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29th September
2011
written by Land Lawyer

Tucson is like that lazy cousin that crashes on your couch, who’s always between jobs and who borrowed the $10k to start a new business swearing to never ask you for anything again. Our big brother up north, Phoenix on the other hand has been focusing on it’s future, building infrastructure and attracting an economic base to build from. Both the metro Phoenix and the Tucson markets have seen big busts driven by a real estate down turn.  Phoenix is evolving, diversifying and working to get out of their whole – Tucson sadly is not.  Phoenix will bounce back sooner under the leadership of ASU’s Michael Crow and other valley business and political leaders. Tucson has an interim city manager, and interim president of the university of Arizona and an economic development marketing organization with a difficult product to sell.
Put your bets on Phoenix to bounce back and rise from the ashes.  We’ll be avoiding pot holes and shooting for the moon with boondoggles like Rio Nuevo.

From the AZ Star:

Arizona State University President Michael Crow is trying to remake the American public university, the online magazine Slate noted last month.

Now, Crow is making a pitch to remake the relationship between Tucson and Phoenix, as well.

He will speak Friday before a Tucson economic development group, TREO, on how the two oft-competing cities can collaborate on the business front.

His pitch will be how the two cities can collectively build a more sustainable economic base for the Sun Corridor, the urbanizing region in southern and central Arizona, anchored by Tucson and Phoenix, that is expected to grow significantly by 2040.

Crow has seen and fostered plenty of growth at ASU since becoming president in 2002. Enrollment has grown by 30 percent, to more than 72,000. The university has created more than 100 new degree programs since his arrival.

Here’s a Q&A with Crow on how to build the regional economy:

Q. Tell us how and why Tucson and Phoenix can cooperate in the name of the Sun Corridor.

A. The root of all this is that the Sun Corridor is one of 10 places in the U.S. called megapolitans, where most of the population growth will occur (in the next few decades). … I’ll be walking through how we find ways to leverage the advantages that Tucson and Phoenix already have. We’re not doing as well as we could be. One reason is that we’re not leveraging our advantages.

Q. What are some of them?

A. The most significant advantage is Arizona itself. It’s a fantastic natural place to be. Match it with the newness of the place and the spirit of innovation here, and we can advance anywhere we want to advance. We have to make a decision as to where we’re going. There’s nothing fighting against us. We are not like Cleveland or Baltimore where you are trying to work against what isn’t working anymore. All we’re trying to do is to think about what’s new.

Q. We’re not Cleveland. But our mainstay, the real estate industry, has collapsed as hard as the steel industry did in Ohio 30 years ago. Isn’t that an obstacle for us?

A. It’s not really an obstacle, at least regionally. As hard as that’s been for everyone, it’s not at the core of our productivity, our competitiveness. It’s an overbuilt real estate market. It has to adjust. As you move forward, you are not looking at collapsed businesses. You are looking at having to build new businesses. It’s easier to do that.

Q. But a lot of experts say our slowdown due to real estate could be the new normal for a long time. What’s going to change that?

A. Our fundamental problem is hypergrowth. We reached out a little too far. Now we need to get about reaching out for export-oriented businesses. For many people, the lower housing prices, as painful as they’ve been, for many businesspeople they have worked in our favor.

Q. How do we do that – reaching out for export-oriented businesses?

A. Pursue economic development activities together. Make sure we build the infrastructure necessary to support regional growth. We don’t have that now, for which Interstate 10 is just one example. We have to make sure we create an environment as friendly for business development as possible. We don’t have that.

Q. Maricopa County is a lot more conservative than Pima County politically. Is this schism an obstacle?

A. I don’t see political differences as an obstacle at all. We’re not talking about massive government action. We’re talking about ways to work together, and red versus blue doesn’t stand in the way. Typically, municipalities are very engageable. We have to figure out how to leverage cities and counties, with the small businesses and universities, and politics are not much of a part of that.

Q. We compete with Phoenix all the time for things and usually lose. In the Legislature, the Phoenix crowd outmuscles us all the time. Why should this turn out differently?

A. It turns out that some competition is good. For local places to compete for the site of the company, that’s OK, as long as everyone is pulling together for the next company to come to this region. We have to draw together and support each other’s advantages. We should all be finding ways to allow each city to accent its differences and use those differences in our overall marketing strategies. …

You have Phoenix and Tucson with unique, wonderful, complementary cultures. You offer a whole plethora of options. It gives you significantly more firepower when you are trying to attract, retain or grow new businesses. We just haven’t thought that way.

Q. But many people in Tucson feel, rightly or wrongly, lack of trust that Phoenix’s leadership has our interests at heart. The Legislature has a track record of taking actions perceived by city leaders here as being contrary to our best interests, such as their attempts to limit our city government’s powers. Why should we trust Phoenix leaders now?

A. Trust is a function of experience, wisdom and understanding. We need to work to expand each so that trust can be built. I am not familiar with the reasons behind a lack of trust and would have to say that in any event ‘that was then and this is now.’ It is time to set mutual goals and work toward those goals.

Q. After the bust, what’s going to bring the Sun Corridor back?

A. Yes, there has been an economic downturn. There hasn’t been a population decline (Pima County’s population dropped very slightly in 2010, but Arizona’s didn’t, census figures show). People are going to move here anyway. The question is will they be marginally employed and heavily supported by government subsidies? Or will we have a robust economy and steady economic growth?

It’s about whether economic growth and enhancement allow for the building of families and schools. It’s about employment and people making jobs or money. The highest-paying jobs are related to technology or exports. The rest of us, we support them. I don’t feel this is going to change. That is just raw demographics. We might be off by 10 percent, but the U.S. is still the fastest-growing industrialized nation in the world.

Q. How can we make this a business-friendly state without wrecking the natural setting that draws so many people?

A. I’m all for protecting the natural environment. It’s our leading asset. What one wants to do is to develop a business-friendly environment that doesn’t allow any deterioration of our natural environment. You have to have a tax policy and educational infrastructure. You have to have things that other businesses want. We haven’t done a good job of figuring that out.

FULL House

Tickets have sold out for the Tucson Regional Economic Opportunities Inc. (TREO) luncheon Friday where ASU President Michael Crow will deliver the keynote address on the Sun Corridor.

The event begins at 11:30 a.m. at the Hilton El Conquistador hotel, 10000 N. Oracle Road.

Contact reporter Tony Davis at tdavis@azstarnet.com or 806-7746.

1 Comment

  1. Cactus Bill
    29/09/2011

    The biggest problem facing this approach is the ingrained mentality of many in Tucson. The very notion that someone from Phoenix has suggested that Tucson and Phoenix do something in their mutual interest is anathema to some. Anything with the ‘Phoenix’ stench is automatically wrong. Unless the majority of Tucsonans tell at least the elected leaders that anything that helps Tucson is a GOOD, then Phoenix will pass us by (again) and we will be left slowly rotting in our self-imposed cesspool of second rate ‘what could have been…’

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