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!

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?

Creativity, Kryptonite to Complexity and Key to the Future

IBM recently released a study on rising complexity in organizations and cited that “creativity” is the key leadership trait that was allowing companies to stand out.  It is what CEO’s find most valuable.

Despite this realization we still have an educational system that guts the creative soul right out of every kindergartner that enters it’s doors.  If we think we are not prepared today, wait 12 years when a graduating class is completely unprepared to operate in this economy.  It’s time to take a stand.  Get off your ass.  Fight for creativity.  Fight for our future.

Part of the creative process is constantly inspecting and adapting to the information unearthed and the forces at work around you.  You better be okay with ambiguity and be prepared to experiment and FAIL regularly.  Ultimately serendipity can be creative rocket fuel and access to it requires deep, meaningful and broad connections with real people and data.  It requires constant iterative scanning based on what you know.  It expects you to be relentless in your pursuits.

Pansies need not apply.  The truly creative are disturbingly disruptive.  They don’t look to be on the top of a market, they look to create entirely new markets even if it means obliterating existing norms.  If you aren’t disrespectful of the status quo on some level, you probably aren’t innovating.

Command and control is out.  Self-Organization is the new standard.  Diversity of ideas and backgrounds is critical.  Open spaces let ideas spread.

IBM asks the following questions…

1. How will you develop the critical capabilities to enhance creativity among your leadership team?

Everyone was born creative.  It’s a matter of unlocking that which has been suppressed.  It starts with a radical change of culture and sense of place.

2. In what ways can you explore, reward and globally integrate diverse and unconventional points of view?

Let people choose their own work and how best solve the problems.  Get the fuck out of their way and let them impress the hell out of you.  You might just be amazed at who steps up.

3. What is your approach to challenge every element of your business model to get the most from currently untapped opportunities?

Connect with your customers and employees.  Ask them what is missing.  Live your product/service and pour your soul into it.  Experiment with wild ideas.

4. How will you leverage new communication styles, technologies and tools, both to lead a new generation of talent and encourage breakthrough thinking?

Stop restricting your employees from communicating digitally.  Get out of lock down mode and get into sharing mode.  Until you can do that, you are already on the death march to being obsolete.

What is the Motivation of Making Gangplank Free?

A common question is “How does Gangplank work?  Why is everything free?”.  The common theory is that if you don’t charge people something they won’t see any value in it.  Maybe if they are working on an assembly line, but for creatives this just isn’t true.  Our value lies in three things..

1. Gangplank is nearly completely self-autonomous.  If something is missing someone steps up and does it or organizes with others to get it done.

2. Gangplank believes it’s okay to fail as long as you keep trying.  The goal is a journey of excellence.  Seek mastery in what you do.

3. Gangplank has purpose.  It believes that you should be making a positive impact in the community you live in.  Not just for today but in the long run.

None of this should be surprising or new.  Economists, Psychologists and Sociologists have been saying it for years.  I found this great talk from Dan Pink that is animated in real time that explains it well.

I hope this helps answer the question.

SBR: Linchpin by Seth Godin

Linchpin: Are You Indispensable? Linchpin: Are You Indispensable? by Seth Godin

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Seth is back. He really gets it right on this one. This is an excellent book to pair with Richard Florida’s Reset. The world and they way we work in it is radically changing.

This is a good book to help people get ahead during this great changing of industry. One of the better books I read this year. It is easy reading. If you put yourself to it you should be able to finish it in one sitting.

View all my reviews >>

Sunday Book Review: The Great Reset by Richard Florida

The Great Reset: How New Ways of Living and Working Drive Post-Crash Prosperity The Great Reset: How New Ways of Living and Working Drive Post-Crash Prosperity by Richard Florida

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Richard Florida returns to form in this book. He is spot on in his assessments of our current crisis and what it means to future generations. While I am conflicted about the changes that are already occurring it is impossible to ignore them any longer. This is a must read to anyone caring about economics, government and/or education.

View all my reviews >>

Note: Trying something new other than the thumbs up/down reviews because Good Reads makes it so simple now.

Do We Want It Badly Enough?

Richard Florida a leading economist talks answers the question “Will Phoenix rise from the ashes?“.

I am a firm believer that in fact we do need to build on our assets.  I say this every chance I get.  I often wonder if anyone is listening.

He lists some of our assets as follows:

  • We are big. [My assertion is that we need to focus on getting those here skilled]
  • Reasonable Universities. [My assertion is we need to add smaller private colleges to the mix see item above]
  • Technology to build on. [My assertion is we need to invest heavily in seed funding technology]
  • Has to want it. [ I can rant on this forever]

The last point is the one that imperative.  Do we want it badly enough?  If we do, we need to mobilize, unite and most of all raise the bar.  Mediocrity can no longer be accepted and a push for excellence needs to begin.  It’s time this city grew up and got real.  We need to look long and hard in that mirror and decide what we want to do to set ourselves up for a prosperous future.  It’s time to roll up our sleeves and get to work.

