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From Site Selection magazine, March 2018

Peak Performance

High-tech firms striving for growth in California scale new heights in San Bernardino County.

General Atomic’s unmanned aircraft
Quality neighborhoods, where homes cost much less than they do in California’s coastal communities, are the hallmark of San Bernardino County.
Quality neighborhoods, where homes cost much less than they do in California’s coastal communities, are the hallmark of San Bernardino County.
Photos courtesy of San Bernardino County EDA

When the Milken Institute named the Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario MSA in Southern California one of the 20 Best Performing Cities in America, the news did not surprise executives at General Atomics and Aemerge RedPak.

These two high-tech firms decided to invest into expanding their operations in San Bernardino County long before the Milken announcement.

“Southern California has a lot of aerospace industry,” says Gary Bender, vice president of flight operations for defense contractor and drone-maker General Atomics. “We are able to find local people with experience in the aviation business. We started with one airport and fewer than 50 employees. We have grown to two airports and close to 2,000 employees in the High Desert, including an operation for advanced design in Adelanto.”

General Atomics, a leading manufacturer of remotely piloted aircraft systems, radars, and electro-optic and related mission systems solutions for the Department of Defense, operates out of both El Mirage Field and Gray Butte Field west of Adelanto.

“The primary reason we selected San Bernardino County for this operation was the fact that a private airport was available. That is a good place for flying experimental and unmanned airplanes,” says Bender, whose company is headquartered in San Diego. “The county government has been very helpful. We have done a lot of construction at both airports and Adelanto. The county has always helped us secure the permits we need.”

At El Mirage, General Atomics is working on extending the runway and plans to begin construction on a new complex of buildings, including a hangar, this year.

Low population density, favorable year-round weather for flying, and access to a highly qualified workforce in the aerospace field make San Bernardino County a perfect fit for the company, adds Bender. “And we have been in contact with the county about the new industrial training center they are setting up in Victorville. Eventually, we hope to get even more candidates for our workforce from there.”

Turning Waste into Gain

Adam Seger, president of Aemerge RedPak, recounts a similar experience for his firm. A medical waste recycling company that uses new technology to convert organic waste stream into clean energy, Aemerge RedPak opened a $55-million treatment center in Hesperia on Dec. 5.

“Our company is originally from Indiana, but we wanted to be based in a large population market with a medical waste opportunity,” says Seger. “We contacted the California Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development, and they were very helpful. They provided us a list of available sites, as well as incentives that would aid in our expansion.”

After conducting an extensive statewide search, Seger says his firm zeroed in on the High Desert region of San Bernardino County. “We looked at Orrville, Los Angeles and the High Desert area,” he says. “We spent six months evaluating everything. We selected the High Desert because it offers proximity to the high population center of L.A., access to a strong workforce, and a business-friendly environment.”

California GO-Biz, the economic development department of Hesperia, and the San Bernardino County Economic Development Agency were instrumental in facilitating the deal, he adds. “They helped me with incentives as well. It was a good fit,” he says. “With the state, we received California Pollution Control Finance Authority tax-free bonds through the Treasurer’s Office of around $40 million. We received a Franchise Tax Abatement from the state, and we received sales and use tax exemption as an advanced manufacturer from the California Alternative Energy and Transportation Finance Authority.”

Aemerge RedPak acquired an existing building of 37,000 sq. ft. on 2.5 acres and expanded last year. “We acquired another 2.5 acres and just held a ribbon-cutting on our new facility,” Seger notes. “We are at 20 employees now and we are going up to 30.”

Since 2001, when California’s last medical waste incinerator was shut down in Oakland, about 720 million pounds of medical waste have been hauled off to be treated in other states as far away as Alabama, Kentucky and Maryland, among others.

“Aemerge RedPak is going to revolutionize the way medical waste is treated in this country,” said Hesperia Mayor Paul Russ. “We look forward to having that revolution start in Hesperia.”

Where Talent Fulfills its Dream

The company could not do this work in California without the required talent, notes Seger. “The workforce here is strong,” he says. “We have a good amount of engineering, clerical and operational workforce available to us. Many of these folks had been commuting hours to a job. They’re excited to be closer to home. This is a huge win for everyone.”

Aemerge RedPak and General Atomics are not alone. Throughout San Bernardino County, high-tech firms needing an ample supply of skilled technical talent are finding a good home.

That’s one reason why the Milken Institute named the MSA a Top 20 Best Performing City in America. Milken also ranks the area as the fifth-best large MSA in the U.S. for wage growth and No. 8 in job growth.

Another leading indicator of long-term performance – the American Dream Composite Index – ranks the Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario metro area as the 10th-best place in the country where residents believe they are achieving the American Dream. 

This Investment Profile was prepared under the auspices of San Bernardino County government. For more information, contact the county Economic Development Agency at 909-387-4700. On the web, go to

The San Bernardino Mountains rise above San Bernardino County. San Gorgonio Mountain, at 11,503 feet, is the highest peak in the mountain range.

Ron Starner
Executive Vice President of Conway, Inc.

Ron Starner

Ron Starner is Executive Vice President of Conway Data, Inc. He has been with Conway Data for 22 years and serves as a writer and editor for both Site Selection and the company's Custom Content publishing division. His Twitter handle is @RonStarner.


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