Flagstaff City Council and mayoral candidates have been given the chance to answer a weekly question in no more than 150 words. This week’s question: What do you see as the future of economic development in Flagstaff and how can the city achieve this?
The future of economic development in Flagstaff is dependent on several factors. At present, the unemployment rate in Flagstaff is approximately 4.7 percent and in the US. is 5.2 perent. The recent job growth in Flagstaff is 2 percent as opposed to the national growth of 1.6 percent. Our population, by occupation seems to center around retail trade which is 13.6 percent, accommodation and food services at approximately 16.5 percent, educational services at 17 percent, and health care and social assistance at 12.3 percent.
As you can see, we do not have a shortage of service and tourist related jobs. What we do have, a shortage of our careers in clean manufacturing, professional, scientific and technical services that offer careers that pay a living wage and provide benefits. The city has to invest in a serious effort in attracting companies that afford professional and economic opportunities for our citizens.
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I would like for our local economists to forgive me for commingling economic growth and economic development.
In my view, it is important that our community seek to have a higher quality of living for all. This could be accomplished by empowering our human capital through offering more choices of employers, focus on education, enhanced work skills and reducing poverty in our community.
Our city and other groups are focused on economic growth/development. For example, the city has a Business Listening Tour. I favor continuing these efforts and where possible offer suggestions for improvement. I would listen to the advice from our community’s entrepreneurs, established businesses and educational institutions.
In response to Question 2 in an earlier Q & A, I mentioned that we live in one of the most desirable places in the Southwest. We should expect growth, and our infrastructure and public safety should support our growth.
Flagstaff relies heavily on the tourist industry and a handful of major employers, and though we have some great biotech startups in Flagstaff, we need to pursue new industries to diversify our economy and create career opportunities for our people.
Computing and Informatics is the second-fastest growing industry in America, which is the area I work in--business analytics, computer programming, app development, cybersecurity, server warehouses, etc. Flagstaff has cutting-edge internet services, among the best in Arizona, and at 7,000 feet the cost of cooling supercomputers and data warehouses is far less than down south.
We’re not utilizing our internet and environmental infrastructure to its full potential. These are well-paying careers in an industry that grows rapidly, and will complement well with our other major employers in biotech, healthcare, and education.
Strengthen Flagstaff’s industries, retain businesses, shop local, support nonprofits and create synergy for workforce development. Flagstaff’s thriving entrepreneurship is energized by our highly educated workforce, cutting-edge research and quality of life. Flagstaff can be positioned as Arizona’s virtual Silicon Valley. For businesses to thrive, remove barriers such as excessive bureaucracy and taxation.
• Key industries: manufacturing, astronomy, bioscience, craft brewing, digital/eCommerce, entrepreneurship, retail and tourism
• Arizona’s best-educated workforce: over 44 percent of residents holding a bachelor’s degree or higher
• Tourism/hospitality is a $563 million industry: 8,000+ employees, 5,000,000+ visitors/year, over $21.67 million in BBB taxes collected in 3 years
• Flagstaff is 14 times more specialized in biomedical manufacturing than any other city
• Flagstaff is a Craft Brew City with eight breweries, one distillery, and one meadery
The city’s ecological, historic and cultural assets can be leveraged sustainably to generate revenue for the community while preserving the past and protecting the environment.
We can attract economic growth and update our infrastructure while improving Flagstaff’s quality of life through sustainable economic development principals. This means favoring growth strategies that promote environmental and public health, preserve resources, tackle economic injustice, and incubate local entrepreneurs. This approach synergistically mitigates short-term and long-term costs and raises all boats through a positive feedback-loop that attracts further entrepreneurship while keeping local dollars in Flagstaff.
Employers who’ve recently left Flagstaff include SCA Tissue, the Walgreens Distribution Center, and Southwest Windpower. But new local flights to LAX, Denver, and Dallas-Fort Worth, along with new local businesses and a booming tourism industry, hint greatly at our emerging economic potential.
I pledge to maintain the momentum by fostering community partnerships that facilitate a sustainable, business-friendly atmosphere. While we’re at it — following the example of TGen North and other innovative joint research ventures — let’s continue plugging our educated workforce into local career paths.
The future of economic development needs to address not only growth, but also social equity and environmental sustainability. The Flagstaff Regional Plan aligns with these values -- some key objectives that I support include creation of more affordable housing, attraction and retention of small, as well as green technology-based businesses. I believe providing opportunities for a living wage will create more equitable economic development. Supporting local tourism, as well as looking at developments such as roads and infrastructure, is also valuable.
We need to identify and attract businesses that can thrive, such as sustainable, research, or web-based fields such as solar, while providing enough training to support a high-tech workforce. Council and city management can further economic development by implementing goals, creating policies, and amendments aligned with the values laid out in the Regional Plan.
We need to do more than work on attracting businesses to Flagstaff. We should support the growth and creation of businesses here in the city. The city has been working with the business community to find out what it would take for small local employers to hire one or two more people, these efforts should continue.
We should also look at what industries are flourishing here and how we can support them. For instance, the Verde Valley has cultivated and grown its wine industry into a multi-million dollar industry that shows no signs of slowing down.
Can we do the same with our breweries? What impact would a food and drink incubator have? Or a brewing program at CCC? By forging partnerships between government, businesses and local institutions we can grow and diversify our economy.
Adrian Skabelund can be reached at the office at email@example.com, by phone at (928) 607-5155 or on twitter @AdrianSkabelund.
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