Main image
17th December
2010
written by JHiggins

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 wakeuptucson@gmail.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

9 Comments

  1. Cactus Bill
    18/12/2010

    “He has shown he can read a contract…” Were more elected folk actually FORCED into reading the contracts, bills, legislation, rules and regulations that the rest of us pay for we’d ALL be in a MUCH better world.

  2. evalyn
    18/12/2010

    HEY, SCROOGE DELUSIONAL CACTUS BILL , DO YOU EVER STOP YOUR BAD MOUTHING ? BAH, HUMBUG !! HAVE A GREAT NEGATIVE CHRISTMAS !!

  3. From Outside the Iron Curtain
    18/12/2010

    Evalyn…that was a compliment of Steve K as much as an admonishment of the other boobs on the council and leading city staff.
    Take for instance the $820K video that nobody knows nothing about. Or the 4th Ave underpass with the 50% overrrun…talk about COMPLETE BLITHERING IDIOTS signing contracts that they have NO IDEA of not only the terms but the IMPLICATIONS of what they are getting themselves into. The “We just gotta show we’re doing something” attitude cost us a BUNDLE. On the underpass, the bond issue, and almost on the hotel.

  4. From Outside the Iron Curtain
    18/12/2010

    In fact, it did cost us a lot on the hotel for a bunch of consultants and plans. $15M for what? Nothing, poof, thin air. $15M for nada.

    Another city studied and ultimately declined on a downtown hotel, Garfield Traub ran that project too. Cost that city $400K. They saved $14.6M because they had some stones or some smarts or some combination thereof.

    Meanwhile Tucson gives guys like Lyle Lanley the keys to the city…or at least the PIN to the city’s ATM…

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AEZjzsnPhnw

    “The streets are still all cracked and broken, sorry, Mom, the (City) has spoken”…

  5. From Outside the Iron Curtain
    18/12/2010

    Outstanding column.
    Kozachick has used the bully pulpit and now has other council folks following him.
    The comparison between Tucson and its incorporated suburbs is good study on priorities.

    We are moving the needle and thanks for documenting that.

  6. Estella
    18/12/2010

    Taken individually these items pop up through the year and they go by the way side. Taken in total, as we see here, it looks like there is some hope and potential for our region.

    Each of these items has a major story behind them, each item has people that did the right or wrong thing.

    Past decisions are starting to haunt or reward those that made them almost a generation ago.

    When we are the bottom, the cracks become evident – welcome to the bottom. Are we going to keep fixing the cracks or patching them over?

  7. Watchdog
    18/12/2010

    Kozachik should be higher on your list. His presence has made more of an impact on a wider range of important issues than the Arizona Policy Institute will, no offense.

  8. evalyn
    19/12/2010

    MERRY CHRISTMAS, OUTSIDE! IT’S THE CONSTANT NEGATIVISM FROM NAMED PERSON I WEARY OF!! JUST CONCENTRATE ON THE GOOD MIND OF KOZ !! YOUR EFFORTS ARE EXCELLENT!!

    NO DOUBT IN MY THINKING THAT KOZACHIK IS THE ONLY REDEEMING HEAD THAT WILL REMAIN A GREAT SOUNDING BOARD HOPING TO FILL THE POT-HOLES OF THIS GROUP. “WAKEUP” AND WE CAN MAKE IT WORK!!

  9. Downtowner
    21/12/2010

    Dear Blog Moderator, since you didn’t approve my comment yesterday, can YOU ask evalyn to not shout?
    Greetings of the season,
    DT

Leave a Reply

  • Pages

  • Categories

  • Archives

  • December 2010
    M T W T F S S
    « Nov   Jan »
     12345
    6789101112
    13141516171819
    20212223242526
    2728293031  
  • Should We Build The Downtown Hotel?

    View Results

    Loading ... Loading ...
  • Tags