Archive for February, 2011
Chandler gets a $5 billion Intel plant and Tucson gets 400 AFNI call center jobs. When will we realize that the current slate of business leaders and organizations are getting their butt handed to them? The competition for jobs and companies is fierce. We must be functioning on all cylindars if we expect to compete in the new market place. Sadly we aren’t even at the table.
Last one out turn off the lights.
Semiconducter manufacturer Intel Corp. will build its highest-volume chip plant in the world in Chandler, company officials say. Construction of the $5 billion plant, Fab 42, will begin this summer and be finished in 2013.
Typically, a plant of the size being planned would employ 1,000 people, according to Josh Walden, vice president of Intel’s Technology and Manufacturing Group and general manager of fab manufacturing.
Intel officials, who made the announcement Feb. 18, said it decided to build the plant in Arizona because of the relationships it has already established. The company already has a plant in Chandler.
Afni Inc., which runs three call centers in Tucson, will open a new center in midtown early next month that will eventually employ about 400 people.
The company is looking to fill about 150 inbound-sales positions this week to have the center ready for its early March opening. The company will also take applications for supervisory positions.
A job fair will take place today and Wednesday to take applications and conduct interviews for the positions.
Pam Fifer, Afni’s human-resources manager in Tucson, said she could not disclose what the new jobs will pay, but she did say the bulk of the jobs will be sales and customer-service positions, all making more than minimum wage, plus benefits.
“Our benefits package is very competitive for Tucson,” she said.
The new call center will be at 5451 E. Williams Blvd., in Williams Centre.
Illinois-based Afni Inc. employs about 2,100 workers at three other call centers in Tucson.
The company provides call centers, collections and other services nationwide for the communications and insurance industries.
A lawsuit against the City of Tucson challenging the legality of preferential deals to selected tenants in the Historic Depot isn’t necessarily over just because a judge said the plaintiff lacked standing.
The Arizona Policy Institute is looking for someone else to take up the cause.
Pima County Superior Court Kenneth Lee dismissed the case against the city in December saying plaintiff Sheldy Hawkins, owner of Five Star Termite and Pest Control, was not a restaurant and not located downtown. But Lee left the door open to the lawsuit if a new plaintiff could be found.
The case included specific details on lease negotiations and numerous ordinances the city council adopted to give preferential treatment to certain tenants of the Historic Depot, 400 E. Toole Ave.
Included was a provision for free rent to Maynards Market Kitchen and LP&G Marketing, Advertising & PR but denied to Mahlia Collection, a retail tenant.
“We always knew there could have been an issue with standing for Shelby in the case, but we wanted to try it,” said Tanner Bell, president of Arizona Policy Institute. “We’re looking for someone to step up and sign onto this.”
Bell said the ideal plaintiff would have been Konstantina Mahlia, owner of Mahlia Collection, but she has since moved her designer store to 123 S. Eastbourne Ave. in Broadway Village. She says she wants to leave the ordeal of downtown behind her.
According to the Arizona Policy Institute, Mahlia experienced business disruptions, as did other Depot tenants due to major road construction.
After hearing about rent reductions given to other tenants, Mahlia contacted the city, which is the landlord for Depot, about getting a reduction for her store.
After her request was denied, she went public in the media and that led to a further souring of her relationship with the city.
Bell said his next option is to try to find a restaurateur downtown who was adversely affected by a competing restaurant that didn’t have the overhead of paying rent.
“Too many people don’t want to rock the boat,” Bell said. “But we cannot sit back and let government do what is wrong without challenging it. This is about right and wrong. Not about right or left, but about what is right and what is wrong and someone needs to hold government accountable for the wrong they do. That’s why we’re here.”
Bell said the state constitution is clear on using public funds to benefit a specific person, business or group. The Historic Depot case is a glaring local example of how economic development agreements must produce tangible benefits and fair-market value for taxpayers.
“This one property exemplifies the core problem in our city,” Bell said.
“Tucson’s bureaucrats and politicians have the ability to chose which businesses should succeed and which businesses should fail and it’s hurting us all. Tucson is the ultimate community and I love it here,” he said. “But this kind of attitude in our government is a poison to the current and future business community. And if we keep destroying parts of the business community and we lose businesses and jobs here, how long will we last?”
Ran across this on a visit to California. the story is well researched, well written and well, sad. The parallels to Tucson are many. I especially love how the Mayor is trying to put in reforms that will get businesses through the red tape quicker but it just ain’t working.
