Feedback: January 2016

by Judy Bernas | Rick DeGraw | Kimber Lanning

Question: What do you feel is the one thing the Arizona State Legislature needs to focus on in the next year or two that would dramatically improve the economic picture in Arizona?


Judy-BernasJudy Bernas

Associate VP for External Relations
The University of Arizona
Sector: Education

There are too many needs and never enough money. But what provides the biggest bang for the legislators’ buck? An investment in higher education. Public investment in higher education has shown huge returns throughout American history. The United States became an industrial and economic giant during the past 150 years, much of it fueled by the land-grant and public university system and our emergence as a global leader in science. Those who invested in higher education did not see these merely as expenditures, but as long-term investments in our future.

Today, higher education is evolving to match the rapid changes in our economy. Nearly two-thirds of all American jobs require a postsecondary degree. Industry moves to where they can hire qualified applicants with advanced skills.

In Arizona, we are blessed with incredible weather, an amazing sense of optimism and our greatest renewable resource — our intellectual capital. We can help ourselves by skipping the partisan squabbling and investing in higher education. Hold universities accountable, but expand opportunities for students, lead the world in advances, and partner with industry to secure our future.

Judy Bernas represents The University of Arizona in Maricopa County and is responsible for overseeing and strategically enhancing that presence, with a particular focus on the expansion of the colleges of Medicine, Pharmacy and Public Health. A past chair of the Arizona Sports and Tourism Authority Board, she now serves as an appointed member of numerous business and community boards.


Rick-DeGrawRick DeGraw

Executive Vice President
Chief Administrative Officer
CopperPoint Insurance Companies
Sector: Insurance

Arizona’s economic future is complex, but one issue on which all businesses can agree is K-12 education.  Yes, the governor’s accelerated Trust Lands funding will help, but the K-12 system requires a full-blown, legislative financial commitment to make it part of Arizona’s fabric, thereby increasing business investment and relocation to Arizona.

All Arizona’s business organizations have called for more K-12 funding and all have identified K-12 education as one of Arizona’s weakest links.  The best long-term investment Arizona’s legislature could make for our economic future is to fund the K-12 system, requiring A-grade school performance, increasing teacher salaries, consolidating school districts and bringing Arizona’s per pupil funding to at least 20 percent above the national average.

This would signal to investors, corporations and entrepreneurs that Arizona is serious about wanting businesses that need trained and job-ready public school graduates.  If the house speaker and senate president publicly stated their intention to fund K-12 education at a level 20 percent above the national average, they could improve the national and international perception of Arizona almost immediately.

Rick DeGraw oversees several CopperPoint divisions as well as Public and Legislative affairs, Community Development and Corporate Outreach. The former Arizona Senate staff member founded Roots Development, where he provided political and public service consulting. 


KimberLanningKimber Lanning

Founder and Executive Director
Local First Arizona
Sector: Economic Development Nonprofit

The one thing our State Legislature needs to focus on to improve the economic picture in Arizona is education.

A strong K-12 school system will guarantee to local businesses that they will be able to find qualified and talented employees from our local labor pool. Out-of-state companies looking to expand will choose Arizona because they will feel confident that their employees’ children will be connected to good schools and neighborhoods that offer a lifetime of opportunities.

To keep young talent in Arizona to support our workforce, we also need to continue to invest in our robust university system that prepares students for meaningful careers here in Arizona. College students who study business and entrepreneurship in Arizona are more likely to stay in state to start their business if they are able to find the right resources, connections and support through their school and throughout the existing business community.

It is also crucial to adequately support schools in Arizona’s rural communities so we can have thriving local economies across the state, creating supply chains that advance all our residents.

Kimber Lanning is founder and executive director of Local First Arizona, a statewide organization implementing innovative strategies for new models of economic development that create vibrant local economies. Lanning is an entrepreneur, business leader and community development specialist who works to cultivate strong, self-reliant communities and inspire a higher quality of life for people across Arizona.

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