Arizona’s economy is on a roll. Recent announcements from the East Valley communities of Chandler, Gilbert and Mesa, from downtown Phoenix, from the West Valley city of Goodyear and the southern Arizona city of Tucson have heralded companies making major new investments in the state. Even some rural communities such as Coolidge and Casa Grande along the I-10 corridor are attracting new manufacturing plants. These installations bring high-wage jobs, economic prosperity and more opportunity for all our citizens. Working with state and regional economic development agencies, cities and towns in Arizona are at the forefront of attracting this new investment.
In addition to the overall favorable tax and regulatory policies of the state championed by Gov. Doug Ducey, cities and towns have had foresight to install the proper infrastructure that attracts business to the state. In addition to the traditional services – streets, water and safe communities – there are other important factors that include public transportation, cultural activities and attractions, educational institutions and great places to eat and socialize. Today’s workforce is seeking more than just a 9-5 job – they want an active, vibrant lifestyle and their paycheck.
This key combination of elements is evident in each of these regions, and particularly in downtown Phoenix. In just a few years, new business and higher education centers have emerged downtown along with many more housing and entertainment options and a soon-to-be-completed new grocery outlet in the center of the city. In cities across the state, the downtown area no longer goes dark after 5 p.m., but is a place where people live, work and socialize throughout the day.
It takes a great partnership of state and local government along with the private sector to make all these projects come together and raise the profile of Arizona on the national stage. The visionary leadership of cities and towns, and the cooperation they have developed in regional economic development, have helped raise the profile of Arizona nationally as a great place to locate or expand a business.
But, our job is not finished. We still face major challenges across the state in our highway system. While freeways in the Valley are above average thanks to the taxpayers of Maricopa County and the Prop. 400 funds, freeways in many other areas of the state have suffered for years from declining maintenance and failure to keep up adequate capacity. It’s even more distressing in rural parts of the state.
Fortunately, that situation is starting to turn around with the end of sweeps from the Highway User Revenue Fund (HURF) and an additional investment in highways by the 2019 Legislature, but we have a major backlog to work on.
We also must be above average when it comes to air and rail access. Arizona does not have ocean-front property and is somewhat isolated when it comes to the biggest consumer markets in the country. We depend on our West Coast customers, particularly California, and our largest trading partner, Mexico, for economic vitality. And, we also have a very high reliance on defense industries, both in terms of manufacturing and active duty personnel.
The good news is that our economy is strong and appears to be on a consistent upward path. But, we have strong competition elsewhere.
Other states have greater incentives and broader economic development tools to entice employers. We need to freshen and upgrade our portfolio while being consistent with our state constitutional values. That includes reforms to our tax and education systems, completing the full package of lifestyle benefits for businesses and their employees.
Arizona is a great and growing state and the future is bright. Cities and towns are crucial to the economic success of our state, and we look forward to working with all our partners to achieve even greater goals.
— Ken Strobeck is executive director of the League of Arizona Cities and Towns.