These issues were highlighted at a recent Northern Arizona Economic Development Roundtable led by the Arizona Association for Economic Development.
Before the roundtable discussions began, economist Jim Rounds addressed the group. “There is a lot of consistency in the economic data, which seems to indicate the expansion will last a couple more years,” said Rounds, who speaks at AAED events throughout the state and serves as a policy advisor for numerous public and private groups.
While Rounds points out numerous positive indicators, his concerns include borrowing, because people paying off past debt affects future growth. Along with Flagstaff’s potential looming minimum wage hike, he thinks the state’s housing market may be more volatile than others believe.
For the region’s economic growth, Rounds said rural communities like those in Northern Arizona have different concerns than Phoenix and Tucson, and people are generally more creative in smaller cities.
And while tourism may not provide a lot of high paying jobs, Rounds said the industry’s new jobs creation is important. “It brings revenue to the area to pay for infrastructure and fixed costs including government expenses.”
Tom O’Halleran’s representative Keith Brekhus attended the event and discussed the U.S. congressman’s efforts to secure funding for Northern Arizona. “The original infrastructure bill was not the best for rural America, so the congressman, along with others, has been working to make sure a certain percentage of those funds are dedicated to rural America,” said Brekhus.
Issues that should be important to everyone, added Brekhus, including affordable housing, transportation, infrastructure, broadband availability and wastewater management, are not partisan issues in national or local conversations.
Arizona Representative Bob Thorpe talked about opportunities for developing the local economy. He explained the value of having a business-friendly environment for attracting companies to start up or relocate here. “Arizona is No. 5 in terms of new job development: how we got there was being very competitive from a taxing and business corporate tax point.”
Thorpe calls small businesses the backbone of our economy, noting that the state is attractive because of its reliable energy, great schools and roads. “Our mission [the governor and the legislature] is to reduce regulations on our communities and our businesses, then turn them loose in terms of developing the infrastructures and job opportunities.”
Yet, there are numerous challenges for the region; Flagstaff’s minimum wage referendum could push the rate to $15.50 within four years. Numerous area employers also have closed their doors, including SCA Tissue, the Walgreens Distribution Center and Southwest Windpower. Coconino County’s Rapid Response team helped those employers and employees when that happened.
Director of the Coconino County Career Center Carol Curtis said she and her team are focused on the looming closure of the Navajo Generating Station outside of Page. A Rapid Response alliance includes Navajo County, the Navajo Nation and the Hopi Tribe. The group is prepared to retrain dislocated workers using federal Workforce Innovation and Opportunity funds.
Curtis’s department secured two other federal grants to create an economic resiliency plan for the northern part of the county, where NGS has operated for 44 years. The Economic Collaborative of Northern Arizona is part of the efforts. There are tax losses when an operation like NGS closes, impacting Flagstaff Medical Center, the library and many other businesses in the Arizona, said Curtis.
Despite economic development challenges in the area, some roundtable attendees discussed potential for improvement in the future, especially if organizations work together.
Flagstaff’s Business Retention and Expansion Manager Gail Jackson wrapped up the event with an update of some success stories. Nestle Purina’s odor mitigation effort surpassed hopes, new weekly Flagstaff flights from Flagstaff to LAX and Dallas-Fort Worth expanded travel options, and the business incubator Moonshot at NACET reached 70 percent occupancy.
Jackson also touted new businesses, including the Rehabilitation Hospital of Northern Arizona, the new Mercedes Benz dealership and numerous other establishments, including restaurants.
In terms of the economic development roundtable event: “This is a great opportunity for our regional partners to come together and collaborate to solve some of the problems we have here as well as attract new businesses,” Jackson said.
The event’s partners included the Economic Collaborative of Northern Arizona, the City of Flagstaff, The City of Winslow, Coconino County’s Career Center and Cottonwood’s Economic Development Council. APS, Kinney Construction Services and Coconino Community College sponsored the roundtable.
The AAED was founded in 1974 to advocate for responsible economic development. FBN
By Theresa Bierer, FBN
Photo by Theresa Bierer