It’s reflected in sunsets over the Catalina Mountains and the white stucco of San Xavier del Bac. It’s exemplified by the University of Arizona, high-tech industries like Raytheon, and the presence of Davis-Monthan Air Force Base. It’s showcased in local cafes and downtown art studios.
These Tucson features combine to represent the immense possibilities and the corresponding challenges for a prosperous economic future.
As with the rest of Arizona, the question is not what we want for our future economy. We know we want high-paying jobs. We know we want an influx of outside income and a quality of life that allows us to enjoy all that Arizona has to offer. The question for debate is how to get it.
How do we maximize opportunities and overcome challenges? What do we need to do to achieve the healthy vibrant economy we want?
Many Tucsonans considered these questions when they joined a politically, professionally and generationally diverse group of Arizonans for 3½ days of intense discussion at the 105th Arizona Town Hall on Arizona’s Economy.
Town Hall participants agreed on five areas we need to focus to reach our goals: education and workforce development; infrastructure; tourism; support for local businesses; and establishing Arizona as a welcoming, culturally diverse place.
1. Education and workforce development
Proposed recommendations include increasing education funding across the board to at least pre-recession levels; supporting a comprehensive education improvement plan; better alignment of educational curricula with the needs of Arizona businesses; promoting trade school and vocational opportunities; and implementing programs to retain “home-grown” talent within Arizona, such as loan repayment assistance and loan forgiveness programs.
Arizona needs to maintain and expand infrastructure where the economic return on investment is high. For example, the proposed Interstate 11 project from Nogales to Canada provides an important opportunity to increase trade with all our neighbors, as well as promote Arizona as an inland port.
Roads, airports and trains are critical to our future economy as is the information highway. Maximizing access to broadband internet maximizes economic potential.
We should continue current coordinated efforts to promote Arizona’s unique assets and reinstate Arizona’s Film Office to better promote Tucson and the rest of our state to the entertainment industry.
4. Support for local businesses
Supporting local entrepreneurs and Arizona’s largest employer — small businesses — was a consistent theme for ensuring a strong future economy. Recommended actions include changing governmental incentives to more strongly support Arizona’s small and local businesses, tax increment financing and removing barriers to financing and actions to strengthen certain important sectors such as agriculture and the military.
5. Establish Arizona as a welcoming, culturally diverse place
In the global economy, perceptions matter. Businesses, individuals and government leaders need to support actions that reflect behaviors consistent with a state that is welcoming and culturally diverse.
Those who wish to learn more about the many specific recommendations or who would like to lend their voice to ongoing discussions on Arizona’s economy can attend one of the many community programs that will be held throughout the state beginning in January, including a program in Tucson scheduled for March 30.
Input from these programs will augment the recommendations of Town Hall participants and will be provided to policymakers and business leaders. More importantly, these programs are designed to support and inspire action among Arizona trailblazers trailblazers who will help move us forward into a new economic era.
Tara Jackson is president of the Arizona Town Hall, a non-profit organization that educates, engages and empowers Arizonans to solve critical and often divisive policy issues. Contact her at email@example.com