Arizona lifestyle most attractive to businesses, rebranding study finds

Arizona lifestyle most attractive to businesses, rebranding study finds

Saguaro catching day's last rays.

Yeah, the taxes may be low.

Labor is cheap. And the state may be getting rid of regulations.

But a study commissioned by the Ducey administration has concluded that’s while those are factors, that’s not what ultimately sells Arizona to businesses and tourists. What closes the deal, concluded consultant Kathy Heasley, is the Arizona lifestyle.

So now efforts are underway to revamp the message.

The moves comes nearly a year after the Arizona Commerce Authority hired a branding consultant.

Her original assignment was to come up with the kind of catchphrase that has help define other states, like “I (Heart) NY” or “Don’t Mess With Texas.” The idea, said gubernatorial press aide Daniel Scarpinato, was to come up with a single selling point for Arizona that would work for everything from promoting tourism to getting companies to relocate here.

But something unexpected occurred when Kathy Heasley went out to ask people what they like about Arizona.

Sure, there was the talk about places like the Grand Canyon. But what came across from the open-ended questions were feelings and emotions about the Arizona lifestyle.

In Tucson, for example, people commented about how they love what they do.

“But I come home and I sit on my back porch and the mountains are all lit up and I have a glass of wine with my wife,” Heasley said, quoting a person who was part of a group discussion.

It was a bit different, she said, for those who live in the Phoenix area. But here, too, the things people said they like about Arizona were related to quality of life.

For example, she said, one person commented about getting to live in a major metropolitan area and have a good career.

“And I can be home in time to hang out with my son,” Heasley quoted the respondent. “A lot of those people have come from other places where there is no family life because you’re driving two hours, one way coming and one way going.”

What all that means, Heasley said, is Arizona needs to scrap the same kind of advertising that every other state uses to promote economic development, all the stuff about a healthy business climate, low costs and a willing workforce. Even Scarpinato conceded that the press releases he sends out about how high Arizona is ranked by major business magazines really doesn’t do much good in actually convincing CEOs that this is the place to locate.

What does sell, Heasley said, are images, feelings — and heart.

She compared it to buying a car.

Sure, it may get great gas mileage. And it might have been a fantastic deal.

“But it’s gorgeous,” Heasley said, with that being the clincher.

And what of the catchphrase that the governor originally was asking for?

Forget about it, Heasley said, saying it makes no sense to try to distill the essence of the Arizona lifestyle into a single word or phrase.

That, then, goes to the issue of explaining what Arizona is.

Heasley found that the image of the state of people elsewhere largely comes down to three things: retirement, the desert and the Grand Canyon.

Scarpinato said those aren’t necessarily bad things. But he said it’s not what’s going to get people to come here — especially those who own companies and are looking to relocate.

“But obviously there’s a lot beyond that that’s changed in the last 30-40 years, that we’re not just a place with retirement communities,” he said. “People don’t necessarily know that who are in Chicago and have never come to the state, or haven’t been here in a long time.”

And they won’t know that based on the messages Arizona is now sending out, messages focused solely on the pro-business climate.

“We’re really not appropriately advertising ourself,” Scarpinato said.

This isn’t just speculation, Scarpinato said.

“The business executives, the people who Kathy talked to who are here in the state that ended up coming here, and also the people we want to attract, for them it was also a lifestyle issue,” he said. And that means getting out the message that, put simply, life’s better here.

He said that’s the kind of message that is likely to resonate with new firms where the corporate culture includes attracting and keeping good workers.

“A big part of it is where their employees want to live and what the lifestyle’s like,” Scarpinato said. “So if we can make the case to a business executive that, yeah, taxes are lower — and you also can be home at 6 o’clock and be with your family — then that’s a great argument that we’re positioned to make that some other states aren’t.”

Scarpinato acknowledged that what works to attract business won’t sell Arizona as a tourist destination.

“So we can’t just have it all be the same,” he said. And that’s another reason why coming up with a local version of “I (Heart) NY” or “Pure Michigan” is not the answer.

