Having called Arizona home since the early 1990s, I’ve always had great respect for Phoenix’s mayors. I can still remember being totally impressed by “Boy Mayor” Paul Johnson and his boundless energy when I was a law student here. His fellow former mayors like the elder statesman John Driggs or the most recent occupier of the office, Phil Gordon, have all had an inspiring vision of Arizona’s largest city that has served well the entire state.
I had the pleasure on Wednesday of attending newly elected Mayor Greg Stanton’s first State of the City address. What an outstanding event.
Presented by the Greater Phoenix Chamber of Commerce, the mayor spoke before a packed house at the Phoenix Convention Center and delivered a great speech. Phoenix Chamber CEO Todd Sanders - one of our state’s classiest leaders - and his team deserve high praise for the event’s flawless production.
The speech marked the mayor’s 100th day in office, and his right-on-the-money speech made clear that he has easily overcome whatever learning curve was in front of him when he took office just a few months ago.
Mayor Stanton gets it. I walked away incredibly encouraged by his commitment to generating jobs across the region and the state.
The mayor correctly focused on the critical importance of the defense sector to the greater Phoenix economy. With deep federal budget cuts looming over the Department of Defense at a federal level, Arizona - home to the nation’s fifth highest number of defense contracts - stands to lose out.
Our city and state will be well served by Mayor Stanton’s chairing of the U.S. Conference of Mayors’ Defense Transition in U.S. Cities task force. The task force is charged with preparing cities for the changes that will surely come with a newly constituted military, and assessing what can be done to preserve jobs.
But the mayor is not operating in a vacuum when it comes to the recognition that the defense sector has a profound effect on our economy. His praise for Sen. John McCain’s advocacy in the defense arena and his desire to partner with mayors across the Valley to retain these important jobs was well received.
The Arizona Commerce Authority is also working to maintain Arizona’s unique niche in the defense sector. As evidenced by its work to make Arizona designated as an unmanned aerial systems (UAS) test site, the ACA’s goals align nicely with Mayor Stanton’s, recognition that the region is more successful when our policy leaders are working together than at cross purposes.
These defense and aerospace jobs are ones worth fighting for, as they comprise over 21 percent of the state’s manufacturing sector and come with the higher salaries states want to attract.
Mayor Stanton also had good things to say about the critical importance of education in attracting these high wage jobs, and I believe he could help amplify at a city level some of the educational reforms that are taking place at a state level.
The mayor stressed his desire for his office to play a role in boosting student performance in the area of math and science, something Gov. Jan Brewer is striving for on a state level.
The governor’s appointment last December of former Intel chairman and CEO Dr. Craig Barrett to head the Arizona Ready Education Council was quite a coup. What other state has one of the world’s leading technological innovators leading its educational reform efforts?
Working together with his fellow mayors and Gov. Brewer, Mayor Stanton stands to help build on Arizona’s leading educational reforms like improved data collection and analysis, increased choice, assigning letter grades for school performance, and innovations like Move on When Ready, which allows motivated students to finish their high school career early and transition to college more quickly.
The mayor also discussed higher education’s importance to the city and region, citing the expanded University of Arizona Medical School presence in downtown Phoenix and the partnership between Arizona State University and the Mayo Clinic to bring a new biomedical campus to north Phoenix.
Like defense, the jobs that emerge from these health science and biomedical efforts are ones that are especially desirable.
Between 2002 and 2010, bioscience-related jobs in Arizona have grown at a clip of 41 percent, far outpacing the nationwide growth rate of 11 percent. In that same period we have seen the number of bioscience firms calling Arizona home rise to nearly 900. The jobs pay better than the Arizona average and the industry has a tremendous positive effect on the tax bases for cities and the state.
He also committed to putting all the rhetoric about Arizona’s capability to be a leader in the solar industry into action in Phoenix. The mayor said that by the end of this year, Phoenix will have doubled the number of solar cells on city buildings and will be integral to an effort to help put solar panels on 1,400 more Phoenix homes.
Just as the mayor made clear that he will be counting on his fellow mayors from across the Valley for their assistance, Mayor Stanton also noted that he won’t be shy about collaborating internationally.
As evidenced by his first international trip to Mexico, the mayor knows that Arizona cannot continue to lose out to Texas when it comes to capturing cross-border commerce with the state’s number one international trading partner. His pledge to “go to Mexico again, and again,” is music to the ears of an Arizona business community that has grown concerned that we have not fully appreciated the economic opportunities presented to us by our neighbor to the south.
A well run and business-friendly Phoenix is better for all of us. The mayor’s naming of economic development expert Paul Blue as his chief of staff is a great sign to the business community that this administration is taking job creation seriously.
Even if you’re like me and don’t live in Phoenix city limits, we know that as Phoenix goes, so goes the Valley, and so goes the state. Under Mayor Stanton and the able and highly thought of city manager David Cavazos, I’m expecting big things from Phoenix in the next few years.
Glenn Hamer is the president and CEO of the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry