NEEDLES — City council members in Needles, San Bernardino County’s smallest incorporated city, on April 22 heard a report from the economic development consultant hired by city manager Rick Daniels that was long on hopeful projection. But two months after the only grocery store in town gave indication it was going to pack up and leave, the effort to interest other retailers in establishing operations in the city located on the western bank of the Colorado River has fallen flat.
Needles, which at the turn of the 19th to the 20th Century was San Bernardino County’s third largest city, is today the least populous of the county’s 24 incorporated municipalities. Once its population exceeded 10,000. Today, it boasts fewer than 5,000 residents.
The town faces numerous economic obstacles and disadvantages. One is its remoteness. Driving distance from Needles to Barstow is 144 miles one way. The trip from Needles to San Bernardino is 212 miles. Much of the local population has an income that puts it below the poverty level. Because sales tax is lower just across the river in Arizona and slightly further north in Nevada, local residents simply take the bridge to patronized out-of- state stores and gas stations. This has deprived the local area of tax revenue for more than a generation, and has perpetuated a resultant deterioration in public facilities, infrastructure and institutions.
Last year, the city council gambled on hiring Rick Daniels as city manager. A former trash company executive whose first major public administration job was as the city manager of Desert Hot Springs, Daniels convinced the Needles City Council that he had multiple contacts within the private sector that could be utilized to facilitate the attraction of businesses to Needles.
To land Daniels, the city council offered him an initial salary of $197,000 per year with annual increases of $10,000, which was almost double what it was paying to interim city manager Dave Brownlee.
Sparking the economic transformation of Needles he confidently predicted he could effectuate proved a tougher job than Daniels anticipated and he subsequently convinced the city council that it should retain Michael Bracken as an economic development consultant.
For Bracken, however, the task has proven equally daunting. In late March, the city was given an unmistakable signal of the further deterioration of its economy, when it received word that Bashas’, the city’s only grocery store, will close on May 9.
On April 22 Bracken provided a report to the council on his efforts. He said he has coordinated with Amtrak in its effort to interest a commercial broker in managing the El Garces intermodal transportation facility and leasing it to various tenants. Bracken indicated he has dialogued with Stater Brothers, WalMart, Dollar General, Family Dollar, In-N-Out Burger, Five Guys Burgers, Rio Ranch Market, AutoZone, Circle K, Jersey Mike’s, Del Taco, 99 Cents Only, Farmer Boys Restaurants, Smart and Final Markets, Panda Express Restaurants, Dunkin Donuts and El Pollo Loco.
There is also a report that an Indian tribe is interested in developing a casino at the corner of River Road and Broadway.
So far, according to Bracken, none of these prospects has panned out, but he said the city will continue its efforts to interest corporations and businesses, large and small, local and national, in setting up shop in Needles.