Creating Vibrant City Environments for a Thriving State Economy

I recently sat on a panel at the League of Arizona Cities and Towns Annual Conference.  The topic was Creating Vibrant City Environments for a Thriving State Economy.  I opened with the following.

The truth is that we are seeing a decline in blue collar jobs.  The gap between the high wage of the creative class and the lower wage of the service class is growing every quarter.  Furthermore, because creatives are not dependent on physical buildings the way the service/manufacturing class is they are starting to become more geographically concentrated.  Flocking towards cities that offer a wide variety of diversity and density of talent.

The only way we can combat this is to increase the number of people working in the creative class.  It is fundamental to understand that every human is born creative.  Until we start utilizing and developing the full creative potential in each of us we can’t truly grow and develop our economy to it’s full capacity.

The future of economic development demands that we invest in people.  We have to step outside our communities and look to develop humanity itself in order to unlock our futures.

There were a list of 25 questions that we took time answering.  I would like to turn those questions into a small series.  Where I will list the question and provide my response in hope that you will build on it and give your opinion.

Political Bites: Rising Prescription Costs

Given increasing prescription costs stateside, would you buy medicine from Mexican or Canadian pharmacies?

Pharmaceutical companies are simply out of control spending more money on marketing drugs than they do on the research, but claiming escalating costs are due to regulation and research.  It is unfortunate that any US citizen has to go to a foreign country in order to afford medical care.  Especially if that country has weaker regulations and lower standards of care.  However, it is a reality that many face.

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!

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

Policital Bites: HB 2256 Fireworks Legal

The governor has signed House Bill 2246 legalizing sparklers, ground spinners, cone fountains and toy smoke devices. Good idea or not?

House Bill 2246 restores sanity to a time honored tradition used to celebrate events such as the 4th of July.  Using legislation instead of allowing people some personal responsibility is frivolous.  Punish people for the misuse/abuse instead of punishing responsible people prematurely.  If we banned everything that was dangerous we wouldn’t have automobiles on the road.

Phoenix May Get It Right with Property Tax Hike

Today the City of Phoenix is considering raising property taxes.

No one really likes to talk about tax increases.  However, people love to talk about all the services they expect.  Health Care, Public Safety, Education, Parks and many more.  Someone has to pay for those services.  I believe a civilized society does provide those services and I am happy to pay into them.  Call me a Socialist.  I have been called much worse.

The truth is if we want to be competitive we have to offer the best and brightest an environment worth living in.  The land development baron’s here have stagnated us in more ways than unending sprawl.

The state/local tax burden ranking in Arizona has dropped 24 places from 17th highest in 1977 to 41st in 2008, and the residents here now pay the tenth-lowest tax burden. Most of the change came in the wake of a property tax limitation in 1980, and the state’s ranking has changed little since. Estimated now at 8.5% of income, Arizona’s state/local tax burden percentage is below the national average of 9.7%. Arizona taxpayers pay $3,244 per capita in state and local taxes.

The easiest way to right size this is to raise property taxes.  Now is the time to do this.  As property values have plummeted an increase in property tax will still probably show an overall lower tax bill than previous years.  This makes it nearly unnoticeable to most residents.  It will help control growth and help fund our future.  Kudos to Phoenix for finally considering this after 14 years of stagnation.  I wish other communities would do the same.

Disclosure: I am a property owner.

Arizona Town Hall Session III & IV

Yesterday I asked for feedback on Sessions I & II.  Today I am asking the same for Sessions III & IV.  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 III – Getting the Jobs We Want and Funding

  1. What specific types of jobs does Arizona wish to attract and retain to provide the ideal economy for its people?  Consider: differences in urban, rural and tribal areas; how jobs interact with quality of life and the environment; factors unique to Arizona, such as its weather, geography, natural resources (including water), and tribal populations.  Also consider both small and large employers.
  2. What general factors are most important in attracting and retaining the types of jobs Arizona wants?  Consider, for example, physical infrastructure (including transportation), educational institutions, a trained and literate workforce, “sense of place”, cultural opportunities, climate, political structures, laws, taxes, and any other factors. To what extent does Arizona currently focus on these factors?  Which factors offer the best opportunities for attracting and retaining the types of jobs Arizona wants?
  3. What incentives specific to the creation, retention and recruitment of preferred jobs in Arizona have the best results?  Why?  Consider tax breaks, government support, research and development support, start-up incubators and the role of universities among others. To what extent are we able to measure the effectiveness of such incentives? How well does Arizona utilize such incentives to achieve the best mix of quality jobs?  Where are the best opportunities for improvement?  What are the greatest challenges for improvement, and how can these challenges best be resolved?
  4. What public and private resources currently are available to support economic development that leads to the creation, retention and recruitment of preferred jobs?  What actions, if any, should be taken to increase, diversify or stabilize funding for economic development?  What factors present barriers to the optimal development of funding for economic development?  How can barriers best be overcome?