“It’s not just going to be a slogan,” Scarpinato said. “It’s going to be a new approach to how we market the state on all the platforms where we’re spending millions of dollars.”

But the common denominator, he said, will be selling the Arizona lifestyle “because it’s something that’s unique to Arizona.”

What Arizonans say about themselves

So how do we see ourselves?

In coming up with a plan to rebrand Arizona, consultant Heasley asked nearly a thousand people to say what they think of everyone else living here.

There were lots of responses about Arizonans being friendly and helpful. And there’s that streak of independence.

“I would say for the most part, we are good people,” one respondent said.

Others had different experiences.

“I lived here for over 25 years,” read one comment. “People in Arizona are cold and unfriendly.”

Another said Arizonans “tend to be rude and seem too busy to interact” with other residents.

Perhaps not surprisingly, there were several reference to our habits behind the wheel. And they weren’t complimentary.

“Crazy drivers when it rains,” said one.

“A lot of road rage,” another commented.

“They cannot drive to save their lives,” said a third, with several comments about Arizonans driving too slow.

And one person noted that most — but not all — Arizonans actually use their signals before making a turn or changing lanes.

There appears to be a certain civic pride in the ability to deal with the climate, with one saying Arizonans “complain about the heat, yet we never leave” while another said people here “love the sun and hate any other weather.”

Some found things of a more sensitive nature.

There was a description of Arizona as “grouchy because it’s hot and illegal immigrants keep coming over and tearing up our neighborhoods and depleting our resources.” Others had a simpler description of  Arizona as “Caucasian” or “white,”

But there was a comment about people here being “bigoted.”

“Less prejudice and more acceptance is needed,” said another.

And there were boasts of the state’s Hispanic and Native American culture and the state’s ethnic and racial mix.

A few were fairly specific, like a description of Arizonans “pretty much like everyone else, just with a deeper, and more profound love for cactus.”

Other word-for-word descriptions of Arizonans include:

– Friendly, but mind their own business;

– Transplanted;

 Helpful, but judgmental sometimes;

– Too many idiots;

– A lot more liberals, druggies;

– Some suck, but most are decent;

– Odd;

– Culturally unaware;

– Rumor mongers.

For one person, the idea of a single description was impossible.

“Some are OK, and then some are not, just like anywhere else.”

And for some, the request for a simple answer was just impossible.

“We are too different to explain,” was the response.

How others see Arizona

In deciding how best to market the state, Heasley had to look at how outsiders perceive Arizona and those who live here. And while some of what she found was expected — and even flattering — her work showed some interesting perspectives.

One person in Chicago, asked to describe what Arizonans are like, found them brave. Why? It’s dealing with scorpions and other desert dwellers.

Another said Arizonans have to be “rugged because they have to deal with a lot when it comes to their environment.”

A New Yorker described Arizonans as “pleasant” and “slower paced.”

There was also more than one suggestion that Arizonans are laid back, with one speaking of the “free spirits” that exist here.

And someone from San Francisco said the state is filled with “retirees and artists who like a slower paced lifestyle and love clean air and being surrounded by beautiful and colorful scenery” while another said those in Tucson “kind of tend towards the earthy/crunchy type.”

Heasley, in her bid to learn more about the perception of the state, separately asked what was the most unique thing people had heard about Arizona.

There were lots of reference to the climate, the Grand Canyon, deserts and spring training. But there were other things about the state that stuck with some.

“All I know is that it’s hot,” suggested one, a theme that was repeated often among the comments.

One San Francisco resident said there are areas of the state that have “weird, paranormal” things happening. That conclusion is not unique, with a New Yorker talking about “all the supernatural occurrences that they have there.”

Still another person from New York said he’s heard about “epic Thanksgiving barbecues.”

“Monsoons happen there,” said a Chicagoan. A San Francisco resident specifically mentioned the lack of daylight saving time.

And, of course, the sometimes tongue-in-cheek vision of Arizona that’s often shared with tourists through T-shirts and beach towels also can leave an impression.

“People like to go to Arizona because there’s no humidity, just dry heat,” said one Chicago resident.