LA is making the connection between ease and speed of opening a business and sales tax collection. If you want all the bells and whistles (pot holes and police in this case), you must have a healthy vibrant business community to pay for an employ your population.
By Mark Lacter
If you want a rough approximation of hell on earth, try opening a restaurant in the City of Los Angeles. It’s not just the dozen or more government agencies that need to sign off on a project—or the lack of communication between the Building and Safety guy who says that the electrical outlets are fine and the Fire Department guy who says that they have to be replaced. It’s not even the intramural squabbling between the Planning Department and the Area Planning Commission over whether to require six or eight parking spaces. What makes L.A.’s system so horrible—often dragging out approvals for a year or longer—is an institutional disregard for anyone running a business. In this world, bureaucracy is what rules, and if you don’t like it, well, tough.
Certainly there have been reform efforts. Three years ago Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and city council president Eric Garcetti trumpeted a new plan to trim the number of departments that business owners must deal with from 12 to 2. “We are seizing the opportunity to clear the weeds of bureaucracy that can slow economic growth and job creation,” Villaraigosa said in a press release announcing the “12 to 2 Building Reform Plan.” And then…nothing. The muckety-mucks stopped paying attention. So did the department heads further down the chain who were supposed to implement the changes. The program simply died—and with recession-related job cuts at several agencies, the permitting logjam only grew. The city’s Office of Economic and Business Policy summed up what went wrong in a recent presentation: “No resources. No collaboration. No accountability. Underestimated complexity.”
When a small business owner is held up by nonsensical regulations, the fallout can be considerable, not just for him or her but for the entire L.A. economy. The business loses out on thousands of dollars in potential sales, which means that people aren’t hired, suppliers don’t get work, and the city doesn’t receive tax revenues—no small matter given an escalating budget deficit. If business owners have to pay rent while waiting for all the city permits to clear, they could be hard-pressed to make up for the losses once the operation finally does open. Sometimes the cash runs out before the permits are in hand. Sometimes an owner pulls up anchor and moves to a more accommodating area. “Los Angeles is one of the most hostile cities for entrepreneurship and small business that we’ve come across,” says Michael Bindas, a senior attorney with the Libertarian-leaning Institute for Justice who last year surveyed L.A.’s regulatory climate. “It’s strangling businesses with red tape, and it pretty much affects every calling.”
No one would argue about the need for basic rules and regulations. When visiting my favorite Italian restaurant, I want to know that I won’t get sick because the refrigerator isn’t working, or that I won’t break my neck on a slick men’s room floor, or that the emergency exits won’t be locked in the event of a fire. Government helps provide those assurances. At some point, though, the process meandered beyond legitimate concerns into a zone of capriciousness. Madelyn Alfano, owner of the Maria’s Italian Kitchen chain, thought she would avoid a few of the permit steps by leasing a space that had already been used as a restaurant in a 21-story downtown high-rise. “The plumbing inspector comes in and says that I need to do a water survey of the entire building,” she tells me. “That’s a little unreasonable—to see how much water is being used on 21 floors. So I went to the head guy downtown and asked him, ‘Does this sound reasonable to you?’ And he looked at me and smiled and said, ‘No, it doesn’t seem reasonable.’ So he signed off on it, and I didn’t have to do the survey.”
The thing about bureaucracies is that once built, they’re next to impossible to dismantle. The paper pushers who work behind the counters and out in the field are used to interpreting rules their way, regardless of how absurd the procedures may be for everybody else. That’s a big reason the 12-2 program didn’t take root. Another explanation is the scope of the dysfunction: Each department that issues permits has its own set of codes—and they’re long, complicated, and often contradict one another. “An applicant comes to us, and we say, ‘You need a grease trap but not a grease interceptor,’ ” says Raymond Chan, deputy superintendent of the Department of Building and Safety. “But the Bureau of Sanitation says, ‘No, no, no, you need a grease interceptor.’ ” Both devices separate grease and solids from kitchen wastewater, but grease traps are cheaper and easier to install. Insisting on an interceptor can add tens of thousands of dollars to the cost of a project, and it’s frequently not necessary.
Much of the back-and-forth is played out on the fourth floor of L.A.’s Department of Building and Safety permit office on Figueroa Street, a couple of blocks from the Music Center. This is usually the first stop for anyone starting or expanding a business in the City of Los Angeles, and it’s daunting. On a typical weekday morning dozens of people with architectural plans wait their turn on metal benches that circle the department’s various counters (electric, plumbing, etcetera). Once called, they walk up to the counter where their blueprints are examined for a host of issues, such as whether the fire sprinklers are in the right place or whether the front door should open in or out. Decisions can be appealed, but that requires more submissions and more waiting. Besides, approvals are also needed from the Bureau of Sanitation, the Fire Department, the Bureau of Engineering, the Department of Water & Power, the county health department, the regional Air Quality Management District, and if a liquor license is necessary, the California Department of Alcohol Beverage Control. On occasion the police department is involved as well as the Community Redevelopment Agency, the Planning Department, and the Office of Historic Resources. L.A.’s regulations are like its landscape—sprawling and poorly planned.