Session IV – Getting There: Setting Priorities and Taking Action (It is my hope that I will have posted sessions I & II for you :))

  1. Based on your discussions over the last two days, what are the most important actions that should be taken to sustain and develop Arizona’s economy and position Arizona to compete effectively with other economies throughout the world for jobs, capital investment, and other desired economic activities?
  2. How should the actions identified in response to the previous question be prioritized?  Which of these actions should we take immediately?  Which actions should be taken over a longer period of time?  Why?
  3. What is the most effective way to ensure that the actions identified in this session are implemented?  What is each Arizonan’s role and responsibility in this process?  How can individuals fulfill the roles and responsibilities identified in response to the prior question as members of business, government or other organizations?  What is the role of entities, including businesses, government, organizations and others in accomplishing these actions?

After the final plenary session I plan to post any data they give back to us.  Thanks for playing along at home!

Make Up of a Arizona Town Hall Group

Someone asked me how groups were selected for Arizona Town Hall.  Frankly, I have no idea.  I am putting my group listing here so that people can get an idea of what the make of a group looks like diversity wise…

Jesus Bernal, Tucson – Wellness Consultant, Rio Rico Health & Wellness
Richard Bowen, Flagstaff – Assoc. VP for Economic Development and Sustainable Initiatives, Northern Arizona University
Alyce Brownridge, Mayer – Head of The Orme School of Arizona
Karen Caldwell, Scottsdale – Clint Unit Executive, IBM
Albert Celoza, Phoenix – Faculty, Political Science and Religious Studies, Phoenix College
Harold Dorenbecher, Phoenix – Senior VP, Northern Trust Bank of Arizona
Richard Ducote, Green Valley – Community Affairs Manager, Freeport-McMoRan Copper and Gold
Kevin Evans, Maricopa – City Manager, Maricopa
Jodie Filardo, Sedona – Economic Planner, City of Sedona
Jeff Hursh, Tucson – Attorney , Snell and Wilmer
Pat Jones, Tucson – Office of Technology, University of Arizona
Paul Loomis, Oro Valley – Mayor, Town of Oro Valley
Derek Neighbors, Chandler – Director, Gangplank Collective
Randy Nelson, Yuma – Director, Small Business Development Center
Lea Marquez Peterson, Tucson – CEO, Tucson Hispanic Chamber of Commerce
Nick Pierson, Tucson – CLU, Northwestern Mutual Retirement Planning Specialist
Barbi Reuter, Tucson – Principal, PICOR Commericial Real Estate Services
Hank Rogers, Eagar – Director Economic Development, Apache County
Mary Rowley, Tucson – President, Strongpoint PR
Emily Ryan, Phoenix – Lobbyist, Copperstate Consulting Group
Caryn Sanchez, Phoenix – Economic Development Project Manager, Salt River Project
Cynthia Spell-Tweh, Phoenix – Deputy Community and Economic Development Director, City of Phoenix
Brenda Sperduti, Phoenix – Director, Arizona Citizens/Action for the Arts
Mark Stegeman, Tucson – Professor at Eller School, University of Arizona
Aurora Vallejo, Tucson – Student, Pima Community College
David Welsh, Tucson – SVP, TREO

If you have questions for any of these folks let me know and I will see if I can get an answer from them for you.

Additionally, here are people not in my group I am hoping to meet and connect with for various reasons.

Harry George, Tucson – Managing Partner, Solstice Capital
Cathy McGonigle, Phoenix – Executive Vice President, Flinn Foundation
Larry Penley, Chandler – Senior Fellow, The Center for the Future of Arizona
Zoe Richmond, Gilbert – Director, Union Pacific Railroad <– TUC <-> PHX rail!
David Roderique, Phoenix – CEO, Downtown Phoenix Partnership
Joe Snell, Tucson – President, TREO
Janice Washington, Tempe – State Director for Arizona Small business Development Network <– met already 🙂
Sandra Watson, Phoenix – Assistant Deputy Director, Innovation and Global Business Development, Department of Commerce
Jennifer Whalley, Mesa – Director of Operations, East Valley Partnership
Russ Yelton, Flagstaff – CEO, Norther Arizona Center for Emerging Technologies