It’s not “business as usual” at many companies throughout Greater Phoenix, where entrepreneurs and corporate executives have been breaking out of the box and helping strengthen business in this fifth-largest metropolitan area in the nation.
In Business Magazine has taken a cross-section of sectors key to our economy and has spoken with leaders of select companies to present an inside view from some of those helping to change the face of business here in the Valley of the Sun.
Next Gen Hospitality?
Shaun Baker is the general manager of Cambria Hotel Phoenix Downtown, which, he says, “is a one-of-a-kind unique concept unlike any other Cambria around.” The property has been designed to welcome out-of-state travelers but also provide a premier venue for the local neighborhood. It is littered with local art, murals painted by local artists and an entertainment calendar filled with what Baker describes as “can’t-miss” happenings.
Cambria Hotel Phoenix Downtown offers spacious sleeping rooms, including three suites. The property also offers a 900-square-foot flexible meeting space. “In addition, the property features Poppy restaurant, which is open seven days a week for brunch and dinner service as well. In addition to amazing food, Poppy also offers a full lounge — all of which is open to the public. From the Rooftop is the property’s premier venue, providing 360-degree views of Downtown Phoenix. Here you can host a special event, rent private seating, or stop by for some casual food and hand craft cocktails.” Pointing to awareness as a significant issue, Baker says, “The challenge with any new business is making sure people know we are here so the business can survive. We work diligently with our PR/Marketing Firm and leverage all of our partner relationships to create not only local awareness, but National awareness as well.”
Baker reports the Cambria’s CompSet, or competitive set analysis relative to a group of hotels seen as direct competitors, grew 31.9 percent year over year this past December, and notes months that used to be considered off-season or shoulder months are starting to see a lot more demand. Baker sees the continued growth and development in the Downtown market having a very positive impact on his and other new businesses.
Baker has been on this project since soon after its opening a few days before Thanksgiving last year. He shares, “I would definitely say our biggest accomplishment has been taking a concept and making it come to life. We spent many of hours with the community to provide not only the area’s newest business, but a place for everyone to feel welcome. With that,” he concludes, “we had to hire numerous staff members, retain, train and act, but the fruits of our efforts are starting to realize. Pretty cool …”
Disrupting the Food and Beverage Industry
Qwick is solidly in the technology space as well as serving the staffing and employment sector. Its CEO, Jamie Baxter, co-founded the company in October 2017 as an on-demand staffing platform for the food and beverage industry, bringing freedom and flexibility through high-quality, reliable staffing in real-time. Baxter explains, “Our hospitality technology allows business partners to access thousands of vetted and qualified professionals.” The concept applies principles that are becoming mainstream in other areas of our lives, disrupting the traditional hiring practices in the restaurant industry. “The same way that you order food through an app and it’s delivered to your door, an executive chef can hire a prep cook for the day. And the same way that you can order a nearby car ride, a catering manager can order a banquet server to show up and work an event,” says Baxter.
“Qwick is empowering food and beverage business partners to grow and succeed on their terms, and encouraging professionals take control of their schedules. With our unique algorithm that matches highly skilled professionals with available shifts, business partners no longer need to rely on traditional staffing agencies that don’t understand the industry or on their own list of on-call staff to fill last-minute needs or take on business opportunities.”
According to Baxter, understaffing is the most common issue and frustration encountered by food and beverage business partners. Qwick offers them a fast, reliable and high-quality solution, and many are now using the service. “To date, we work with over 900 business partners across the hospitality industry,” says Baxter. “Our partners include Marriott, ProEm, Santa Barbara Catering, The Scott Resort & Spa, Hilton Phoenix Airport and more.”
Qwick currently has more than 62,000 professionals on its platform, who have worked more than 235,000 hours via Qwick.
The most difficult challenge the company faces continues to be team growth — finding, as Baxter puts it, “enough amazing people fast enough, and making sure they are in the right seats.” The company aims to be in 20 markets by 2020, and forecasts the need to hire more than 40 additional people and doubling the size of the current team. But, says Baxter, “with in-house recruiters, a uniquely developed company culture, and a collaborative interview process in place, we believe we are equipped to not only grow our team, but grow it with fantastic people.”
