Strategies that work in building economic growth, businesses and jobs in the greater Phoenix area and Tucson do not always transfer to rural and non-metropolitan communities like Flagstaff, Cottonwood, Camp Verde, Payson and Prescott.
That is what participants from 14 communities and five counties heard at the half-day Arizona Association for Economic Development (AAED) symposium conducted in Camp Verde on Wednesday, Nov. 13.
Camp Verde Mayor Charlie Gorman and Star Valley Councilmember Bobby Davis opened the meeting. Speakers presented recommendations suited to smaller communities and less-populated regions. All emphasized sustainability and meeting the needs of the present without compromising the future of the environment, culture or society.
Leading off was Arizona Office of Tourism (AOT) Deputy Director Becky Blaine. She described how tourism bolsters the Arizona economy, especially in smaller communities. “It brings in new money and new people,” she said.
She cited data showing that domestic tourism brought in $34.6 million, while international tourism brought $5.9 million to Arizona last year. She said tourists want new places to explore and experience and AOT is dedicated to emphasizing rural, non-metropolitan experiences.
“Attracting tourists strengthens the local economy and encourages protection of the natural and cultural resources that make communities unique,” she said.
Most visitors are coming from Mexico, Canada, Germany, United Kingdom, France and China.
Leaders from local Central and Northern Arizona communities spoke as well. Town of Camp Verde Economic Development Director Steve Ayers said intense planning and collaboration with construction and building organizations had resulted in significant growth potential for the Verde Valley. “We have the possibility of seeing $20 million of potential involvement in our area within the next 24 months, and that means jobs and economic growth.”
Page Economic Development Director Gregg Martinez said the city is focusing on repeat visitors. “We are going to have our business emphasize excellent customer service. We see customer satisfaction as a key to making people want to return to the good times they enjoyed in Page, so we’re really focusing upon workforce development and education.”
Flagstaff Community Investment Director David McIntire said his community is working with the business and hospitality community to create an atmosphere of friendly, sustainable and practical development. “We need to help businesses utilize existing space and facilities, for Flagstaff is never going to be a low-cost community to build in or live in. We will work with the university and college personnel, with local leaders and others to create a quality environment, for we know that tourism has a major impact on the city.”
Verde Canyon Railroad Vice President of Passenger Services Teresa Prospeck said the train company is focused on protecting the Verde River and Verde Canyon. “We’ve taken 2.2 million people into the Verde Canyon. In that 42-mile round trip, we constantly tell our guests that they should feel obligated to protect and respect the natural environment. Our employees – 30 full-time and 40 part-time – are told over and over of that obligation. Our economic future depends on that.”
Luncheon speaker Keith Watkins, representing the Arizona Commerce Authority, said his organization is aggressively working with rural Arizona and small businesses on two objectives: encouraging the development of more sawmills in Central and Northern Arizona in cooperation with the U.S. Forest Service; and the expansion of broadband high-speed wireless Internet service to rural communities.
Local First Arizona Executive Director Kimber Lanning said there is a need to improve entrepreneurship in our smaller communities. “They are the ones who will help us keep dollars and jobs in our local communities. We need to stop leakage of hometown money to big cities by spending it at home. Rural communities need to diversify their economies. They need to be consistent, convenient and focused on customer service.”
The next AAED meeting related to economic development in Central and Northern Arizona is at 9:30 a.m., Tuesday, Feb. 25, in Sedona. QCBN
By Ray Newton, QCBN
For more information, go to AAED.com or call 602-240-1233.