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19th December
written by JHiggins

WAKE UP TUCSON: We need to make it happen

By Joe Higgins and Chris DeSimone, special for Inside Tucson Business
Published on Saturday, December 19, 2009

There’s no mistake about it, Tucson and Southern Arizona is a terrible place to do business. Whether you’re a big home builder a car dealer or a small shoe repair shop you are in a community that doesn’t welcome you, tries to demonize you and will not back you up when push comes to shove. How did we get here and who’s responsible to fix it?

The facts are undeniable. At the height of our booming economy, a statewide poll conducted by the Arizona Small Business Association ranked Tucson the worst municipality for business in the state.

The good news is that people are starting to ask questions. Business owners are starting to ask why it’s so difficult to operate and thrive in Southern Arizona?


A group of small business owners has had enough. Last week Tucson First launched their www.ChangeTucsonChamber.com campaign on our radio program. We commend their efforts and hope for a speedy resolution.

The people behind Tucson First did their homework. After analyzing chambers of commerce they found leadership at the chambers they studied had strong business leadership with a vested interest in the direction of their communities. The chambers they studied got things done.

Albuquerque is a market that’s held up as an example. Tucson Regional Economic Opportunities (TREO) and a number of elected dignitaries visited there this year. Albuquerque launched downtown revitalization the same time as Rio Nuevo and now they have a growing district complete with condos, hotels, shops and a convention center. What they didn’t have was Rio Nuevo’s $600 million tax increment finance district.

Albuquerque officials chose to create a pro business environment that told entrepreneurs to come on in. New Mexico has a movie industry, solar industry and it is home to an Intel plant and the Los Alamos testing facility.

The membership of the Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce totals more than 4,200. The membership of the Tucson Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce is less than 1,700. Albuquerque’s chamber asks tough questions and works to set the playing field to benefit the entire business sector. 

For the past 32 years Tucson’s chamber has had the same leader. The legacy of the chamber in those years has resulted in as fragmented, uncooperative and ineffective business sector as we’ve had at any time in Tucson’s modern history.

Tucson didn’t get to this point over night. It took years of poor decisions. The root problem in our region tracks back to weak business leaders who put survival above the collective good of the business community. Check around and ask others what has the Tucson Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce done in, say, the past 15 years to make your business life easier. We’ve asked and have yet get a good answer.

Among the things Tucson First has learned is that the Tucson chamber has a numbers problem. Chamber membership has dropped by half over the past 12 years from 3,300 in 1997 (when it was the largest in the state) to 2,400 in 2003 and now down to less than 1,700. There are nearly 32,000 businesses in the Tucson region, yet only 5 percent of them belong to the chamber.

We have written and talked on-air previously about the multitude of business organizations and how they dilute effectiveness. Just think what might be if the Southern Arizona Leadership Council, TREO, Caballeros del Sol, Metropolitan Tucson Convention and Visitors Bureau and the chambers of commerce in the region actually worked together to move policy.

Entrepreneurs are not looking for handouts or incentives, what we want is a level and predictable playing field and a community that values our involvement. We must show courage and absolutely never ever tolerate mediocrity, cronyism and good old boy leadership.

We must get off the sidelines now! You know the history of the Tucson Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce and its performance record. Lots of small acts of courage will provide the true change that you are craving. We can not and will not tolerate the status quo.

Tucson First needs your help. Their website is at www.ChangeTucsonChamber.com .

As Ben Franklin said, “If we don’t hang together, we will most certainly hang alone.”

Contact Joe Higgins at or Chris DeSimone at . They’re the hosts of “Wake Up Tucson,” which airs 6 – 8 a.m. weekdays on The Voice KVOI 1030-AM. Check out their blog at .


  1. Delusional Bill

    Why do something like implement a plan that would concentrate these groups efforts on getting more businesses to locate in Tucson? Its SO much easier to have meetings. ALERT THE MEDIA! about the latest Master Plan. Hold a conference with like minded folks out of town. Give ourselves more grand and glorious titles and committee chairmanships.

    Lets cut to the chase. My grandfather used to talk about Wind Pudding with Air Sauce. Though in this case the All hat and no cattle might apply more closely.

    In DC they call it the Potomic 2-Step. I guess in Tucson we have the Rio Nada Polka. Its done to an out of tune, wheezy accordion. Only this time the tax payers who subsidize these groups are left with a bill and most DEFINITELY not enjoying the experience.

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