Business climate infuriates Tucson-area employers, survey finds

2014-03-16T00:00:00Z Business climate infuriates Tucson-area employers, survey findsBy Darren DaRonco Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

Tucson businesses have spoken out about the business climate in Tucson and Pima County.

And for many, it stinks.

At least that was the consensus among 129 large employers (those with 100 employees or more) surveyed by the Tucson Metro Chamber between July 2012 and November 2013. The chamber released the results on Thursday.

For instance, only six of the respondents said that local government bodies understand business, while seven said that local government entities promote growth.

Many said local governments adopt cumbersome regulations, overtax businesses, and defer too often to neighborhood groups on zoning and other issues.

The survey results offer a scathing rebuke to government officials who say they’ve reversed anti-business practices of the past and now work to encourage growth and tear down obstacles.

But where government officials have seen progress, business leaders see stagnation.

Respondent after respondent cited crumbling roads, underperforming schools and a poorly trained workforce as major problems of doing business in Southern Arizona.

Other common complaints mentioned from business leaders:

  • We’re not Phoenix: Many respondents lamented that governments in Maricopa County get business right while their counterparts in Southern Arizona continue to flounder.
  • Rosemont Copper holdup: Others pointed to the protracted fight over the mine as an example of the region’s perceived antipathy toward business.
  • No creativity: While the city has put business incentives in place over the past year, many said they don’t go far enough or only apply to a select few, such as to businesses in the downtown district.
  • Over-regulated: Many said regulations are byzantine. One respondent said regulators at state and local levels “are great at providing citations and collecting revenue, but poor at facilitating solutions.”
  • Aversion to progress: Some said local officials acquiesce too quickly when neighbors object to any type of progress near their homes. One stated: “Neighborhoods wield far too much power and there is rarely thought about the greater good. If one person/group disagrees, progress is stopped.”
  • Dilapidated infrastructure and urban blight: One respondent said, “This town is dirty and ugly. I am ashamed to bring clients, customers and recruits from the airport to my business.”

Overall, government officials were characterized as either clueless, indifferent or hostile to business needs.

Metro Chamber CEO and President Mike Varney said the survey wasn’t commissioned to shock or disparage government officials.

Instead, he said, it lends hard evidence to what business leaders have privately griped about for years.

“I don’t like the fact people feel this way,” said Varney, who authored the survey. “We went into this with no preconceptions. We had no idea how people felt about these things. We just knew we needed to give the business community a little sharper voice.”

Mayor Jonathan Rothschild said Tucson has worked hard to strengthen ties with the business community and make the city more business-friendly during his two-year tenure.

“I have made my office an open door and met with many businesspeople with questions,” Rothschild said. “And we get people answers. Sometimes it’s not the answer they want, but more often than not, I’ve gotten compliments.”

He said the survey represents how people continue to perceive Tucson.

“Changing old perceptions can take years and if the survey says anything, it says we have to step up our efforts to let folks know how we can be responsive when there is a problem,” Rothschild said. “We will keep working at it.”

The findings weren’t all negative.

Respondents rated police and fire services highly. Also, despite their misgivings, 62 percent of the businesses said they plan on staying in the region.

Varney said the survey should serve as a wake-up call.

“This is chance for all of us, both public and private, to look at ourselves in the mirror and ask, ‘How are we doing?’”

Contact reporter Darren DaRonco at 573-4243 or ddaronco@azstarnet.com. Follow on Twitter @DarrenDaRonco

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