Eddie Navarrette knows all about the mess—he’s among the dozen or so “expediters” who are hired by restaurant owners to stand in lines and deal with the permits and inspections. “The first thing I ask potential clients is if they’ve signed a lease,” says Navarrette, who is known in the trade as “Fast Eddie” (he got his nickname playing in a rock band). “If they have a lease, there’s no turning back. If they don’t, I’ll sometimes discourage them from moving forward.” A big problem, Navarrette explains, is that many of the counter people who make judgments about construction work hardly ever pick up a hammer themselves. “They’ll tell you that they’re right with very convincing attitudes,” he says. “But they’ll tell me something that I know is not right.” Erin McKenna, one of Navarrette’s clients and the owner of the L.A. vegan bakery BabyCakes NYC, jokes that the city should establish a Department of Rules, Sanity, and Accountability. “Before you go to argue, look at your case and then subtract all the common sense,” advises McKenna, who spends most of her time in New York. “Then you should be fine.”
What comes up over and over again about L.A.’s bureaucracy—and what truly drives businesspeople nuts—is how blinkered each office can be. Larry Galstian, chief inspector of Building and Safety’s Inspection Bureau, had heard about his own department’s miscues but not about those of other agencies. He says he was “stunned” when a group of restaurant owners unloaded on city officials a little over a year ago, a low point in the relations between the business community and city hall. “We didn’t know what was going on because we didn’t speak to any of those other departments,” Galstian says. “We reviewed plans, approved them, they went to the next agency, and we just waited until they came back to us.”
After hearing the complaints, officials from several departments developed a pilot program with an uncharacteristically cheery name: Restaurant and Hospitality Express. The idea was to speed up the time it took to file for permits with various departments by, among other things, assigning a case manager to each applicant (one restaurant manager was shocked when his cell phone rang and it was an inspector asking if he could be of help). As of late last year more than 100 restaurants were in different stages of the program, and the reviews have been good. Unfortunately, the old infrastructure remains essentially in place, with restaurant owners still having to deal separately with city, county, and state offices—and each marches to its own code book.
The real solution is a top-to-bottom overhaul, something that Deputy Mayor Austin Beutner has been focusing on since he was hired by Villaraigosa at the beginning of 2010 as a kind of business and economics czar (he’s also been the interim general manager of the Department of Water & Power). Beutner, a former investment banker with no government experience, provides financial knowledge, a low-key temperament, and newbie optimism—a combination that seems to be working reasonably well; he’s already pondering a run for mayor in 2013. For him, it’s a simple proposition: The more business he can help generate, large and small, the better the city’s finances will be.
He isn’t dwelling on the ill-fated 12-2 idea (“That one predates me,” he says) and is instead looking to incorporate success stories like the restaurant program into a streamlined plan for all businesses that need city approvals, from dry cleaners to developers. With local municipalities retrenching, this could be a good time to consolidate operations and rethink the way that government works with business. “We’re dealing with a couple of decades, at least, of bad policy and bad practice,” Beutner tells me, punctuating his pitch with management buzzwords like “process” and “transparency” and then explaining how new technology will ultimately save the day by keeping everyone connected.
But this isn’t an MBA class—it’s government bureaucracy at its very worst, and even incremental reform will be a long, bloody slog. Fixing the problem means examining what everybody does, not to mention how well they do it, to determine where the system, in Beutner’s words, “can be reorganized and reoriented.” It also means firings and transfers and massive amounts of retraining, along with needling county and state officials to do the same with their people. Most of all, it means changing attitudes. “We’re making progress,” Beutner says. “You have to change the process so that various departments can do things in parallel—work side by side with each other, share the same information. You have to find people who say, ‘OK, I get it. Our job is to try to foster a better environment for business.’ ” He’s clearly on the right track, but I’ll believe it when I see it.
These past 12 years have been peppered with starts and stops and disappointments. Blame the form of government, blame the revolving door of City Mangers, blame the pandering council or blame the mayor. The simple fact is we are sliding towards a 3rd class city.