There have been significant changes in both the economy and the food and beverage industry that have impacted Qwick’s growth and development – some negatively, some positively.
Explains Baxter, “Recent state policy changes around the status and future of 1099 workers have been one of the largest hurdles we’ve encountered over the past year. This impacts the types of business partners we can work with, and it also impacts the freedom and flexibility that we pride ourselves on providing to professionals. With policy changes still up in the air, our team is working diligently to find the ideal solution to continue offering our professionals the freedom and flexibility and business partners the high-quality, experienced professionals they’ve come to expect from us.
“Another factor that greatly impacts the hospitality industry is the low unemployment rate, making it difficult for business partners to obtain a high-level of talent or even hire at all. We’ve been able to use this to our advantage, as we have professionals on the Qwick platform who are looking for additional work outside of their full-time jobs and can fill shifts that business partners have a hard time hiring for.”
New Directions in Economic Development
The Greater Phoenix Economic Council, the region’s economic development organization, has been changing the face of business since its inception in 1989 through its recruitment of businesses to establish a presence here. Chris Camacho has been at its head as president and CEO since 2015.
Specifically, the Greater Phoenix Economic Council actively works to attract and grow quality businesses and advocate for the competitiveness of Greater Phoenix. As the regional economic development organization, GPEC works with 22-member communities, Maricopa County and more than 170 private investors to accomplish its mission and serve as a strategic partner to companies across the world as they expand or relocate.
Says Camacho, “GPEC is focused on putting Greater Phoenix on the map. Through our strategic campaigns and intentional business development strategies, we have led the recruitment of 800-plus businesses to the market, resulting in more than 130,000 jobs for Greater Phoenix residents. We’re setting the trajectory nationally for how public-private partnerships can optimally operate using a consultative model that advances marketing automation and data science practices to drive outcomes for the region.”
And internally, he adds, “GPEC is focused on developing and living out our organization’s core values, ‘The GPEC Way.’ The implementation of these key principles has resulted in improved staff morale, an elevated onboarding process and a strong professional development program.”
GPEC works to attract highly talented individuals with a strong focus on civic mindfulness and social responsibility, but “the challenge with this is that you never truly get a sense that the work is done or that your project is final,” Camacho notes. “The work we do at GPEC is interwoven with so many industries and global initiatives, our team needs to be mindful of how this can impact the fulfillment of our mission.” For instance, global trade policy can impact our region’s targets around foreign direct investment, a low unemployment rate can make the competition for talent incredibly fierce, and the evolution of business expansion has resulted in many data-driven factors impacting the expansion or relocation decision. “All three of these factors require the GPEC team to evaluate our strategies and stay on the cutting edge of economic development best practices.”
Not just staying on top of, though, but also setting new paths. A case in point is The Connective, a framework built from a public-private-partnership that facilitates our development as a “smart region.” Explains Camacho, “A lot of cities across the U.S. adopt smart technology because a smart technology widget gets pushed upon a city council or a city staff — a solution seeking a problem. Instead, we’ve determined that you can unify a regional system of municipalities — in this case, 20-plus cities in the fastest-growing region in the United States — and, instead of incrementally adopting smart technology, rather you have CIOs, city managers, mayors and [other] elected officials, working together to adopt a smart regional governance model that evaluates … problem sets first.”
Camacho remembers his “Aha” moment. “I was at a smart city conference with a couple of my peers, and we saw this kind of siloed approach to smart technology adoption as almost like a fad.
