On June 25, the Arizona Daily Star published an opinion from Councilman Steve Kozachik wherein he told the Tucson Metro Chamber to "get on board with city's positive economic direction." In the article Kozachik charged that the chamber should be "more helpful" in promoting a stronger local economy and be "more positive" about the city's new attitude toward business.
Those are curious charges against an organization whose mantra is, "When business is good, life is good." No organization has done more to promote jobs, business expansion and economic vitality in Southern Arizona than the Tucson Metro Chamber.
The chamber has been a consistent visitor to city offices with messages about job creation and improving the interface between the public and private sectors. In short, the charges leveled against the chamber seem to be a shifting of blame for the recent loss of Grand Canyon University's 1,000 jobs, its estimated $500 million in economic impact over five years and the fact that 5,000-plus students, many of them nurses and teachers, will be going to school somewhere other than Tucson.
Inside sources tell us that GCU has a "sour taste" in its mouth about its experience in Tucson, doesn't want to "fight with the city" and is "now concentrating on the East Valley" (of Phoenix).
The city of Tucson bungled the GCU opportunity. Contributing to the mess was Ward 6 Councilman Kozachik, who questioned whether the El Rio Golf Course (a $4.2 million drag on the city and taxpayers over the past five years) should have even been offered to GCU as a possible site because RFPs had been sent to several possible private company golf course operators to see if they can breathe life back into the facility. No contract has been signed, so it would seem all options should be on the table, including GCU.
Most would agree that a major private university will pay off at a level much higher than an underused golf facility. If Kozachik had any private sector experience, he would have instinctively included GCU in the mix of options to improve the city's hand. It will be interesting to see how the city's final "deal" at El Rio stacks up against the anticipated 1,000 jobs, tens of millions of dollars of tax revenue and $500 million in economic impact over five years.
In his column last Tuesday Kozachik went on to say that potential cost overruns on the new F-35 Joint Strike Fighter are preventing him from supporting the future of the 162nd Air National Guard facility at Tucson International Airport and (by extension) the future of Davis-Monthan Air Force Base. He apparently believes that his opinion is held in high regard at the Pentagon and in the federal procurement process.
The truth is that the F-35 is going to be built and is going to be stationed at facilities around the country. Instead of worrying about cost overruns over which City Council members have no control, why not do everything possible to secure the future of the 162nd, D-M and the nearly $2 billion they mean to the Tucson economy?
As to Kozachik's charge that the chamber should "be more positive" about the future of the city's economy", the chamber has been quietly working with a media company and a city staffer on a campaign to put a new face on the perception of the city's anti-business attitude. The campaign was going to be called The New Tucson. We have withdrawn from that project because there seems to be a lack of organization, functionality and attitude necessary to support major opportunities when they do arise. The GCU matter made that abundantly clear.
The chamber applauds the city for the creation of new economic development incentives and for other steps taken to try to improve development processes. But actions speak louder than incentives.
Michael Varney is president and CEO of the Tucson Metro Chamber.