Arizona Town Hall Session I & II

Ran into @szylstra and @kimberlanning tonight at the Arizona Town Hall.  So here is the 10 second overview.  About 150 people are selected to participate in the Town Hall.  They are then broken in to groups by the organizers.  The key is diversity (political views, backgrounds, race, gender, physical location, etc)  Then for two days these groups sequester themselves into panels.  Each group is given the same list of things to discuss.  There is a recorder and chair to get final consensus for each  group.

At the end of everyday the recorders/chairs meet and merge all the recommendations of the groups together.  On the final day a merged document is presented to the entire Town Hall.  A plenary session is then done to reconcile anything the recorders got wrong.  This is then made into a final document.  One of the universities then make an official version that gets passed around the state as recommendation.

I feel that while I have my own strong opinions,  it is important to get as many people heard as possible at an event like this.  So  I will be posting the questions for discussion here in hope that you will respond back to them on your own blog and leave a comment pointing to it or comment directly here.  I will do my best to make sure your voice is heard even if it contradicts my own opinion on the subject.

Session I – Evaluating Arizona’s Current Economy

  1. What general factors have most significantly shaped Arizona’s current economy?  What are the greatest strengths of Arizona’s statewide economy?  How do these strengths differ among the various components of the economy, including rural, urban and tribal communities?
  2. What are the most significant weaknesses of Arizona’s economy?   What actions has Arizona taken to address these weaknesses and change the economy?  What actions have stakeholders in Arizona’s economy taken to grow, change, or sustain the state’s economy and to attract investment, jobs and business activity?
  3. To what extent is Arizona’s economy affected by national and international economic conditions?  What unique assets does Arizona have that may enhance its competitiveness in the global economy?  How does Arizona’s economy compare with other states, and with communities throughout the world, for investments, jobs and business activity?
  4. What specific factors present barriers to the optimal development and functioning of a vibrant and competitive economy for the entire state?  How do these factors vary by region of the state?  What strategies is Arizona currently using, statewide and locally, to retain, grow and attract businesses and jobs?

Session II – Developing a Vibrant, Innovative & Competitive Economy

  1. What guiding principles should shape efforts to grow, change or sustain Arizona’s economic activity?  What efforts and activities influence the future development and operation of Arizona’s economy?  What factors should be considered in connection with such efforts and activities? Consider: global competitiveness; the interaction of various state and local economic systems and how they enhance or compete with each other; diversification and quality of jobs; factors unique to Arizona such as its environment, weather, population demographics, and the large proportion of federal, tribal and state land trusts.
  2. In what ways do stakeholders work together to influence Arizona’s economic development and to grow, change or sustain economic activity within Arizona?  Consider governing bodies (federal, state, tribal, regional, county and local), private industry, nonprofits, chambers of commerce, economic development organizations, universities and private think tanks, workforce development groups, and the general public.  What would optimize the cooperation of these groups?
  3. How do market forces and government interact to affect Arizona’s economy?  How are the fiscal challenges of national, state and local governments affecting the development of Arizona’s economy?
  4. Considering the factors identified in your response to the previous question, what strategies should be implemented to best meet Arizona’s economic goals?  Which of these strategies do not require additional funding and how viable are they?

If they get me back the data on the consolidated answers to these every night I will transcribe and post them here.  I urge you to please participate.  If for no other reason than to start thinking about these issues. 🙂


  1. I
    1) An over-reliance on the real estate market continuing to inflate has been the #1 factor in Arizona’s current economic state. Greatest strengths seem to be insurance and real estate related.
    2)see #1
    3) Obviously AZ is part of the larger economic circle but I think that the lack of anything that is a “native arizona” type product. There’s no Florida Oranges or California Raisins or Oil from Texas etc that analogizes to Arizona. There are opportunities for this in Solar tech and others that don’t seem to be actualized
    4) A lack of effective funding and innovation in education is sure to keep AZ from becoming thought leaders anytime soon. The only strategies I hear about to attract jobs or businesses is paying them to come here. Does not scale.

  2. I find the questions to be off target, or maybe just the language is so academic that practical answers seem impossible. You can’t get great information if you don’t ask the right questions.