Rather than going down that path, we wanted to be very thoughtful in how we leveraged GPEC’s system of regional coordination and collaboration with our cities and Maricopa County and the private sector. Stephan [Frijia, GPEC SVP of strategy] and I and a lot of organizations (The Institute for Digital Progress, ASU, Maricopa Association of Government) immediately came together and said, ‘Can we absolutely reverse engineer the process that exists currently across the country; can we build this governance framework so that we’re very disciplined in the way we adopt these smart technology platforms?” That’s when we unleashed our team to go out and meet with the CIOs, city managers, economic development directors, the mayors to assess whether there was unity in this approach. And we had overwhelming feedback that this could create a new disciplined way of adopting smart technology and advancing this digital framework — unlike any other place in the United States. We think this transformational thinking is warranted, and we have the partnership model that exists that can be leveraged into success.
“I haven’t seen this anywhere across the country, where you have all of these partners — the public sector to identify problem sets, and the back-end industry partners to identify solution sets — and that’s what makes this overarching system unique.”
Commercial Real Estate Firm Breaks the Mold
Keyser was founded in 2013. Founder Jonathan Keyser launched the company with seven other founding members in a shared office space in the corner of a local architectural firm. “We have grown rapidly since,” he shares, noting, “Today, we are one of the fastest-growing occupier services commercial real estate firms in the country.”
The company exclusively represents tenants or occupiers of space, helping them with their real estate needs that include leasing, purchasing, constructing or disposing of facilities. “We specialize in helping companies leverage their real estate buying power to secure incentives and attract today’s knowledge workers, all while reducing cost and risk,” says Keyser.
He elaborates on that: “Whether it’s managing a global portfolio of office and industrial leases, helping a retail franchise brand roll out locations nationally, negotiating sites for specialty healthcare clinics, assisting rapidly growing technology companies with their expansion, or helping with our clients’ datacenter strategy and space needs, our advisors take deep pride in serving and going above and beyond for our clients.”
Keyser’s extensive experience in Phoenix’s business community has shown him that, for tenant brokers, a hot real estate market typically makes it harder to recruit because everyone is making money, which sometimes overrides dissatisfaction at their current firms. A hot growth market also causes business leaders to be less concerned about maximizing their real estate spend and securing optimal terms because they are growing and making money. “Things shift dramatically in a market downturn,” Keyser notes, “as leaders seek our help as they seek to reduce their real estate spend or get out of leases, and brokers start thinking about making a change to a better culture.”
Keyser notes that, while his company’s main service is commercial real estate, its goal as a company is to help strengthen the client’s business. “Many of our clients have needs that go beyond the four walls, which is why we offer business advisory services — leadership training, efficiency and strategy development — and culture development courses — Keyser Institute — that can work in conjunction with or separately from our commercial real estate offering.”
Keyser describes his company as a new kind of commercial real estate firm intent upon disrupting and re-imagining the brokerage industry. “Founded upon 15 core operating principles, our mission is to transform the commercial real estate industry through selfless service and prove that, even in one of the most cutthroat industries in the world, you don’t have to be ruthless to win.
“We bring one simple philosophy in all we do: Serve others and success will come to you.”
While selfless service as a business strategy has been immensely successful for the company, Keyser believes it only works well if it’s implemented as a long-term plan. “You can’t expect to have quick wins or go in with the mindset that if you serve your prospects a certain amount of times, they will become clients. This isn’t a quid-pro-quo strategy I am advocating; it’s the long game. And, when you do secure a client relationship through service, you gain more than a client; you gain a friend and experience ambassador who is willing to continue or share your brand message and values.” Observing that, for most companies, this process is too long and difficult to stick to long term, Keyser says, “For that reason, we’ve developed the Keyser Institute to teach companies to see success through selfless service, faster and more effectively than they would alone.”
Keyser’s experience this past year has been “a bit surreal,” he says. “My team and I have launched my No. 1 bestseller on The Wall Street Journal and Amazon, You Don’t Have to Be Ruthless to Win; been interviewed on morning news shows across the nation, been hosted on over 60 podcasts, been invited to speak at a TedX event at Grand Canyon University, been featured in Inc., Forbes, Fast Company, CEO World, Chief Executive, Entrepreneur and the Business Journal.”
