The city of Tehachapi is continuing to diversify and strengthen the local economy by welcoming tourism, drawing new business and revitalizing downtown.

Even more tactics to help boost the economy in the form of marketing, business attraction and appealing to more people to attend events are on the horizon as city leaders and economic organizations make use of recently developed documents that identify strengths and weaknesses and propose ideas to help the city grow.

“We believe the law enforcement, community support, focus on quality-of-life issues, forward-thinking planning and zoning create a great environment for others to succeed in our economy,” said Corey Costelloe, assistant to the city manager.

Proposed planning to boost tourist-related activities means hiring new staff to promote events, establishing self-guided tours, boosting public outreach, creating videos, fliers, new websites and developing other marketing strategies, according to the city of Tehachapi Economic Development and Diversification 2016 Work Plan. These planning efforts could impact the greater Tehachapi area as well.

The city is actively marketing, with an updated website, videos, the new Visitor Center, continued revitalization of downtown streets, recruitment of business owners to fund the revitalization of old buildings and adding new public parking.

Events that continue to bring tourists to the city by the tens of thousands each year are the GranFondo, Tehachapi Mountain Festival, Tehachapi Mountain Beer and Wine Festival and Apple Festival. Additionally, there are events at the rodeo grounds, and the emerging wine industry attracts visitors. These bring revenue to the city and local businesses, according to the 2016 Work Plan. 

Tourism is so highly promoted that jobs in retail, restaurants and hotels account for 30 percent of all jobs in Tehachapi, according to the 2017 Economic Assessment and SWOT Analysis of Tehachapi.

Kern County Supervisor Zack Scrivner, one of the participants in the SWOT Analysis, confirmed this data and said, “Retail and lodging are concentrated in the Tehachapi area due to the strong connection with tourism and events prevalent in Tehachapi.”

Hannah Chung, the city's finance director, said that more than $10 million in sales tax from shopping local and $3 million in transient occupancy tax from hotels was collected from 2014 to 2018, and that is expected to grow. These funds go to the general fund and used for city business.

The city’s economic development budget is up to $100,000, with 20 percent of that supporting marketing activities, said the 2016 Work Plan.

Business in the city

The city is focusing on how to attract businesses with more retail choices.

More than $208 million is lost annually in retail leakage that makes up automobile dealers, furniture sales, food and beverage stores, clothing stores, used merchandise and other retailers, according to the 2017 SWOT Analysis of Tehachapi.

“It’s a great problem to have, but we need to continue to work on the economics of that very unusual dynamics and we don’t want to grow just to grow,” Tehachapi City Manager Greg Garrett said at a recent Greater Tehachapi Economic Development Council meeting.

Local government is in favor of retail expansion, with support from most of the community for more retail choices, even though “there is an anti-big box sentiment,” added the 2016 Work Plan.

The development of Walmart, Red Apple Pavilion, Snow Orthodontics and a planned new housing community, Sage Ranch, will provide additional tax revenue.

“It’s growing and it's very affordable. We are so happy to have things like Walmart, the hospital opening and all the different industries going on around us,” said Lorri Busse, president of the Tehachapi Area Association of Realtors, told Tehachapi News.

Small business support listed in the 2016 Work Plan outlined ways to encourage existing retailers to expand their market, participate in community events, approach the Greater Tehachapi Chamber of Commerce for help in marketing their businesses and partner with the city for other ways to compete with national retailers.

Infrastructure is another way to bring more funds to the city — although there are some obstacles with downtown buildings and land.

Businesses often seek ready-to-go buildings, that are readily available on the market. Many industrial sites in the Tehachapi city limits and on the market are limited. Owners may not be interested in selling their property, there may be development constraints on the location, and new revised 2018 Zoning Codes are very specific on what is allowed, according to the 2016 Work Plan.

Many downtown buildings are older and need to be refurbished to bring them up to code.

Sometimes the cost is more than what the building may be worth, Garrett said at the Feb. 19 Greater Tehachapi Chamber of Commerce Luncheon. Many older buildings are not up to earthquake zoning codes and other current building standards.

Housing

New homes in the city of Tehachapi are needed and at affordable prices.

Terri Juergens, a real estate agent for Country Real Estate, said in a Tehachapi News interview that starting this year there are 24 homes listed within the city limits out of 177 homes for sale within the 93561 ZIP code, which includes areas outside city limits.

Busse said, “I think we need affordable housing in the city. Many young people are looking to buy in the $180,000-250,000 range. There are not very many. If we had some new homes and condos for the families working in industries around us, it would add to the local economy. If we don’t have homes for people who work in those industries, we are losing that type of revenue.”

In 2018, there were only 36 homes that sold for below $200,000 out of 143 that were for sale within city limits and only 37 out of 402 homes in the greater Tehachapi area making up Stallion Springs, Bear Valley and Golden Hills, also sold for under $200,000. The average price in the city was listed at $260,000, with the greater Tehachapi area ranging from $262,000 to $320,500, said Busse.

Quality of construction materials, the housing market, permits and fees and the cost of single lots are some things that bring up prices in the city.

Various permits to build a house in the city, depending on the square footage, may range from $20,000 to $23,000.

Alex S. Kosich Jr., architect and developer of Mill Street Cottages, said his cottages are built with high-quality construction materials and include ADA features, fireplaces, state-of-the art-appliances and other amenities for people who want to downsize and move into town.

Kosich has found that many local residents cannot pay for high-end homes, although out-of-town residents more likely can afford them. The location, permits and construction materials make the prices go up, anywhere from $50,000 to $80,000, compared to tract homes.

“The appraisal is a lot less than it is to build it and the buyer has to make up the difference,” Kosich said.

In order to continue to build on available lots, buyers must be interested in the high-end homes and come from out of the area, added Kosich.