Look to our neighbors in Albequerque or El Paso to see how far we’ve fallen. Both have their downtowns well on the way of revitalization, the crime rates are down and their roads are fixed.
Mayor Bob, thanks for your service and I’m excited about a new direction.
“My fellow Tucsonans, this is my 12th State of the City address. It will also be my last,” Walkup announced Tuesday, saying it is time to shift focus to his family.
Asked for more specifics on why he is stepping down, Walkup started, “You run if you’d think you could win …” but then didn’t finish his thought.
He said his work was finished. “After 12 years, I accomplished what I set out to do,” Walkup said.
When Walkup was elected in 1999, he ran as a centrist Republican who eschewed NRA backing, attended gay and lesbian functions, rescued his dog from the pound and set up his campaign headquarters on the south side. His campaign staff, he estimated at the time, was 60 percent Democratic.
He pledged then to make sure the city ended polarizing debates over water and growth, and said his actions wouldn’t be governed by ideology.
But nearly 12 years later, three Tucsonans, so far, have said they will run for mayor – in advance of Walkup’s announcement – saying Tucson sorely needs a strong leader to grapple with problems that have cropped up on Walkup’s watch, from shrinking revenues to the embattled, cash-poor Rio Nuevo project.
Walkup said his goal was to make a difference that was sustainable, which he said he did.
He said he has overseen an improvement in downtown, brought the private sector to downtown, helped the Regional Transportation Authority pass its 20-year transportation plan and secured the funding for the modern streetcar. Walkup said he sees the 3.9-mile modern streetcar to connect the University of Arizona to downtown and the west side as only a “starter set” – just the first of many phases of streetcar routes that will travel throughout the city.
Many of those attending the event either didn’t want to talk about Walkup’s legacy given his retirement, or couldn’t quickly find words to describe the lasting impacts he’s made on the community. Many showered positive comments on Walkup’s kind demeanor, especially his response to the tragedy of the Jan. 8 shootings.
Builder John Wesley Miller said he will remember Walkup’s kindness and humanity, especially after the tragedy. “Bob has always been courteous and kind,” Miller said. “That’s an important part of the legacy he leaves.”
Steve Lynn, vice president of both Tucson Electric Power and UniSource Energy Corp., called Walkup “one of the most enthusiastic mayors we’ve had,” crediting him with kick-starting downtown redevelopment – maybe because of Rio Nuevo, maybe in spite of it – and with a 350-acre business and residential complex at South Kino Parkway and Interstate 10.
Lisa Lovallo, vice president and systems manager for Cox Communications, too, focused on Walkup’s “positive disposition.”
“He’s always had an attitude towards Tucson that’s optimistic,” Lovallo said, even in the face of negative events, from the recession to the failure of Rio Nuevo to remake downtown.
Walkup’s Republican colleague on the council, Steve Kozachik, predicted Walkup will be haunted by Rio Nuevo, at least until it can be turned around.
“That’s going to be his legacy, and there’s nothing he can do about that,” Kozachik said.
Take the streetcar, Kozachik said. “It will have to demonstrate a return on investment. Either it’s going to be a good thing, and open up housing and business opportunities, or it’s going to be another boat anchor for the city.”
Kozachik said he would have liked to see Walkup focus less on consensus building, and occasionally dig in his heels and take a principled stand on issues.
Rick Grinnell, a local business leader who said he is considering a run for mayor as an independent, called Walkup a “man of integrity” but said he wasn’t able to do enough to energize economic growth.
“I was frustrated with his unwillingness to take the bully pulpit and really use it,” said Grinnell. “He’s a good human being and his intentions were good, but intentions don’t get results.”
Joe Higgins, a businessman who also co-hosts a morning radio talk show, characterized Walkup as a “great figurehead” and a “great ambassador for the city,” but said Walkup either didn’t have a vision or the follow-through to complete it. “It’s time for a change agent who has a vision for where to take this community.”
But council member Karin Uhlich, a Democrat who said she will miss Walkup’s “open mind and open heart,” said such criticisms give short shrift to Walkup’s contributions. Some of those successes might require some patience, she said, predicting, “The modern streetcar is going to end up being one of his proudest legacies.”
“When you think about the political times we’re in, he has been very gracious, and he has helped prevent the kind of polarized politics that could have torn this community apart,” Uhlich said. “If you’re looking for specific and tangible outcomes, you might miss the tone and tenor he has helped set, which has laid the foundation for the progress we’ve made.”
Walkup, who received a polite standing ovation at the beginning and end of his speech, said people have told him they’re going to miss him. His response: “Well, I’ll be here.”