Internally, the company has positioned itself for long-term success and growth by hiring a chief growth officer, a new controller and a designated broker, and by recruiting best-in-class marketing and support staff. The company has continued development into two new service lines: cultural development courses from the Keyser and Jonathan Keyser’s professional speaking practice. “To say the least, this past year we’ve made massive strides towards a stronger future. I am so proud of my team and their individual success and growth; I am certain it will yield success for us in the upcoming years.”
Repositioning the Nonprofit Sector
The Alliance of Arizona Nonprofits was founded in 2004; Kristen Merrifield has been at its helm since 2015. She has added the strength of her extensive experience working with Arizona’s business community to the organization’s efforts collaborating with and on behalf of its more than 1,000 members to promote healthy, vibrant communities.
The Alliance works with government to advocate for nonprofits, provides resources to help nonprofits save money, and creates opportunities for nonprofits to connect and grow. “As Arizona’s largest nonprofit advocacy organization, the Alliance of Arizona Nonprofits provides a strong, united voice to support nonprofits and the great work they do in communities statewide and to further the common interests of the nonprofit sector. We also believe that the nonprofit sector deserves a place at the table with for-profit businesses and government agencies to engage in important conversations for the greater good of the community. We are committed to changing the perception otherwise by positioning the nonprofit sector as a vital player — economically, socially and meaningfully.”
Merrifield points to two key events this past year that evidence success the organization has achieved. The first was the effort the Alliance led to change Arizona tax laws, allowing taxpayers to take deductions for donations to nonprofit organizations even without filing itemized returns. The impact is still being assessed, but Merrifield notes the effort helps offset changes in recent Federal tax laws that doubled the standard deductions and caused many taxpayers to not itemize — changes that were projected to result in the annual loss of hundreds of millions of dollars in contributions to the state’s nonprofit organizations.
Merrifield believes, in fact, that the most significant change in the economy that affected the entire nonprofit sector was this change in Federal tax laws that led to a significant decline in year-end and tax-deadline donations, not just in Arizona but nationwide. “With support from Arizona Governor Doug Ducey and members of the Arizona Legislature, by signing HB2757 into law, Arizona nonprofit organizations will be able to recoup those dollars so critical to their missions and impact.”
The second achievement was raising a record $3.6 million for Arizona nonprofits through Arizona Gives Day, a one-day, statewide fundraising campaign. Since 2013, Arizona Gives Day has raised more than $17 million for Arizona nonprofits, and Merrifield says, “We hope this year’s event on April 7 sets even more records.”
The Economy and Beyond
Noting that the economy plays a key role in the Alliance of Arizona Nonprofits’ growth as well as that of the entire nonprofit community, as do government regulations and tax reform, Merrifield says, “We hope the tax-reform challenge and its impact on Arizona nonprofits with the new state law described above will address the challenge, but the direct impact won’t be clear for some time.
“Each of those factors affects our ability to recruit new members and retain existing ones. To build awareness of the Alliance’s value to the community and to engage additional nonprofits, we have increased our grant funding and expanded staff, benefits and resources we offer to nonprofits statewide. Among the most important was bringing the Organization of Nonprofit Executives (ONE) under the Alliance umbrella to provide complementary resources that leverage the synergy between the Alliance and ONE to educate and prepare nonprofit executives for the challenges of leading the sector.”
There is another important issue facing nonprofits that is not so much financial as it is overcoming the perception that the nonprofit community doesn’t have a place in important conversations with the for-profit community for the greater good of the community. That perception persists in spite of the powerful 2016 report “Arizona Nonprofits: Economic Power, Positive Impact,” based on a study conducted by the L. William Seidman Research Institute at ASU’s W. P. Carey School of Business, which showed that nonprofits are a leading driver of economic development as well as serving their individual missions. Says Merrifield, “Even though $23.5 billion of Arizona’s Gross State Product is generated by nonprofits, along with nearly 10 percent of all state and local income taxes, we find ourselves constantly fighting for a place at the table.
“We are committed to continuing our pushback against misperceptions and myths standing in our way, because our voice is vital in identifying and solving issues to move Arizona forward.”
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