Friday, Jan 11 2013 05:39 PM

Former New Mexico Gov. Richardson to deliver keynote speech at economic summit

BY JOHN COX Californian staff writer

Before he leaves the podium, the keynote speaker of this year's Kern County Economic Summit will have some explaining to do.

It was former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, after all, who helped his home state beat out Mojave to land Virgin Galactic's $200 million Spaceport America.

Nevertheless, Kern Economic Development Corp. announced this week that it has chosen Richardson to speak at the March 20 event.

KEDC Vice President Cheryl Scott said the decision to hire Richardson was based partly on his name recognition. But she acknowledged the irony of paying the county's one-time opponent to speak in Bakersfield.

"I would expect he's going to get some of the hard questions," she said. "But I'm sure he won't shy away from them."

A former Democratic candidate for the presidency, Richardson has served as a congressman, a U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and, under the Clinton administration, as energy secretary.

"We are ecstatic to have someone of Gov. Richardson's caliber to serve as our keynote speaker," KEDC President and CEO Richard Chapman wrote in a news release.

"New Mexico and Kern County have similar economies, including energy (both oil and renewable), mining, aerospace (research laboratories and flight test) and tourism," Chapman wrote. "The governor will present a critical analysis of California's current business climate, and highlight advantages we afford in Kern County."

Last summer Richardson performed consulting for the Mojave Air and Space Port. In that capacity, KEDC said, he helped promote state legislation that now exempts spacecraft operators from lawsuit in the event of an accident.

The 13th annual economic summit is set to run from 7 a.m. to noon at the DoubleTree by Hilton. Registration is scheduled to open in mid-February. Information on sponsorship opportunities is available by calling Sally A. Selby at 862-5150.

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