Walkup said his goal is to finish the year strong, making a big push to promote his civility initiative.
He sent a pledge to all interested members of the U.S. Conference of Mayors and to all 91 mayors in Arizona. If they sign the pledge, they will receive a small blue pin with “civility” inscribed on it, which he wore on his suit lapel Tuesday.
Walkup said he’s seen civility decline his years in office, saying, “Last year’s political season was very difficult for a number of people.” He also said speakers at the City Council’s call to the audience have been getting more and more disrespectful.
Meanwhile, he said he will make sure the modern streetcar stays on schedule and on budget, and hopes to create a plan to fund improvements to the Tucson Convention Center. He hasn’t given up on a new convention center hotel, either, saying the city needs it.
After that, Walkup said he will focus on being a “good” husband and a “great” grandfather and has some personal engineering projects he wants to focus on.
He won’t wade into the race of who will replace him, Walkup said.
“It’s too soon,” he said.
Walkup defeats Molly McKasson to become mayor. Voters approve Rio Nuevo redevelopment funding in same election.
Walkup wades into dispute over Walmart and big-box ordinance, hoping to repeal big-box restrictions, but fails.
Downtown aquarium scrapped, the first piece of the original Rio Nuevo plan to be dropped.
Walkup pitches adding a downtown arena to Rio Nuevo plans. Walkup defeats former mayor Tom Volgy for a second term.
Walkup leads a 4-3 vote for a $12 increase in the city’s garbage pickup fee.
The Legislature approves a $600 million 12-year extension for Rio Nuevo. The city kills plans for an expansive Rainbow Bridge over Interstate 10 and the Santa Cruz River after spending $5 million on plans. Council approves “sustainability plan” to fund police, fire, roads and parks.
Walkup re-elected to third term with nominal opposition.
Tucson has been plagued by a clear lack of leadership. When you don’t have leadership it’s easy to run from idea to idea (rainbow bridges, $800k movies that never get played) and never actually do anything. Without a plan what gets cuts and where do you focus resources? Are roads important? Is public safety important? Do we want bus services? Do we want parks? Who pays for everything?
We encourage the Surpise council for joining Marana’s council on developing a vision and plan. Tucson……what’s up?
If you stepped into a time machine and were transported to Surprise 10 or more years from now, you might find a strikingly different city.
Imagine a bustling college campus in the city’s core surrounded by restaurants, nightlife and boutique shops. After class, it’s a short walk to an evening baseball game, tennis tournament or festival.
A little farther east, a light-rail car is arriving with professionals returning home from a day’s work in Phoenix. Workers at green-energy manufacturing and high-tech plants in the city’s southern railplex are clocking out, too.
And as the sun starts to set, guests at a luxury resort are returning from a nature hike or heading to a show at an outdoor amphitheater.
That vision of a future Surprise is the aim of a new strategic plan City Council members unanimously adopted earlier this month. A collection of loose, lofty goals, the plan is a road map intended to guide the city’s development over the next decade and beyond.
It focuses on five major areas: transportation, economic development, higher education, sustainability and tourism/recreation.
Now that the plan has been created, it will slowly be put into action.
Some portions of the plan, such as building a commuter rail line along Grand Avenue, could take years to accomplish, but staff will begin chipping away at them and devising strategies each year, said Jeff Mihelich, the city’s Community and Economic Development director.
Unions ‘gaming’ the system – editorial from Arizona Republic.
A Tucson portrait photographer whose image of 9-year-old Christina-Taylor Green was shared with media outlets by her family after she was killed is seeking compensation from numerous media companies, including The Arizona Republic, and has threatened to sue if he is not paid.
Photographer Jon Wolf owns the photo’s copyright and told the Green family that he intended to donate a portion of his earnings to a charity that helps grieving children and their families. However, Tucson charity Tu Nidito has since declined any funds he might receive. The Greens say they are infuriated by Wolf’s actions. A public Facebook movement to boycott Wolf’s business is circulating.
Gannett Co., Inc., parent corporation of The Arizona Republic and more than 140 other media entities including 12 News and USA Today, “respects intellectual property” and is willing to pay a standard licensing fee, said Barbara Wall, Gannett’s vice president/senior counsel, but the sum will be far shy of the $125,000 Wolf has specified…….
On the morning of Jan. 11, three days after the mass shooting at a Safeway near Tucson, Wolf’s attorney, Edward Greenberg, contacted Wall, threatening to sue over copyright infringement and asking that use of the photo stop immediately. The Republic complied.
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