    I offer this tidbit to others who may be able provide you with more substantial input. Traditionally, the last half of the last century, the Arizona economy has been driven by the 5 Cs: copper, cotton, citrus, cattle, and climate.

    Look at the state of these industries today and you can see that the foundation has eroded.

    In the past, the climate drove the tourism industry and golf courses. But in the last 20 years, it has driven the exodus from the midwest to the sunbelt states. So climate went from being a positive contributor to sustain the existing population to a driving force behind the unbelievable growth in population. I’m not suggesting more people is a bad thing, only that it magnifies some of the other challenges and certainly was a huge factor in the real estate boom and then collapse.

    My 2 cents.

  3. Two practical suggestions that go to points II.2 and II.4:

    1. I think an online, constantly refreshed inventory of civil society/NGO (non-governmental orgs) could be useful. There is a dizzying array of groups that are engaged often on similar issues (consider just the various downtown Phoenix groups as an example). Simply knowing what groups are working on what issues could be useful, and enable collaborations between like-minded organizations. (Perhaps something like this already exists?)

    2. Fiber and broadband wireless. What if AZ had the fastest connectivity in the world? This would undoubtedly attract entrepreneurs, and be the foundation upon which businesses would be built. Forget building roads to nowhere to subsidize real estate developers. Build the infrastructure for the knowledge economy instead.

    I’ll think harder about all of this and try to add some bigger picture ideas tomorrow.

  4. Another (perhaps) practical idea:

    Let’s throw up Wimax towers like it’s an Amish barnraising. E.g., Gangplank current makes Wifi available to everyone at GP; what about figuring out how to build a Wimax tower and make broadband wireless available to everyone in Chandler? Then do it in 3 other cities. On Indian reservations. Teach others how to do it. Let’s grow a 4G wireless infrastructure in AZ bottom up, not carrier-dependent top-down.

    [Note: I don’t really know if this is technically feasible. Also, full disclosure: one of my employers is a stakeholder with Wimax, but this idea (and everything I say online, unless otherwise noted) is purely a personal view.]

    Use the high bandwidth infrastructure to lead in distance education. (As f&$%ed up as AZ’s education system is, we do have a lot of innovation around charter schools and around distance education — let’s capitalize on this strength.)

  5. 1. Too much money, time and effort has been tied into non-renewable offerings. We only have so much land, so much water and so many resorts. After people have their fill, they leave. There’s no reason to stay in AZ, only visit.

    2. None. The stakeholders and those who rule our state still think of it as the Wild West, with the shining jewel of this being Scottsdale, which seems to rely on clubs, shopping and golf clubs, none of which make anyone want to stay.

    3. We rise and fall with the strength of the American economy as a whole. Because we place so much emphasis on growth and/or tourism, if people don’t have extra money to spend, they don’t come here. You don’t NEED to visit AZ, you come when you want to and can afford it.

    4.EDUCATE THE PEOPLE. We are last in education funding. Many of the more affluent areas in the state (Paradise Valley, North Scottsdale) also have a high level of educational achievement. While I admit that degrees aren’t always the answer, we need to at least be on some level to compete on a national stage.

  6. Current economy: We all know the problems.
    1)over dependence on real estate boom and bus with no counter cyciical industries
    2)neglect of existing businesses for “new business” attraction
    3)Poor quality of life for both business and human capital (no investment in education or public health)
    4)No sense of community. People come and go.
    5)The national economy is recovering. We are not. Guess why? Because we are a national laughing stock Arizona has to quit doing things like dissing our immigrants (who start many of the businesses and provide jobs)

    1)Tie the traditional faith and investors in the real estate market to the entrepreneurial community. This can be done through education and builder incentives.
    2) Encourage and train citizens to be involved and elect intelligent leaders rather than ideologues
    3)Separate church and state
    4)Government: Get behind existing businesses and efforts. That movement in AZ is non-existent. In California, everything is behind innovation and Silicon Valley. Pick something and get behind it. And don’t change it every year
    5)Don’t blame the national economy. It’s picking up. And innovation never stops. How about some community support for the people who ARE doing something
    6) Government should concentrate on making education better and providing health care. Then people will move here.

    See above comments for the rest. My blood pressure is at a boil

  7. As Francine says, we all know the problems, and her insights are exactly the kinds of things we should be doing. But we don’t. We’ve relied on the same old people to make new changes.

