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 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 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.
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.
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.
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!