Building Arizona’s Future: Jobs, Innovation and Competitiveness

This past April I attended the 96th Arizona Town Hall in Tucson Arizona.  The New Economy: A Guide For Arizona serves as background information on the event.  The result of the Town Hall was a set of recommendations (pdf).  Recently at Mesa Community College I was asked to speak about the experience and highlight my recommendations.  Below is my summary.

The Process

The process was good discussion, but it often felt that things were watered down quite a bit by the time they got recorded.  However, at the final session I saw the passion come back out and some good middle ground was found on a number of difficult issues.  If only our legislatures could come to agreement in this fashion.

Economic Development

Economic Development has changed.  It used to be about material resources and manufacturing infrastructure.  That is changing and now creative people are the most valuable resource.  Good companies move to where good people.  We must invest in human and social capital to be a player in the future.

Based on that I believe the following recommendations should have priority and we should concentrate on making them a reality.

Slide Rock

8. Preserve Quality of Life

We need to attract good people in the short term to fill the needs of growing companies emerging in the new economy.  Also, we need to retain the quality creators that are already here.  We can do this by preserving the quality of life.

a. Cultivate the arts, sports and other recreational amenities.

We need creatives to get involved with their local art scene.  Bring relevant programming to the great Performing Arts Centers many cities have.  Support existing programming and work to create new and diverse programs.  We need to convert empty buildings into Art galleries, centers for creation and music.

b. Preserve our natural and cultural resources.

We need to get the state legislature to restore funding to our State Park system and find ways to make sure it stays healthy.

c. Develop strong sense of place in our communities.

We need to encourage density and support third places that build a sense of place.

1. Education

We must start building our future now.  Our future lies in our youth.  We need to radically transform education to be a leader in how we restore creativity to schools.

a. Improve funding and rigorous statewide standards to meet workforce needs of business and industry.

It is time we get serious about funding schools and we restore learning to it’s roots and allow kids to explore and create.

7. Broadening the Tax Base

We need to have the proper way to pay for quality of life issues.  The best people want to live in a quality place.  We have to stop looking to be the Walmart of the world.  Low cost living, education and infrastructure attracts the people and employers that have bleak place in the future economy.

a. Implement a broad-based, diversified, and stable tax structure that does not rely disproportionately on sales tax.

We have to explore raising property taxes or finding other ways to balance providing necessary infrastructure.

11. Other Economic Development Actions

We need to grow businesses as much if not more than recruit them and then help them grow.  Jobs don’t create jobs.  Companies create jobs.  We need to focus on creating companies.

a. Fund business incubators, a competitive small grant program for start-ups and existing small businesses, and other small business assistance programs.

2. Strategic Planning

d. Address both recruitment of new businesses and retention of businesses and talent already present in Arizona.

4. Capital Formation

We need to have capital available for those companies as they grow.

d. Encourage AZ individuals, foundations, and industry to invest in an AZ “fund of funds” to provide venture captial for the early-stage development of new companies.

We need people to invest in seed funds to encourage creation of new businesses.

6. Infrastructure

We need a quality infrastructure to promote growth.

a. Create a networked business environment through advances in our transportation system and data connectivity.

12. Other Activities that Influence Economic Development

a. Pursue comprehensive, multimodal transportation planning and design programs.


Don’t wait on the state legislature, you can help do this RIGHT now.  Look to entrepreneurs to get the ball rolling.  Participate in your local government and start making a difference.  Simply voting can start to unlock necessary change.  Be active in our future!

ASU Administrative Bloat Part of Higher Cost?

The Goldwater Institute recently released “Administrative Bloat at America Universities: The Real Reason for High Costs in Higher Education“.  It shows that administrative spending per student has increased by 46 percent between 1993 and 2007.  Dr. Crow of course feels this assessment is not fair.  I guess sometimes you get defensive when your nearly $750,000 salary comes into question as waste.

Political Bites: Southeast Valley Changes

Some things from the Southeast Valley’s past — businesses, buildings, industries, feelings, etc. — are no longer with us. What is one thing you miss the most, and why?

There has been a lot of change in the Southeast Valley in the last decade.  I miss Rittenhouse Road connecting at Williams Field Road and heading South to Queen Creek.  It provided a bit of character and followed the train.  Additionally, seeing the Boys and Girls Club in Gilbert get demolished was difficult even though the building was in rough shape.