    When faced with remaking Bookmans’ tech infrastructure, we took the attitude of “we’re Japan after the war”. We can build better and faster precisely because we’re so far behind now.

    Brad’s idea about WiMax is appealing and timely. I just returned from a very rural town in the Philippines. In just the last 3 months they’ve added WiMax. Their kids have it, why not ours?

    In addition, I’d echo Bob Bookman’s sentiments about our solar potential. Let’s attract new business around solar, in exchange for solar tech at cost for residents.

    And finally, let’s make improvements which will attract tourists, but also enhance life for residents. Solar panel shaded urban walkways, reclaimed pedestrian areas and greenbelts; electric trains and large civic water harvesting installations would do more for our tourism than another golf course and resort. We’re in the desert, we should embrace shade, solar and water, it will resonate with everyone who lives here and those who visit.

    Combined with education reform, to me these ideas represent an AZ I’d be proud to leave behind. The movement represented by @Gangplank and social media has me more hopeful than ever. But I’m solidly in the camp of seeing opportunity, not problems. We’re not waiting, we’re taking steps toward realizing this now.

    Changing from within, consistent with our finely honed sense of place would be a radical departure from past efforts. With that change, I hope we can entice the “same old people” in government to try new things along with us.

  8. Another thought (although I strongly suspect you’ll be making this general point anyway :-)):

    Create collaborative spaces. Gangplank is an obvious and excellent example of this, but efforts like Chandler Innovations, SkySong, T-Gen, are variations on the theme (and different approaches are a good thing). AZ could showcase its collaboration successes, and build a template for more. The future is about diverse parts working together, not one company dominating top-to-bottom, and we could demonstrate that we’re a region that gets this.

    An example that’s near-and-dear to me (and I know to you as well): algae — or “green solar,” as Mark Edwards calls it. Algae for fuel, food and medicine is a potentially transformational technology, and AZ should *own* this.[1] We have amazing, world-class research and pioneering entrepreneurs — yet each are working in isolation. Let’s create an open, collaborative campus where AZ algae entrepreneurs can bring their growing strategies, their drying technologies, their extraction techniques — and collaborate with others to develop working systems. Gov’t can play a role in helping to facilitate this.

    Another small example: recently I’ve been used both the Cisco and HP remote conference rooms (video conferencing around a half-circle table, facing giant hi-def screens). To my surprise, I *love* it — it feels like you’re sitting FTF with someone, and FTF matters. It would be cool to have rooms avail to the entrepreneurial communities in Phx, Tucson and Flagstaff (and elsewhere?) — a simple way to facilitate statewide collaborations.

    More broadly (responding to question II.1): let’s be a region that understands that open collaboration works, and promotes it. We have some successes we can build upon.


  9. Ok, last quick thought: university-developed intellectual property — do we capture enough benefit, particularly for AZ?

    (Taxpayer funded) IP developed by AZ’s university professors gets managed by university IP licensing offices whose success is measured by licensing revenues they can generate. So, for example, breakthrough algae research from ASU gets licensed to a penny-stock start-up in Florida (who promises revenue) rather than used as part of a strategic effort to make AZ the “green solar” capital of the world.

    Should we recast the mission of university licensing offices to focus on AZ benefit (in appropriate circumstances)? Should we require university-generated software to be open sourced?

    [again let me emphasize: personal views]

  10. I will admit that I have neither lived here long enough, nor put enough research into the economy of Arizona. I’m not as informed as I should and would like to be.

    However, coming from one of the “big cities” Phoenix always gets compared to, I see many characteristics that are both positive and negative in that comparison.

    Phoenix and Arizona as a whole is very spread out. Even our major cities seem to sprawl, causing our natural and financial resources to be stretched thin. Just because we can build anywhere, doesn’t mean we should. Concentrating on what we already have I think would both spur new business and lead to more innovative thinking.

    At the same time, the spread has led to some great partnerships and an increase in communication. What the museums through Maricopa are doing with the Culture Pass is a fantastic example of working together to help fight the sprawl. The space between people leads to an increase in conversation, more intense debate.

    That’s the lay persons take on these issues =)

Comments are closed.