Sunday Review: Who’s Your City?: How the Creative Economy Is Making Where to Live the Most Important Decision of Your Life by Richard Florida

Thumbs up means I highly recommend reading the book. A thumbs down means read something else unless you have free time on your hands.

thumbs-downWho's Your City?: How the Creative Economy Is Making Where to Live the Most Important Decision of Your Life

Take Away: Book felt forced.  It would have been just as good being only half as long.  If economic development or creative class is interesting to you then it’s a thumbs up. 🙂

Creative Economy AZ (My Take)

Based on the Gangplank Futurespective, one thing I promised myself to investigate was Creative Economy AZ.  This is an initiative to raise 1/10th of cent sales tax for the next 20 years to help fund the arts.  I spent a fair amount of time researching what they had online, but felt it was best to meet with those working hard on it before passing judgement.

A few weeks ago I met with Amy Heisler from Metro Phoenix Partnership for Arts and Culture and Sophie O’Keefe-Zelman from First Strategic to talk about the Creative Economy AZ Initiative.  Amy is extremely passionate about arts and culture in Arizona and it shows.   I didn’t learn too much new about the initiative as they do a great job outlining what they are about on their website, from the problem to the solution and on taking action.

I agree with the stated problem.  However, I don’t agree with the solution.  We are in one of the worst economic fiasco’s of this century, both federally and as a state.  With a state budget deficit of several billion and climbing I see little to no chance for this initiative to pass.  Beyond that, I think that it actually puts creatives in a bad light.  It makes creatives look like in the toughest time, that they are the first in line to look for a hand out.

Maybe, I am old fashioned, but this just doesn’t seem right.  I wish that the millions being put into PR, legal fees and lobbying for this initiative were instead being put into efforts to unite the creative class in metro Phoenix.  We are already seeing pockets of people working together to affect radical change in their area of influence.  Imagine if we were to put concentrated effort into getting people to support the arts that are already here and the movement that is already happening?

My Take: Our arts are severely underfunded, but raising taxes to support them in this economic climate is not the right approach.

That said, there is nearly always more than one path to reach an intended destination.

Commentary on Whats Wrong With Downtown Phoenix

Last week Tyler Hurst made a post on what’s wrong with downtown Phoenix. There is certainly one thing he got absolutely right,  “Downtown Phoenix isn’t about businesses, buildings or parks. It’s about people. Those that live, work and/or play here make this place what it is.

Here are my thoughts on Tyler’s list.

1. Anything fun is spaced too far away. We have small little hives of activity connected with long, dark patches of absolutely nothing.

This is problematic.  There seems to be little factions popping up all over.  Hell many can’t even agree on what the boundaries of downtown Phoenix should even be.  Concentration of people and activity is extremely important.  Even the ASU downtown campus isn’t connected to itself.

2. Most of the people living here are liberal artists. They don’t make much money, don’t understand how to make money and seem content with First Fridays for selling anything. Yeah, good luck with that.

There definitely seems to be a lack of understanding of how basic economics work among many of the biggest proponents.  This is preventing real attraction of people who will support the area financially.  In time, when the economy picks back up it will also mean rich land developers mowing down what is being worked so hard to build.  The city will support this because while “vibrant” the current model does not show economical significance in comparison to what big land developers offer.

3. We have tons of groups, yet no one talks to each other. Go ask the marketing person at the Phoenix Art Museum and he’ll tell you the same. We all have our own thing on our own day, and they’re all sparsely attended.

Unity is so important.  People need not like one another, but they need to learn to support one another.  Creativity/Innovation is not a zero sum game.

4. Everyone wants a creative class down here, but no one understands what the hell that even is.

See item #2.  The basic misunderstanding of things such as social classes is just one sign that there are basic misunderstandings of how things effect the economy.  Until the struggling artist understands they need that corporate creative professional bringing down 200k a year to support them, it will be painful to see things collapse when big developers start their engines again.

5. Most are against anything corporate or chain, yet they don’t understand that’s where the money comes from.

See item #2 and item #4.  The theme here is that while local is best for sustainability, downtown needs to be sensitive to what the people with money are willing to participate and support.  The right mix of things is necessary to get things in full swing.  Even “real cities” have chains and non local owned businesses.

6. Everything is shiny happy unicorn rainbows all the time. THE BEST EVENT EVER! First Friday was a blast! The little scavenger hunt we had changed my life (okay, that last one was actually fun)! It’s called perspective. Try it.

