Josh Brodesky: Poobahs go west to find our future, but it might already be right here

2012-05-06T00:00:00Z 2012-05-30T09:14:27Z Josh Brodesky: Poobahs go west to find our future, but it might already be right hereJosh Brodesky Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
May 06, 2012 12:00 am  • 

Tucsonans love to head to San Diego when things heat up. This year, the folks at TREO are getting a jump on that tradition.

They're off to San Diego later this month on a fact-finding mission. It seems San Diego just might hold the key to unlocking Tucson's fortunes.

You know, just like Portland, Albuquerque and Austin were thought to have held the key in years past.

A host of public officials and private business players will join Joe Snell, Tucson Regional Economic Opportunities' $313,000 man, in studying San Diego's economy. From May 16 to 18, Tucson's A-listers will probe San Diego's booming biotech sector and prod the underbelly of research development. They will study San Diego's cross-border trade with Mexico and surf the wave of high-tech startups and venture capital.

Attendees range from Mayor Jonathan Rothschild to the University of Arizona Tech Park's Bruce Wright to Providence's Fletcher McCusker, HSL's Omar Mireles and attorney Larry Hecker. Of the 35 attendees, 12 are from the city, Sahuarita, Oro Valley and Pima County. There are also execs from CenturyLink and Cox Communications. The cost: either $2,000 or $2,300 depending on whether a person is a TREO investor.

Some public officials are traveling on the taxpayers' dime. Others are making the trip at TREO's expense, which still involves taxpayers. The economic development agency expected to receive $936,000 in public money for 2012, records show.

In an email interview, Snell said Tucson and San Diego share a number of similarities. We share the Mexican border, are home to major research universities and are tourist destinations. San Diego, he said, might teach us how to grow our own businesses.

"TREO believes that Tucson can build a similar economy, one that provides jobs and transferable skills for a broad cross-section of our residents," Snell wrote.

Yes! Perhaps we can build a similar economy - when California finally falls into the ocean and Yuma goes with it. Then the Navy and Marine Corps can build multiple bases here, we will sprout a bunch more universities, our population will triple and Lute Olson won't have to fly anywhere to beat the heat.

Snell also wrote something about "a knowledge-based economy that creates jobs geometrically."

Please. Stop with the industry buzz words. Snell has an English degree so he should know better than to write such jargon. Maybe in San Diego he can take notes from Pima County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry, who made the most cogent argument for the trip.

Huckelberry wants to hear ideas about boosting and revitalizing tourism from Mexico. He also thinks the trip can generate ideas to better serve our biotech industry and transfer research at the UA into local startups. A TREO trip to Huntsville, Ala., in 2009 was key in shaping efforts to keep Raytheon here, he said.

"I think it's really important that we begin to translate these kinds of investigatory trips into reality because the region needs that type of economic development activity," he told me.

Pima County Supervisor Sharon Bronson offered a similar view.

"These types of trips that we do are really to discover best practices," she said. "That and bringing back some ideas that will promote and improve our ability to attract and expand, and generally, grow startups."

Let's hope they're right, or at least the weather in San Diego is breezy and cool.

The real issue here is whether TREO serves itself before it serves the community. It's laced in Snell's salary - and those of other TREO staffers - which is significantly higher than those reported on tax forms of people doing similar jobs in Portland, Fresno, Colorado Springs, Albuquerque, Tulsa and El Paso.

It's reflected in TREO's major loss of public funding in recent years. Marana bailed on TREO. The city and county have slashed funding for TREO, and the city is again cutting its support, from $520,000 to $400,000 for 2013. Of the six city officials on the trip, TREO is paying for four of them: the mayor, a staffer in his office, and council members Shirley Scott and Paul Cunningham.

Snell said a shift from public to private funding was always in the works.

This question of community value is inherent in Tucson City Manager Richard Miranda's decision to create his own economic development office.

"Taking charge of that economic goal is something I want to do," he said. "So to pay for my economic development director and the ideas that go along with that .... the money had to come from somewhere, so I took it from TREO."

Maybe when everybody gets back from San Diego, they can sit down with someone like Kurt Gehlsen, of Research Corporation Technologies, who did his postdoctoral work in San Diego in the 1980s and was there for the biotech boom. Research Corporation Technologies has more than $200 million to invest in biosciences, and it's right here in Tucson.

Not much of a junket. Just a reminder that the key to unlocking Tucson's fortunes has been here all along.

Contact Brodesky at 573-4242 or jbrodesky@azstarnet.com

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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