Business Touchdown: Annual Conference to Promote Region takes Message Down The Hill

By Rene Ray De La Cruz Source Article RANCHO CUCAMONGA — The Inland Empire was given a taste of the Victor Valley business and development scene during the 35th Annual High Desert Opportunity on Thursday. Vince Ferragamo, owner of Touchdown Real Estate and a former Los Angeles Rams quarterback, was the featured speaker during the “Discover the Difference” showcase at the Victoria Gardens Cultural Center in Rancho Cucamonga.
Ferragamo, who owns property in Victorville, equated the business industry with the game of football, saying the High Desert has a strong team, with the Mojave Desert Air Quality Management District working with municipalities and businesses to establish new development.
“Above all else, we have a spirit and resiliency of the people here,” said Ferragamo, 62, who led the Los Angeles Rams to Super Bowl XIV in 1980. “That is what has impressed me the most. I’ve seen people work hard. They have a great work ethic and they’re stand-up quality so they’ll take action. I see great things ahead for the High Desert.” HDO President Eric Camarena told the Daily Press he hopes the business showcase event draws new developers, business owners, commercial real estate brokers and site locators to the High Desert. “This is the first time we’ve ever ventured outside of the Victor Valley and we’re here to showcase the opportunities that are available in the High Desert,” Camarena said. “We’d like to get new faces, new perspectives and new people to our area.” Representing the five incorporated communities of the Victor Valley through Opportunity High Desert, Apple Valley Councilman Art Bishop told the Daily Press he spoke to several people from the Inland Empire, San Diego and Orange County areas who were interested in doing business in the High Desert. “We purchased 2,000 acres of property in the High Desert about 13 years ago,” said Eric Flodine, director of community development for Strata Equity Group in San DIego. “We were approved for this project and were waiting for the economy to come back before we made a move. We really need an increase in growth to support our project.” Several other developers, including home builders, Realtors and business owners, told the Daily Press they were at HDO to discover more about expanding into the High Desert.
During the event, Hesperia Councilman and Exquadrum President Eric Schmidt shared a history lesson of the Victor Valley with the audience and explained how the High Desert population of 440,000 makes up the eighth largest region in the state.
Schmidt told the audience one of the goals of HDO is to break the perception that the High Desert community is simply a bedroom community and that numerous businesses moved to the Victor Valley with the help of “a team that is committed to making those business opportunities successful.” Calling it a “gem,” Schmidt praised the work of Victor Valley College’s nursing, vocational and aviation programs. He also highlighted several unmanned aerial vehicle companies, including General Atomics, Boeing and GE who are in the High Desert. During the Entrepreneurs and Franchisee panel, moderated by Town of Apple Valley Assistant Director of Economic Development and Housing Orlando Acevedo, Devynn Thompson, co-owner of Thompson Family Plumbing, explained how Luisa Miller, with the Inland Empire Small Business Development agency, played a key role in helping the business to get started. Panelists Mike Schneider, vice president/head brewer of Off the Grid Brewing Co., and Vimal Bhanvadia, managing partner Bhanvadia Holdings/Farmer Boys, also spoke on how property affordability was a motivating factor in opening their businesses in the Victor Valley. Managing Director of CBRE Joe Cesta moderated the Development Market Snapshot panel made up of Stirling Development CEO Brian Parno, Lewis Group President Randall Lewis and Terra Verde Group Director of Development John Ohanian. “The keywords in the High Desert right now are land, market and attitude,” Lewis said. “The cities in the Victor Valley have a quality can-do attitude that gets work done.”
 Lewis said his group is a “huge advocate” of Ohanian’s Tapestry Project, with 16,000 homes planned for southeastern Hesperia. He added that challenges to growth in the High Desert include the lack of income and gas prices.
The Pro-Business Resources panel, which was moderated by Wal-Mart Distribution Center General Manager Scott Kubicek, included Victorville City Manager and Opportunity High Desert member Doug Robertson, who told the audience the High Desert region is larger than Oakland, Anaheim and Bakersfield. Panelist Brad Poiriez, executive director of the MDAQMD, said his agency’s purpose is not to hinder, but to help businesses navigate the regulatory maze. And Reg Javier, San Bernardino County’s deputy executive officer of workforce and economic development, said his office is ready to hear the needs of business owners as they work toward the future. Camarena said the HDO team “overshot and oversold” their goals in attendance, with some 240 tickets sold before the doors of the center opened at 8 a.m. Bill Rancic, who was hired by Donald Trump as the winner of the first season of NBC’s breakthrough program “The Apprentice,” spoke during last year’s HDO, which drew over 900 people, the Daily Press reported. Coldwell Banker Commercial Victorville Vice President Bob Basen told the Daily Press he’s glad HDO leadership decided to try something different by moving the event to Rancho Cucamonga. “When I first heard they were moving the event to Rancho Cucamonga I thought, ‘You gotta be kidding me.’ But I decided to reserve judgment,” Basen said. “I hope the HDO team accomplishes what they set out to do.” Several HDO attendees told the Daily Press the Victoria Garden facility was beautiful, but added they were also disappointed HDO was moved out of the High Desert. Several business owners also shared their disappointment with the Daily Press after HDO announced the move to Rancho Cucamonga in April. Many said the concept of having an event down the hill was good, but added the Rancho Cucamonga event should have been done on a smaller scale, with the original HDO event still scheduled at the fairgrounds in Victorville. For more information, visit the website, search for HDO on Facebook, call 760-245-7600, or email