A few years ago, it was my privilege to attend a meeting with other mayors and a group of legislators to hear from three professional site selectors, people that research communities on behalf of businesses that want to expand or relocate around the country. The purpose of the meeting was to find out what these businesses are looking for when picking a new location. What they told us wasn’t rocket science, but was still enlightening:
- Infrastructure – good roads, access to interstate highways, rail, airports and utilities. Assured water supplies. Shovel ready sites.
- Good educational systems – highly rated school districts, community colleges and universities. A school to work pipeline.
- Services – public safety. Desirable places for their employees to live and work.
- Stability and reliability – Consistent and dependable government policies.
As elected officials, we strive to meet these criteria. A recent survey by the National League of Cities showed that the number one topic of mayors’ State of the City addresses is economic development. We want to create community wealth – we want our current business to thrive, new businesses to come, all to help create that wealth. How do we do it?
Every day we are thinking of ways to improve our communities’ economic standing. But this will look different in different places. We can use our natural resources, build on historic campaigns or bring in new partners or mix all of these together. Here are just a few of our success stories and the city’s role.
Casa Grande has made investing in infrastructure a priority in order to be able to compete for projects. They continuously review city code to identify and update/eliminate outdated and overly restrictive codes. The city streamlined its planning and permitting processes in order to make them more efficient. Providing easy access to city staff that are directly involved in development process proved helpful. This connectivity helps keep the lines of communication open, increasing the effectiveness and efficiency of the process.
Casa Grande has excellent working relationships with the AZ workforce development board and the local community college, and involves them in economic development efforts to include business retention, expansion and business recruitment. These entities play a vital role in economic development by helping to meet the workforce and training needs.
In addition, they clearly identify the owners of the land that is ripe for development, and determine which ones are willing to sell.
The city of Chandler decided to preserve land as commercial properties to maximize employment. They also had a long-term vision for commercial development. They were steadfast in their commitment to fiscal stability, thereby keeping property taxes low. They made sure the community understood the importance of investing in K-20 education, as businesses want great education for their employees’ students. They were able to have available office and industrial building built speculatively. The city maintained professional interactions at all levels of negotiations.
In its short history, Maricopa has experienced rapid growth and the Great Recession. In moving forward the city is focusing on the creation of community wealth via economic development and formulated the following principles for “forging success.”
- Hustle when others hunker down. We must be willing to take some degree of risk and venture forth in hustle mode. We must have a sense of urgency about us.
- We should constantly be creating, building and maintaining mutually beneficial relationships.
- Be resilient. There are no failures. It’s just that some successes take longer than others.
- Don’t settle or rest because we tried. Do, or do not. There is no “try.” In government, process matters, but, in real life, results matter.
There are countless other cities and towns that could appear in this article, but for brevity sake I’ve just listed a few. All our success stories share the importance of good relationships, fair and honest negotiations and partnerships with the counties and the state. When we are all working toward a common goal, we all thrive – a rising tide lifts all boats! Let’s continue our prosperity and seek new ventures to create the Arizona we want.
Christian Price is the mayor of the city of Maricopa and the current president of the League of Arizona Cities and Towns. He thanks the cities that contributed to this article.