By Joe Higgins and Chris DeSimone, Inside Tucson Business
Published on Friday, December 17th, 2010
What a year 2010 has been. We’ve seen plenty of transition, turmoil and ups and downs. One of the top questions we continue to hear: “Is the political environment for business getting any better in Tucson?”
As we get ready to wrap up 2010, we take a look back to reflect on the top 10 positive steps towards making the Tucson region and Southern Arizona more business friendly.
We’ll do this David Letterman countdown style: Print this story
10. Kozachik joins City Council
Technically, this happened at the end of 2009 but what a difference Steve Kozachik has made on the Tucson City Council. The Koz isn’t your typical politician. In fact, he is the everyman in all of us who got sick of watching his city stumble so he decided to do something about it.
Kozachik’s background is in building major government projects at the University of Arizona — on time and on budget. Compare that to the skill set of the person he replaced, Councilwoman Nina Trasoff, a former TV news anchor and PR consultant, and you see how important it was that Kozachik was elected in November 2009.
He has shown he can read a contract, understand issues from multiple angles and use the news media to bypass the fact that he is only one vote out of seven. Kozachik actually gets things done. Now, if we can find him three more votes on the council.
9. Downtown hotel stopped
Despite Mayor Bob Walkup’s attempted force-feeding, the over-priced proposal to build a downtown convention center hotel that would have been albatross was mercifully put out of its misery. The process had a cast of characters and plenty of drama. We flew in Heywood Sanders, a professor at the University of Texas-San Antonio, to educate council members of the folly of such a hotel. He provided horrific examples from other cities that had bought into the same types of projects.
At the same time, the board of directors of the downtown redevelopment Rio Nuevo Multipurpose Facilities District got a makeover by the Legislature, which appointed new members, took control from the city and narrowed the focus. The most vocal of the new members, and the one with the most municipal funding experience, was found to have “a conflict of interest” after he was critical of the hotel’s funding in interviews with the news media.
Meanwhile, former council members and business association executives were hired as consultants on the project.
Businessman Humberto Lopez and the Tucson Tea Party launched a failed attempt to recall Walkup and counciwomen Karin Uhlich and Regina Romero.
In the end the hotel was scrapped, though $4 million was spent on a new entrance to the Tucson Convention Center and another $15 million was spent on plans that will never be used.
8. New leadership at chamber
After 32 years as president of the Tucson Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce, Jack Camper’s retirement in March should end the years in which the chamber has been a non-player in the business and political arenas. In that time, competing groups have sprouted up, each diluting the business community’s influence and place in the political process. Over time, membership in the chamber dwindled. A group of small business owners finally said enough is enough and elevated the discussion.
We encourage the chamber to look for a few things in their next leader:
• Look locally, we need someone who understands the current playing field.
• Has to command the respect of small business, local governments and the big boys alike.
• Must have the personal courage to be the true standard bearer for the “Party of Business” rather than the political parties that put “D”s and “R”s after politicans’ names.
It’s time for this chamber to truly be a force on Election Day. Too many jobs and businesses are on the line.
7. Arizona Policy Institute
Modeled after the Goldwater Institute in Phoenix, the Arizona Policy Institute is a public policy group that seeks to hold governments accountable. Just as the Goldwater Institute has successfully used the court system to “encourage” government entities to run their affairs in the light of day and within the boundaries of the law, the Arizona Policy Institute has filed its first case against the City of Tucson over rent concessions to private businesses in certain city-owned buildings as a violation of the state constitution’s gift clause.
The plaintiff’s name on the lawsuit is Shelby Hawkins, owner of Five Star Pest Control, who has learned first hand what can happen when you fall out of favor with city inspectors.
6. Visitors bureau scrutiny
The tourism industry is one of the largest and most important business sectors in the Tucson region, especially in light of the community’s unwillingness to support other kinds of industries. Unfortunately, it’s a mystery as to how well our region stacks up competitively against other markets for tourism dollars.
The Metropolitan Tucson Convention and Visitors Bureau is supposed to be the head cheerleader on that front and now the Pima County Board of Supervisors, Tucson City Council, Town of Oro Valley and Green Valley Sahuarita Chamber of Commerce are starting to ask tough questions about how taxpayer money is being spent. The MTCVB now must realize accountability is the “new normal.”
5. Raytheon goes to Alabama
When Raytheon Missile Systems, our region’s largest employer with a history dating back to when Howard Hughes brought his Hughes Aircraft here in 1951 (with the help of local businessman Roy Drachman), decided to spend $75 million and put 300 jobs in Huntsville, Ala., it was a wake-up call for Tucson. Where was Mayor Walkup, a former Raytheon executive, in the process?
In contrast to Tucson’s effort, Huntsville had a team of economic development leaders from its chamber of commerce and political leaders from multiple jurisdictions all the way up to the state level all working in a coordinated effort to win Raytheon. Pima County got the message and has launched an effort to put infrastructure in place that could benefit Raytheon and other industries.
4. GOP at the state capitol
November’s mid-term elections solidified Arizona as a red state. For the first time in at least a generation, Republicans have veto-proof control of both houses of the Legislature as well as all the top state-wide offices.
The ball is in the Republican court and the pressure is on to get it right. Will we see more anti-illegal immigration legislation, a la SB 1070? Or will state lawmakers do something to start encouraging businesses evacuating California to stop overlooking our state on their way to Texas?
3. Close congressional races
The re-election races for Southern Arizona’s two Congressional seats turned out to be closer than most people thought with political novices Ruth McClung seriously challenging Raúl Grijalva for the first time in a general election and Jesse Kelly putting up a fight to the finish against Gabrielle Giffords.
Both Democratic incumbents won, but the November mid-term elections brought about a 63-seat swing in the U.S. House of Representatives. The grassroots effort was encouraging and speaks a lot about the future of our democracy.
2. Oro Valley politics
Paul Loomis, long-time mayor of Oro Valley, was upset in his primary re-election bid by two “no name” upstarts. Satish Hiremath, a dentist, won the election promising a balanced approach to growth and a decided change to becoming a more business friendly town.
Oro Valley and its neighbor Marana are doing the right things to ensure their economic survival while preserving quality of life. While Tucson languishes, these municipalities are maintaining their streets, providing public safety and planning for the future.
1. Defeat of Proposition 400
In a resounding vote of no confidence in how the City of Tucson is being run, voters in November rejected leaders’ pleas for a half-cent increase to its sales tax. City leaders pulled the usual levers, threatening cuts to police and fire and holding “stakeholder” forums threatening other dire consequences. Voters didn’t buy it.
There are a few more “honorable mentions” that didn’t make our top 10:
• Accountability measures for the management of the Tucson Convention Center.
• The election of reformer Mike Hicks to the school board in the Tucson Unified School District.
• Losing Major League Baseball Spring Training after 64 years.
• The award of $63 million in federal stimulus money to help fund a $160 million four-mile “modern streetcar” route from the University of Arizona through downtown.
The downturn in the economy has put stress on families, business and governments throughout Southern Arizona. Although it’s painful it can also be transformative. There are businesses that won’t survive the recession but those that do will emerge smarter, leaner and more prepared for the future. Can we say the same for local governments?
Contact Joe Higgins and Chris DeSimone at email@example.com. They host “Wake Up Tucson,” 6-8 a.m. weekdays on The Voice KVOI 1030-AM. Their blog is at www.TucsonChoices.com.
Copyright © 2010 Inside Tucson Business
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