If You Play the Numbers Game, You Will Always Lose When Trying to Change the World

Why do we focus so much on attendance numbers when trying to make change?  The truth is that numbers can deceive us and give us a false sense of progress.  Let me give you an example.

Recently and event was held in Phoenix that two or three “popular” community activists got behind to try to institute change on something.  Between these connected people they mustered up roughly 5,400 people to invite.  This includes the reach of their reach within a social graph.  If there are 3.5 million people in Phoenix, their effective reach is 00.15%.  Significantly less than 1%.  In reality, let’s cut it down to their audience, the creative class.  In Phoenix that would be about 500,000 people.  So their reach in the creative class is about 1.06%.  Roughly one percent.

Of the 5,400 people they invited to participate, 175 decided to stand behind them with another 235 saying maybe they would participate and nearly 1,254 flat out said no.  Another 3,700 were apathetic and gave no response.  If we go by numbers the organizers were proud that the day of the event 300 people showed up.  They were effective in getting 00.06% of the creative class to stand behind them.

So on the surface 300 people showing up seems great and inflates the ego, but in reality .06% is a miserable turnout.  The reason you lose when you make it a numbers game is because then the focus is only the numbers and someone who is paying attention can easily see that the numbers suck.

300 people showing up might make an organizer feel accomplished, but to the educated their delight in the numbers only highlights them as the paper tiger that they seemingly are, thus negating most momentum they seem to be gaining.  The real problem is that trying to use the attendance measuring stick is an old economy way to think of things.  It is the epitome of corporate.  Events and organizers looking to see their effectiveness based on their attendance are missing the point.

Stop looking at “how many people we have” and instead start asking “do we have the right people?”, “what impact are we making?”, “what value are we adding”.  The only time attendance should matter is if you are charging ticket fees and attendance relates to your bottom line.  At that point you are changing the world or are you simply providing entertainment (which is totally acceptable).

Random Sidebar
It is interesting that there were only 12 disciples.  Imagine how popular Christianity might have been if there would have been more of a focus on attendance.  In fact, maybe the demise of modern Christianity could be that pastors are more concerned with attendance instead of making an impact?
Some people might ask that a better number than the time before should count for something as it is an improvement.  They would be right, but they still miss the point.  What do numbers mean?  Even if they are trending up?  The truth is when you are focused on numbers you are focused on your own self and not on changing the world.  Would you rather impact the people close to you or just be surrounded by legions of cheerleaders?  Paris Hilton and Jessica Simpson have lots of fans.  Is that what we aspire to be?

Political Bites: Southeast Valley Arts

What can be done to strengthen the Southeast Valley’s performing arts scene?

First, start booking quality, relevant shows in the performing arts centers.  It’s okay to step outside the family friendly box on occasion.   Second,  there is still a need for smaller venues to allow local artists to take root.  Third, get out and support the arts, you might be surprised what you find.

Background, if needed:

Political Bites: Door to Door Solicitors

Should door-to-door solicitors be regulated more or less than they already are?

Do we really need more government regulation?  Is this really an issue that should be taking the time of Phoenix’s leadership during one of the worst recessions the city has ever faced?  Maybe if we took education, economic development and transportation in the last decade as seriously as we are taking solicitors today we wouldn’t be experiencing financial devastation.

Background: Phoenix is considering an ordinance that would do so; all other Southeast Valley cities already have an ordinance.

Political Bites: Mesa Graywater Decisions

Should cities require buildings to incorporate water-saving techniques, similar to what Tucson is doing?

Conservation of water is critical when building cities in the middle of a desert.  I am curious if Mesa residents get a credit for helping Mesa fulfill it’s gray water contract?  Do they get compensated for providing water to flush the sewer system?  Looks like Mesa is simply protecting a revenue stream to me.

Notes: Mesa this week decided to hold off on enacting rules similar to Tucson’s, which include requiring buildings to harvest rainwater and accommodate “gray water” irrigation. Background on the decision, if needed: AZ Republic Article

Political Bites: Cubs Spring Training Subsidy

What do you think of Mesa’s decision to fund the Chicago Cubs’ spring training facilities?

