The current construction downturn provides a chance for area governments to catch up and prepare better for the next real estate boom, First District Supervisor Brad Mitzelfelt said Thursday.

"It's truly businesses that make our country great, not government," Mitzelfelt told the approximately 70 contractors, building industry workers and elected officials in attendance at the monthly meeting of the High Desert Contractors Association at Spring Valley Lake Country Club on Thursday night.

San Bernardino County -- physically the largest county in America -- would be the 49th most prosperous country if it were its own nation, he said. (Pakistan is the 49th most prosperous country in the world, sandwiched between Egypt and Zimbabwe, according to Legatum Institute for Global Development's 2007 Prosperity Index rankings.)

There is a positive side to the current construction slump, Mitzelfelt said, noting homebuilding is at a 29-year low in the area.

"It gives us more time to catch up on the infrastructure," he said. Better roads, water lines, schools and emergency services will make the High Desert more prepared for the next real estate boom. "In reality, we haven't done as good a job as we could with mitigating growth. We were too eager for development."

Later this month, the supervisor will be announcing proposals to stimulate the local housing market. But, Mitzelfelt said, government can't do it alone and isn't in a position to turn down any good ideas, wherever they come from.

"This is the time to be proactive," he said. "The government is seeing it now and will be receptive to your ideas."

On a more positive note, Mitzelfelt said he believed the long-awaited, long-delayed Ranchero Road Underpass will be completed soon, along with the road being widened and a freeway interchange connecting it to Interstate 15.

"I think we'll see Ranchero within three years," he said.

The next meeting of the High Desert Contractors Association will be held on February 21 at the Spring Valley Lake Country Club at 5:30 p.m. For more information, call 956-4322 or visit HighDesertContractors.com.

Beau Yarbrough can be reached at 956-7108 or at beau@hesperiastar.com.