Faraday Future Hanford plant rendering via Kings County EDC
Written by Gabriel Dillard
Economic development is occurring at a rapid clip in Kings County — measured in fast cars, fast planes, fast trains and fast waves.
While “sexy” would be an accurate word to describe some of the more high-profile projects in the works in Kings County, there are a number of other initiatives that — when taken altogether — paint a picture of an area whose economy has moved well past the doldrums of the Great Recession.
“Kings County’s recovery has not peaked yet,” said John Lehn, president and CEO of the Kings County Economic Development Corp. “I see that 2017 has been an extremely strong year for Kings County. I don’t have any reason to believe it will not continue into 2018 and the foreseeable future.”
Catch a wave
Legendary professional surfer Kelly Slater and his “Surf Ranch” had been one of the sport’s best kept secrets until 2015, when Slater unveiled a video of him surfing what he billed “the longest, open-barrel man made wave in the world.” It’s location, a former Jet Ski lake in Lemoore.
The facility had a major coming-out party in September when it hosted its first professional event for some of the world’s best surfers. Events at the facility have been an invitation-only affair, open to the world’s best surfers and players in the surfing industry. But that may change in 2018, as the Kelly Slater Wave Co. filed a permit to host up to six public events per year.
One of those events may be the Surf Ranch’s first official professional competition — part of the World Surf League’s Championship Tour scheduled for Sept. 5-9, 2018, as announced last week.
The event was moved to the Surf Ranch from its previous venue of Trestles, one of the world’s most famous surfing spots in San Diego County.
Perhaps an indication of the Surf Ranch’s importance to the sport — the parent company of the World Surf League acquired a majority stake of the Kelly Slater Wave Co., which created the wave technology.
Jay Salyer, Kings EDC economic development manager, said the company also purchased an abandoned golf course near the facility, with plans to host concert events. Reports say the events could host upward of 8,000 people.
Lehn added that the Surf Ranch is very much a prototype for the wave technology that could revolutionize the sport. Surfing was added as an Olympic sport for the 2020 Tokyo games, and instead of depending on Mother Nature to provide the ideal waves, it’s likely this type of technology will be used.
“It creates a much more even playing field,” Lehn said.
So in addition to Lemoore’s Surf Ranch being a cool place and a future economic draw for Kings County, it could also be a proving ground that will be replicated elsewhere. There are already plans to build one in Palm Beach, Florida.
A Faraday Future?
The big announcement in Kings County this year was startup electric carmaker Faraday Future’s plan to open a manufacturing site in Hanford. The competitor to Tesla is expected to create up to 1,300 jobs at full production.
The news has electrified the economic development community in Kings County and across the whole region, as those jobs are expected to be filled by residents of the Central Valley. Potential suppliers to the carmaker are also engaged in how to land those lucrative contracts.
Executives of Faraday Future themselves have reached out to the community, participating in economic summits and other local events.
But news of a major shakeup in the executive ranks of the Los Angeles-based firm — coupled with previous money troubles — has created some skepticism among observers. Lehn acknowledges the pitfalls of working with any startup firm, but said the deep experience of the Faraday Future crew with other established carmakers puts him at ease.
The ranks have included former BMW and Tesla talent.
“If we sit there and try to write down all the well respected, high-end manufacturers that people in this company have worked for,” Lehn said, “you keep going on and on and go ‘wow, that’s really impressive.’”
The startup is expected to begin manufacturing in Hanford by this time next year.
Welcoming the F-35C to town
Even faster than Faraday Future’s FF91 prototype is the F-35C fighter jet, which earlier this year started arriving at Naval Air Station Lemoore. Pilots at the base have been training on the new aircraft. About 10 were expected to arrive this year, with another 10 coming next year. By 2025, 100 of the jets are expected to reside in Lemoore.
Along with the aircraft comes more on-base construction, personnel and spending, which will support the estimated $1 billion annual impact the base has on the region’s economy.
Lehn said in addition to the spending, the training that base residents receive on this new technology also has a positive impact.
“The impact of that technology includes the people trained in the technology, when they ultimately retire, many of them retire here. That’s an infusion of skillset into the region,” he said.
High-speed rail work begins
After many litigation-related delays, work on the high-speed rail segment through Kings County began this year.
As of Oct. 31, there have been 257 workers dispatched to work on the projects Construction Package 2-3, from Fresno through to Kings and Tulare counties, said Toni Tinoco, public information officer with the California High-Speed Rail Authority.
In addition, high-speed rail work from the last 10 years have created nearly 100 new jobs in the county with $4 million in labor income and nearly $16 million in economic output.
In 2018, several more construction sites will be fired up in Kings County, requiring even more workers.
“And the numbers continue to go up the further out we go from 2018,” Tinoco said. “Once the system is operational, and we are able to tie into existing future systems that will be built in the region, there will be many new opportunities for growth and good paying, permanent jobs in the region.