Apparently Mesa failed to do it’s homework.  Lake Forest College studied 30 cities over 30 years and found that 27 experienced no significant impact from new stadiums while three cities experienced a negative economic impact.  Does a company that made an estimated $58 million in PROFITS in 2008 and sold for $845 million in 2009 really need a subsidy?  Maybe Mesa should be investing in local entrepreneurs instead?


Phoenix Urbanites Cry Sprawl Foul, but Remain Most Guilty

A few times recently I have seen/heard Phoenix Urbanites disparage outside cities in derogatory terms using “sprawl” as their verbal assault of choice.  Oddly the facts, don’t line up with their dogma.

Let’s look at total population, population density (people per sq mile), incorporation date and average household income.

City Population Density Incorporation Household Income
Portland 582k 4,288/sq mi 1845 $70,000
Chandler 274k 4,202/sq mi 1912 $69,278
Tempe 175k 4,067/sq mi 1894 $42,361
Mesa 463k 3,536/sq mi 1878 $42,817
Phoenix 1,567k 2,937/sq mi 1881 $50,140

It’s amazing that Chandler, AZ looks more like Portland, OR than Phoenix, AZ does by the numbers.

I suspect that Phoenix people harping on density and urban infill while casting stones at other communities would know that in fact the City of Phoenix has been the biggest culprit of unabated sprawl over the last 50 years.  Having by far the lowest population density track record.  It likes to claim superiority by being the capital and being here “first” and that these other cities popped up over night and ruined the world with “sprawl”, but in reality it is younger than Mesa and relatively close in age to the others.

I do believe that all these cities have a sprawl problem (which I am against).  I am just setting the record straight that Phoenix is the biggest violator.

I  lived in Phoenix (the city) for 24 years and have lived in the East Valley for the past 10 years.  I worked in downtown Phoenix for 8 years and downtown Tempe for 4 years.  Two of my children were born in downtown Phoenix and one in Chandler.  I love both the city and the metro, but it’s time that we start having real discussion and stop just regurgitating the rhetoric the uninformed feed us or we will be doomed to be in crisis for another decade or more.

Disclaimer: My goal is to position Chandler is the linchpin of the Sun Corridor by 2020.  Rising tides raise all ships and by definition this does not make me “against” Phoenix.

Explore Arizona Kicks Off with Catalina State Park

Finally got around to getting the RV back into a drivable state.  It still needs to be emissions tested, two new tires on front, windshield replaced, generator serviced and the A/C needs some freon.  Part of trying to get sane again and get healthy the family has committed to exploring this great state and our National Parks again.

One reason I love Arizona is it’s natural beauty.  I have decided that if I expect my children to share the love of this great state and ultimately stay here long term that I better get busy showing them what it has to offer.  Memorial day is entirely the wrong time of year to visit Catalina State Park (as it is a little on the warm side), but we wanted some where not crowded and close to home.  The upside is the off season RV rate is only $15/night. Since we were only going to stay the night we headed south to check it out.

I love the drive down SR-79.  It just feels like Arizona.  I feel like a pioneer traveling down this forgotten stretch of road.  While heading out I mentioned this fact.  My oldest daughter said that she loved Arizona too and that she thinks she will stay here forever. (Yes, I was doing back flips of joy)  She mentioned that she used to want to go back to California, but that it’s too crowded and not as pretty.


Catalina State Park sits at the base of the majestic Santa Catalina Mountains. The park is a haven for desert plants and wildlife and nearly 5,000 saguaros. The 5,500 acres of foothills, canyons and streams invites camping, picnicking and bird watching — more than 150 species of birds call the park home. The park provides miles of equestrian, birding, hiking, and biking trails which wind through the park and into the Coronado National Forest at elevations near 3,000 feet. The park is located within minutes of the Tucson metropolitan area.

The facilities here are as clean as I have seen and the park is well maintained.  The trails and the views are fabulous.

I am hoping that we will get out every other weekend or at least once a month for the rest of the year.  It is my goal to find other campers/RV’ers that want to explore AZ along side us.  Drinking beer and sitting by the campfire is more fun with a group of people.

So let’s get out and Explore Arizona.  Use the hash tag #exploreaz whenever you get out and see this great state.  If you find something that inspires or moves you add the #whyaz to go along with it. It’s time we start showing the rest of the world why this place is worth fighting for!