is a county that wants development, that wants positive development that is going to create jobs, that’s going to be good for the environment, but there are some issues we do need to overcome.”
The biggest challenge, he added, is time.
“The longer it takes, the greater the challenge,” Kelley said. “When (projects) get drug out, there is opportunity for failure.”