Our first interview is with the ever interesting and unpredictable, Jerry Sooter. Jerry and his family has lived and done business in the High Desert for a long time. He has served as the last "honorary" mayor of Apple Valley (just before the incorporation of '89), has been active building many relationships within the community through the years and has organized and participated in many community programs.
ANDREW: So Jerry, how long have you and your family lived here in the High Desert?
JERRY: We've been here since 1979.
ANDREW: So you've seen it grow from a very small community to what it is now, right?
JERRY: Absolutely correct.
ANDREW: Well let me ask you Jerry, you've seen it change alot and have been part of its changing. Maybe you could tell us about what initially brought you up here to the High Desert and decided to make it a place for your family.
JERRY: When I first came to the Victor Valley, I moved to Apple Valley to take over the reins for a large cabinet shop that was involved in the growth process of the valley by supplying cabinets to all the new homes being built. They made me the marketing director and that's where I came in.
ANDREW: When you moved up here did you already have some kids?
JERRY: I had two boys, Jay and Sean. Jay was seven and Sean was five.
ANDREW: Great! Now with your daughter almost grown up as well, I'll bet you're looking at life through the eyes of experienced parenting compared to when you came. I understand that you own Sooter Sign Company now. Did you start that company back in the eighties or was it before that?
JERRY: Sooter Sign Company was started back in 1970 and that's when I took over the reins. The original company was founded by my father in 1938, in Monte Vista, Colorado. Along with that, I initiated a company in 1980 called Sooter Limousine Service. We had that for eleven years. And in 1993, we started a third company which was Outdoor Sooter Advertising, or O.S.A. And we're doing quite well!
ANDREW: That's quite an accomplishment! I hear alot of people up here tell me (and I've experienced it as well) that doing business in the High Desert is difficult because of our economy. Having started companies successfully up here, what would you say are things that are unique challenges to doing business in the Victor Valley?
JERRY: Well, it depends on the type of business that you're looking at. If you're a retailer, you have some immense challenges at this time because of such entities as Wal-Mart, Cosco/Price Club. The mega stores that are coming in will literally wipe out the "mom and pop" stores. The only thriving business for a private entrepreneur that can probably survive and do survive are the service oriented business; plumbers, that's a service oriented business. Advertising, that's a service oriented business. Anything where you provide a service is going to give you that step ahead of the crowd so that you're going to be able to survive. This is all pending though, on the economy of the area.
JERRY: In the Victor Valley we've suffered outside the national economy that went down. That was a true depression that we've been in for the last three, four years. It was more than a recession. Our economists are somewhat reluctant to admit that, but the fact is it most certainly rings true. Especially in the High Desert because the national economy not only effected us, but then on top of that we also suffered when George Airforce Base closed. It was a $408 million dollar loss of income per year. Plus compounding the takeover of Contel by GTE, which removed another $37, $38 million dollars from our economy.
ANDREW: I haven't heard too much about the impact of Contel. Has that loss been gradually happening over time?
JERRY: Yes that's been over the last three years, here. So you're talking immense impact to where 65 percent of Victor Valley inhabitants commute down the hill to Orange County and Los Angeles and San Bernandino to work on their everyday jobs, but elect to live up here because of the cost effectiveness of being able to purchase a home. And so, alot of dollars are being spend down the hill by those who live here because its easier to pick up something in route on your way home, then come home and shop. So the economy continues to have its pings.
ANDREW: I understand that you were involved with the Valley Bucks Program that was started in 1990 or so?
JERRY: Yes, That program was a co-venture of several people. A dear gentleman by the name of Jack Williams was the forerunner. I came in to do an assist in the marketing strategies of that program and helped carry the signage campaign and worked with the other media.
ANDREW: Do you see any resurrection of that happening? I haven't heard too much activity about it recently.
JERRY: There's been some grumblings and mumblings, people wish that would take place and surge again. There has not been anything concrete, but there is a desire by the small businessmen to refocus and do some more of that.
ANDREW: Right. Well that desire is excellent. We here at "The COM" are taking part in seeing it become concrete too. That's part of the reason why we started it. Let me ask you in closing, a couple comments about what you feel are the keys to success. Whether a person has their own business or they're just struggling to just get by. Please give us your comments as to how people can really become able to contribute significantly to this community.
JERRY: First off, I would respond to the comment of success: It's all in the eyes of the beholder what success is. Some people measure success by what you drive, what you own, where you live. I have a tendency to measure success based on what my relationship is with my family and my children. I like to refer to my making priority for them by using the term, "MARGIN". Margin, being the time I purposely set aside to build a life around my family and time of worship with my Lord. I believe that the precepts of the Bible are very profound and they have always been an active part of my life-- especially in my business life. Business cannot separate itself ethically, from private life. I know that I've seen many times people who've tried to separate the two issues. They act one way at home, but in business they act another. Fortunately for me I have one Bible that is the mentor, if you will, the operations manual, for my company and my home. It gives me the ethics, the business principles by which to live, and I believe with all my heart it's the principles that make the difference. We live in a "gimme takie" world. Yet the business principles that I live by are ones of giving.
ANDREW: That's excellent.
JERRY: And the more you give, the more you receive.
ANDREW: That's really good, because I know that alot of business people are tempted by the pressures of their business and the pressures around them to take more, to lie, and to do these things with almost a sense that it is expected in order to survive. And bcause they believe it, they therefore they gives themselves over to it. It is very encouraging to hear someone declare, by his own experience, that through giving you will actually make out better in the long run. As a person in business, that is an easy thing to agree with, but sometimes very challenging to carry out.
JERRY: Well, J.C.Pennys proved that to be true. Over and over again he lived off the ten percent and gave ninety percent back to his church or missions. And he became a great benefactor as well as a great giver. And I think when I leave this world I would want to be known as one who was a good giver-- unselfish.
ANDREW: Well Thank You Jerry! We really appreciate the interview. We'll be staying in touch with you and we wish you the best margin in all your pursuits. Hopefully people reading this will take the time to contact you as you have been very gracious to take this time with us.
JERRY: Thank you! Jerry Sooter currently leads a weekly businessmens meeting every Thurday morning at Seven at SW Gas on Mariposa Rd. You are invited to attend.