How We Make the Most of Our Potential – What We’re Doing Now

by RaeAnne Marsh

Downtown Phoenix

“We are making the most of our potential by continuing to court, in a systematic way, the organizations that fit best with the business ecosystems that are thriving in Phoenix,” says Mayor Kate Gallego, naming semiconductors, advanced manufacturing, biosciences, electric vehicles, healthcare professions, financial services and construction.

“Phoenix is the fifth largest city in the nation; we are also the fastest growing,” Mayor Gallego says. “By continuing smart management of that growth, we are making Phoenix even more attractive.” One example is the way Phoenix is investing in workforce development, helping its residents upskill into the jobs that are most in demand. Another is support of education, including early childhood programs, as well as programs that support lifelong learning and the ability to gain new skills.

“We are constantly finding new ways to enhance the quality of life in Phoenix, something that is quite attractive to businesses interested in developing a presence here,” Mayor Gallego continues. This year, Phoenix will create the nation’s first-of-its-kind Heat Mitigation Office, charged with finding and implementing innovative programs like its Cool Pavement pilot that is expected to show temperature reductions of 5 to 10 degrees in the areas that have been treated with this special street surface.

She further notes, “Because we live in a desert environment, we’ve spent decades carefully planning for a secure water future.” Noting that Phoenix has a robust and diverse water portfolio that employs dozens of strategies that keep us in good shape even during an extended drought, she says, “The city, its businesses and residents have embraced a culture of water conservation.”

Evidence of its effectiveness is the fact that residential homes in Phoenix use less water today than they did in 1990. “We also work to bring businesses that use water carefully, with an emphasis on re-use and recycling.”

Economic Development Outside of Phoenix

Emphasizing the need to prioritize economic development and target the right type of growth, Micah Miranda, economic director for the City of Chandler, shares, “Here in Chandler, our city council is looking to maintain the viability of employment corridors and plan for the use of remaining unbuilt properties.”

With the population surging, he says there is pressure from the housing industry to rezone land designated for employment. “Communities should be strategic regarding which properties they are willing to rezone to residential and which should be preserved for employment.

“Because talent is so important to business growth, we also must communicate with our higher education and workforce development partners,” Miranda continues. Chandler has, therefore, facilitated conversations with human resources representatives from area businesses. “This helps ensure that Arizona students and residents have opportunities to develop the skills needed for the types of jobs we hope to attract.”

Mesa’s efforts were recognized in a Small Business Recovery Report released by QuickBooks, where the City of Mesa was ranked No. 4 for post-pandemic small-business recovery in the U.S. The city’s Mesa CARES programs provided businesses with strong support through rent and utility assistance grants, technical training and education, personal protective equipment and marketing programs.

Economic Development Director Bill Jabjiniak and Mayor John Giles point to new businesses filling long-vacant spaces, especially in Downtown Mesa. “Our investment in infrastructure such as light rail and the attraction of ASU to Downtown Mesa has been pivotal in our recovery efforts,” says Jabjiniak. “And we are seeing large mixed-use and market-rate residential development projects under construction or in the planning process for Downtown.”

Phoenix Growth

The City of Phoenix is also cultivating its transportation and transit options. Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport is a city-owned major airport — Mayor Gallego points out that it is, essentially, Arizona’s airport — and a huge asset to companies that do business here. “We are committing to ensuring this economic engine has the resources it needs to support our business community,” says Mayor Gallego, noting that there is support from the federal government for transit and transportation as the city continues to expand light rail; improve its streets and bus systems; and make the streets safer for vehicles, pedestrians and cyclists. “You can enjoy our city best when it is easy to get around. We are creating that reality right now, throughout Phoenix.”

The city is also working with small businesses to not only ensure their post-pandemic survival but to help them thrive in the new business environment. For instance, the Phoenix Small Business Toolbox is a suite of services specifically aimed at helping small business owners find everything from human resources support to networking resources to employee training. And the city has simplified and streamlined the permitting process to make small business success even more attainable.

Additionally, says Mayor Gallego, “Since access to capital is critical, especially to small and micro businesses, we created the Kiva Hub in partnership with the BBB and Go Daddy. Through Kiva, owners can obtain loans of $1,000 to $15,000 with no interest.”

And Doug Bruhnke, founder and CEO of Global Chamber, notes the City of Phoenix is sponsoring the Global Chamber “Export League” — which will soon start its second cohort – to help regional firms reach ideal clients in foreign markets, bringing back export dollars to support more growth.

Economic Development in Greater Arizona

Looking beyond Greater Phoenix, Carrie Kelly, executive director of Arizona Association for Economic Development, credits the ACA for taking the lead on broadband investment, holding workshops for rural and tribal communities. “There have been funds allocated through the CARES Act for broadband funding, and it is anticipated the state legislature will allocate more funds for broadband.” She emphasized, however, that even if funds are available, infrastructure planning is a critical piece to funding.

And Mignonne Hollis, president of Arizona Association for Economic Development, points to economic development activity in Cochise County, where the Arizona Economic Development Foundation operates two business incubators and just finished the first cohort of Co-Starters. In conjunction with the Small Business Development Center, regular business hours are held for counselling. “Communities of all sizes — rural and urban — must work together to strengthen the Arizona economy,” she says.

This is, in fact, what is happening. Says Chris Camacho, president and CEO of Greater Phoenix Economic Council, “GPEC, our 22 member communities and Maricopa County, more than 180 private investors, and through our work with state leadership, are all working toward a common goal: to make Arizona and Greater Phoenix the best place to live and work.”

But it’s a complex set of initiatives that will be critical to our long-term growth and ability to compete for what Camacho dubs “mega projects” and those within advanced technology-focused sectors. He adds, “We also have to ensure that we’re investing in the entrepreneurial ecosystem and providing the requisite level of support to the companies and founders here in Greater Phoenix.”

Camacho reports an influx in venture capital activity to the tune of $1.6 billion in funds was raised by local companies in the last decade, with 33% of it ($546.5 million) raised in 2020 alone. He believes the region’s collaborative and innovation-centered approach coupled with recent policy initiatives enacted at the state level to support Fintech and Proptech — where startups and entrepreneurs can develop, test and deploy innovations without overregulation – are helping grow business locally.

Recently, Sonoran Founders Fund announced they will invest $10 million in venture capital in Arizona and regional startups. “This type of support and funds choosing to setup shop locally is important as we move our modern economy forward with the vision of cultivating IP, building homegrown companies that turn into name brands, and reinvesting in the ecosystem to foster long-term growth,” he says.

Referring to the adage, “It takes a village to raise a child,” Phoenix’s community and economic development director Christine Mackay says it took an entire state — at the state level and all the cities – to really birth a solid economic development strategy for the State of Arizona. She makes a distinction between cities competing with each other for locates — “That’s our job,” she says — and fighting each other. “We’re fighting against Asia, Texas, Salt Lake City …”

She explains, “There’s a bird on my paycheck, so it’s my job to win the project for the City of Phoenix. But if I can’t win it for Phoenix, my next job is to win it for the region. And if I can’t win it for the region, my next job is to win it for the State of Arizona.”

After all, she points out, even if Phoenix loses the project, its citizens are getting jobs. And the business’s employees will shop in Phoenix. It’s an economic development ecosystem that’s created. Says Mackay,

“All economic development directors are always working in close collaboration to build the Arizona we know it can be.”

Read the next article in this series: How We Make the Most of Our Potential – What’s Next

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

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