The economic-development world is a rough-and- tumble roller derby, with elbows being thrown to win the recruitment battle, waged not just nationally, but internationally.
In this environment, Pima County is going to have to be aggressive when it comes to competing. Yes, we have to keep tax rates competitive. Yes, we have to exploit the natural advantages that we have, whether that’s our proximity to Mexico or the fact we’re a college town that produces smart, skilled workers.
And yes, it’s going to take something that isn’t particularly glamorous — building networks and connections and regional ties — because that’s how we move forward.
But it’s more than that: It’s a mind-set that we are in the business of solutions. That we want to help the employers that are already here stay here and grow. That we are willing to work with a unified voice and say, “How?” instead of “No” when we see opportunities that make sense.
Last year, Pima County asked, “How?” when we learned of a fledgling biotech firm that was interested in locating its startup here for a host of reasons — from the University of Arizona to an affordable lifestyle to a burgeoning synergy with other biotech firms being established throughout the region.
The problem: There wasn’t a “wet lab” available that could meet Accelerate Diagnostics’ needs for the sophisticated experiments they conduct.
It would have been easy to shrug and move on, to decide not to take a risk, albeit a calculated one. Instead, the county worked with the state to develop the lab space and build out the tenant improvements for Accelerate to move into the county public health building.
A year later, Accelerate had outgrown its space and the Board of Supervisors agreed to lease it more. Accelerate will likely hit its 2016 employment goal of 65 highly paid employees two years ahead of schedule.
For taxpayers, it worked for a number of reasons. The county’s former empty space now has a tenant defraying costs. When Accelerate eventually moves, the lab space we developed and will continue to own will be there for other startup companies. It also builds symmetry with the adjacent medical campus, of which the University of Arizona Medical Center-South Campus is the hub.
The Board of Supervisors approved an economic development plan last year that talks about making sure we retain the businesses that we have and grow new ones, instead of putting all of our eggs in the recruitment basket.
That means working with businesses to find out how our workforce-development efforts can be best adapted to meet their needs, so the people we’re training actually have jobs waiting for them when they finish. That means finding out what the impediments are for small business and tackling them piece-by-piece. It means getting creative when we hear about opportunities, such as the one presented by Accelerate.
Recruit, retain, grow. It takes hard work, and there are never overnight results. But Pima County has a role to play every step of the way to help the private sector create more jobs and a thriving economy for county residents. Together, we can move forward.