To be excellent you must constantly seek improvement.  The only way to improve is to find deficiencies.  If everyone thinks everything is perfect already, then no improvement occurs and one is destined to mediocrity.

7. No one looks around. Nice Twitterhunt last week, CenPho businesses. Didn’t bother to check that many of the people using social media had their own GeekWeekAZ and were too tired to participate, did you?

Im not sure you can blame the businesses here.  What are the people doing to engage the businesses?  Everyone should be in it together.

8. Too many businesses think A) Twitter is the answer or B) don’t have a fucking clue what the internet, much less social media, even is. I live downtown and I don’t hear a damn thing about what goes on down here, and I’m constantly searching social media channels. It’s about BALANCE.

There certainly needs to be community OUTSIDE of technology.  While technology helps get the word out in many ways it retards the relationships that are vital to building real and sustaining community.  Turn off the technology for a while and really get to know people.

9. Everyone bitches, but no one bitches out loud and in public. Pissed about Modified Arts? SAY SOMETHING. Want to start a music venue? ASK AROUND.

You are victim if you passively complain and don’t stand up to voice things or are unwilling to get involved.  I think the biggest faux pas that creative class has made in downtown Phoenix is not getting involved in the right organizations and making an impact.

10. We want our downtown to be just like someone else’s. Doesn’t work that way. While I love the Gaslamp District, our city leaders seem too concerned with north Phoenix to make that happen. You want to improve your city? DO IT.

See #9. Also, be fucking unique.  Don’t be what someone else is.  The people here are unique, as is the weather, the culture and the history.  Make downtown phoenix representative of that uniqueness.

11. Phoenix thinks it has an image problem, when Phoenix IS THE PROBLEM. It’s foot-burning, nose-drying, armpit-sweating hot five months every year here, and we have a downtown WITHOUT ANY SHADED SIDEWALKS.

Please.  Shaded sidewalks while nice are not the problem.  Phoenix is not the problem.  Remember Tyler, it’s the people.  The people are the problem. 🙂  They need to be united in trying to transform where they live.  They need to have a vision with clarity that they can get behind and they need to be ruthless in executing it.  No whining, no complaining.  Less talking and more doing.

12. You built a park in the middle of the city and didn’t bother to shade it. Instead, we got a floating cervix that only looks good at night. How fucking stupid are you people?

The shade it provides is less than stellar and we can argue about it’s looks.  Im not sure it has anything to do with what’s wrong with downtown Phoenix.  It’s better than the pile of shit erected in front of Skysong.

13. The AZ Republic still exists, apparently above questioning. Does anyone even read that rag anymore? Arpaio met with Biden? WHO’S REPORTING WHAT?

I read that rag cover to cover every weekday (along with the Wall Street Journal).  I think it is in dire need of some help, but right now it’s all we got.  Someday I will get frustrated enough to get passionate about trying to change how we report news here to try to change things, but for now it’s better than nothing (albeit not by much).

14. Businesses think Light Rail is the answer. No, being amazing is the answer, Light Rail is just a more efficient way of bringing people to you.

Light rail has positioned well for an economic future that didnt exist before it.  However, the cost and operations are probably something that will be problematic for years to come as local governments involved are so poorly under funded.  However, you are correct it is not THE answer.  Being awesome (read being excellent) is the answer.  Downtown will never be awesome until it learns to criticize and respond to criticism with improvement.

15. Too often, criticism is passed off as complaining. Ever try asking a critic if they’re willing to help? I bet they are!


16. ASU has been allowed to grow in the middle of downtown, without any sort of clear plan as to what role it will play in the community. Right now, it offers residents limited WiFi. Woohoo.

ASU brings more harm than help in the long term.  Ask Tempe what it’s like cleaning the cage of the 800lb giant.

17. There’s always talk about shopping local, yet no one actually does it. Ever seen unmanageable lines at the Farmer’s Market? Me neither.

I can’t speak to this one, but if people aren’t shopping local, downtown Phoenix stands little chance.

18. That people probably haven’t even read this far.

no comment.

Agree or disagree, get down to Local Breeze on Tuesday, November 24 from 5:30-7:30pm and get your point across. You don’t count if you don’t show up.

What is sad is that there will probably be more people there arguing for what to do that DO NOT live there, than there are people who actually do.  If this is the case.  If even 10% of the people that are there don’t currently live or operate businesses down there, then downtown is hurting much more than I expected.  I would love to attend and give an opinion, but honestly I don’t have a dog in the fight.

Disclosure: I live in Queen Creek and operate businesses in Chandler.  I am committed to improving both of the communities and the southeast valley. However, I would love to see the entire metro area and even Tucson succeed.