How We Got Here

by RaeAnne Marsh

Downtown Phoenix

With more than two decades’ experience in her field, Phoenix’s community and economic development director Christine Mackay says, “I’ve never seen a market like today.”

“We’re reaping the benefit of all the work our development community put in, in the time that was the Great Recession,” she adds, explaining that universities, community colleges and the development community partnered together to create a sustainable economy.

Previously, the economy had been built on growth — resulting in a very cyclical economy. “We’d build things — houses, buildings, industrial buildings. Government made money and they could supply their parks and their streets. We’d have a recession and go down a little bit, then we’d hockey stick back out again and then go right back to growth. And everything was fine.

“Except our graduates our of our community colleges and universities were leaving the market because they couldn’t find the jobs they wanted in this market.”

Mackay acknowledges that we did have some great industries in semiconductors, aerospace, and aviation and defense. But she notes they were legacy sectors from ‘40s through the ‘70s, and the new sectors from the ‘90s and early 2000s had not followed that earlier manufacturing trend.

“So in the Great Recession, we all got together and said we can’t do this anymore. We have to create Arizona, the Metropolitan Phoenix area, as a place where the knowledge economy wants to come. We have to be competitive.”

She credits the universities and community colleges for taking the lead in that effort by ensuring their educational programs, graduate programs and undergrad, matched the needs of these new, leading-edge sectors.

“Beyond talent,” Mackay says, “companies know that we offer a very supportive business climate. Our state and local leadership understand the importance of economic development. Unlike some other states, Arizona looks to remove unnecessary regulatory barriers to business growth. The state has also established programs to encourage capital investment and job creation, like the Qualified Facility and Quality Jobs programs. These things signal that here in Arizona, we value the investments businesses make in our communities.”

And in 2014, she says, we really started to move forward, reaping the rewards of the collaborative efforts. “What you see today in these great manufacturing companies, in these great knowledge economy companies, in these electric vehicle companies, autonomous vehicle companies, cybersecurity and info tech — it’s the outcome of all the work that we did together. And we are not going back.”

Says Carrie Kelly, executive director of Arizona Association for Economic Development, “You can’t throw a stick and not hit a new development or business opening in Greater Phoenix.”

She points out economic developers have been working overtime, especially over the past year, as Greater Phoenix has attracted many new businesses, but also notes, “What is often missed is the work that was done this past year to retain businesses.” While many states have experienced vacancies and loss, Arizona businesses have been able to sustain themselves with federal, state and local support.

Outside of Phoenix

Kelly also points out, “Outside of Greater Phoenix, Arizona has a lot of land and many wonderful communities to welcome businesses.” For example, Mohave County has experienced new industries like Progressive Pipe Fabricators locating in the area and other companies expanding. “One of the strengths of Arizona’s rural communities is our community college system.”

She credits Mohave Community College for working hand-in-hand with the community to create a workforce development plan and educational programs to address workforce pipeline deficiencies.

Additionally, the recent legislation allowing community colleges to offer four-year degrees to address workforce shortages will have a lasting impact on rural communities in attracting and retaining a workforce.

Read the next article in this series: How We Make the Most of Our Potential – What We’re Doing Now 

This is just one aspect of “Greater Expectations: New Economic Opportunity in Arizona.” To read the full story, click here.  

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