At an Arizona Association for Economic Development event last month, economist Jim Rounds said growth can be important for rural regions. “While tourism may not be the highest paying industry, it brings revenues to pay for infrastructure and fixed costs.”
“It is not about volume of new businesses, it is also about quality,” Rounds said. Yavapai College and NAU-Yavapai can provide a solid foundation, he added, which can bring well-paying jobs to the area.
Along with higher education, the area is also seeing growth in manufacturing and distribution said Wendy Bridges, a coordinator for Prescott’s Department of Economic Development. Additionally, local companies are adding services and increasing their geographical reach, contributing to the region’s economic growth, she added.
Yet, the robust economy and low unemployment rate creates workforce challenges. “There are simply not enough job seekers to fill vacancies,” said Bridges, referring to a situation in many Western cities. “Although this is a challenge, it’s also an opportunity; job prospects have never been better.”
Bridges represents Prescott on the Arizona Association for Economic Development board of directors. The organization has been closely evaluating the state’s rural regions.
The new AAED rural chairperson is Skip Becker. After education and health care, which he said create foundations in each rural county, the economic drivers are tourism and agriculture.
“Agribusiness is a $100 billion industry, if you look at the direct and indirect economic impact,” Becker said. For the next two years, Becker and others see agribusiness as a means of economic development, especially if certain challenges are faced.
“We need solutions for water rights, infrastructure and the workforce,” Becker said, referring to common problems faced by Arizona’s rural areas, including the Quad Cities. By forming a coalition of the state’s ag producers, citrus growers, cattle growers, dairies, winemakers and others, the group can have a unified voice.
A specific issue Becker would like to see the group address is a uniform agriculture property tax assessment; this would prevent winemakers from being charged commercial rates for all portions of an operation.
Becker says he looks forward to his role as rural chairman for the AAED, where he can work with people throughout the state to improve economic development opportunities for the future. QCBN
By Theresa Bierer, QCBN
Photo by Theresa Bierer