The Tucson area’s main economic-development agency has adopted a new strategic “blueprint” with a goal of creating nearly 40,000 new jobs in the next five years.
To achieve that lofty goal, the plan adopted by Tucson Regional Economic Opportunities Inc. calls for a focus providing a better-qualified workforce and increasing the number of high-wage and high-skill “export-based” jobs — those like manufacturing that bring money to the Tucson region from elsewhere.
The plan also focuses on four expected growth sectors — aerospace and defense; bioscience and health care; alternative energy and natural resources; and transportation and logistics.
Key strategies of the new plan, which was unveiled by TREO Wednesday evening, include developing talent, infrastructure and the business environment — and a new emphasis on boosting Tucson’s status as a healthy community as well as ensuring access to top-notch care.
The industry sectors are largely similar to the industry cluster groups identified in the original 2007 blueprint, but a new approach is necessary, TREO President and CEO Joe Snell said.
“It’s a little thing called the Great Recession that hit us, that changed the landscape — the way we were doing business prior to 2007 was not valid anymore,” said Snell, who was hired to head TREO after its formation in 2005.
From 1954 to 2007, Arizona ranked at or near the top of the states for growth in population, in-migration and jobs growth, but after 2007 the state plummeted to near the bottom in those categories, Snell said.
Progress was made on some goals of the original blueprint, Snell said. An emphasis on foreign direct investment helped along major expansions at places like Ventana Medical Systems, owned by Swiss drug giant Roche AG, and the French drug company Sanofi in Oro Valley. And downtown redevelopment took off on with a major private-sector push, fulfilling a TREO goal of an “urban renaissance,” he said.
The new blueprint is largely about refocusing TREO’s efforts, Snell said.
“What we really did was focus on a limited number of areas that we thought needed some special attention, that if shored up could produce results for us,” he said.
TREO has changed as well since 2007. Initially funded mostly by local governments, the group now gets 75 percent of its current $1.8 million annual budget from private-sector members, along with $500,000 from Pima County.
Guy Gunther, Arizona vice president and general manager of CenturyLink and TREO’s current chairman, said the new plan is focused on strategies that can reap results across a range of growth industries, though the sectors identified in 2007 are still key.
“The industries that were identified then pretty much held up; they’ve proven to be the ones that leverage the assets we have here,” Gunther said. “But the strategies did need to be updated.”
While before the recession companies looking to expand or relocate were focused on the best deal they could get, now they’re more focused on such things as available talent and health care, including employee wellness and access to quality care, Gunther said.
“The availability of talent is really what drives winning these deals,” he said.
Along with health care, transportation and logistics have been given new emphasis, Gunther said, to capitalize on efforts to build new trade corridors with Mexico that include trying to extend the proposed Interstate 11 through Pima County.
A major thrust of the new blueprint, Gunther and Snell said, is embodied in its subtitle, “We Win as One.”
That means not only pulling all local economic-development resources together, with TREO as a single point of initial contact, but it also means getting existing businesses to understand they will all benefit from new, export-based jobs.
“We need all kinds of jobs. What was missing before was (the message) that those are the kinds of jobs that create all kinds of jobs,” said TREO board member Dave Hutchens, president and chief operating officer of Tucson Electric Power Co. and UNS Energy Corp.
TREO estimates that for each high-wage, export-based job created, three other jobs are created indirectly.
TREO’s goal of 40,000 jobs in five years, which includes both high-wage direct jobs and indirect jobs, represents the number needed to reach 2 percent annual job growth, he said.
“We’ve only recovered about 35 percent of the jobs lost during the Great Recession,” Gunther said. “We think this is an aggressive goal, but it’s needed, and if we can focus on these areas, … that’s how we’ll get there.”
TREO’s new strategy for health care, spearheaded by Fletcher McCusker of Sinfonia HealthCare Corp., envisions the promotion of the Tucson region as “America’s Healthiest Region,” with the aim of building Tucson’s reputation for wellness and prevention, high-quality medical care, innovation and coordinated care.
McCusker said one early goal of TREO’s health-care committee, which includes 10 major providers, was to develop a coordinated campaign to boost enrollment under the Affordable Care Act. An ad campaign developed and co-funded by 10 local health-care providers won accolades from the White House and is a model of unprecedented collaboration among members such as Carondelet Health Network and Tucson Medical Center, he said.
Improving health-care access and delivery and linking care to wellness assets like Canyon Ranch and Miraval can help attract businesses and help make Tucson a health-care “destination,” McCusker said.
Snell said the effort to drive high-value job creation is not limited to big companies, and entrepreneurship is a focus of TREO’s strategy to create a first-rate business environment.
Tucson should support and capitalize on local entrepreneurship efforts by groups including the University of Arizona and Startup Tucson, which operates co-working spaces and other startup business programs, TREO leaders say.
“A lot of us are tuned into the whole entrepreneurial thing, the innovation centers that are being created,” McCusker said. His company hosted a co-working space for a time and last year acquired a medication management software and business model developed by UA faculty and researchers.
“These are designed to keep kids here that would otherwise go to places like Austin (Texas), or Portland (Oregon) or San Diego, that they view as hipper. Those kids are staying now because there are places and programs and businesses that recruit them,” he said.