Phoenix Forward launch photoNow that our new economic development initiative, Phoenix Forward, has had a successful launch and is well on its way to helping grow our economy from within, I thought I would give you some insight into how the program came to be.

While this type of activity wasn’t a muscle we had flexed in some time, our board and leadership agreed we needed to be in the economic development space if we were to remain on the vanguard of Valley business. A project of this magnitude demanded a thoughtful, pragmatic approach, so we first formed a committee to gauge our strengths and weaknesses and guide us toward an understanding of the opportunities we could best use to our advantage. (This was, incidentally, while our economy was still very slowly recovering from the worst effects of the Great Recession, so some thought we were crazy. There may have been some merit to that.)

By early 2013, we had engaged a consultant who helped us uncover our market’s needs and start to gather good intelligence to guide our decision making. We discovered that whatever we were going to do needed to be collaborative, focused and complementary to – not competitive with – the great work already being done by others.

Thanks to Mayor Greg Stanton’s enthusiastic embrace of the idea, the City of Phoenix became our first partner. The Arizona Commerce Authority and President & CEO Sandra Watson soon joined on, and we have since added Maricopa County to give us a broader regional scope. We are all committed to gathering and sharing the best data we can compile about business trends and the needs of the existing companies that are so vital to our economy.

We enlisted the help of the Maricopa Association of Governments to hone our focus from 10 original target business sectors to the four  – Bioscience, Health Care, Advanced Business and Financial Services and Transportation and Logistics – we’re currently working with. Some key players throughout the planning stages included Board Chairs David Bruno and Peter Hayes, Economic Development Committee Chairs Daniel Froetscher and Jim Teeter and the many business leaders, members and focus groups who gave us valuable feedback to help refine our plan.

To be fair, we had our share of skeptics. Some thought such an ambitious undertaking would be too big for any chamber of commerce, much less one that was already putting on multiple annual events and programs while being deeply involved in the public policy arena. The questions people asked forced us to take good long looks in the mirror and, eventually, made us stronger.

Once we decided to pursue the plan, we gave ourselves a year to raise $1.5 million in operating capital that would sustain Phoenix Forward for three years. Our Campaign Committee Chairs, Phil Francis and Doug Pruitt, along with Vice President Jennifer Mellor, were instrumental in hitting – and exceeding – the goal in just six months, Jennifer’s role in reaching our goal and developing Phoenix Forward made her an easy choice to head up our Economic Development Department. Since then, we’ve brought the City of Phoenix’s Health Care Sector Partnership under the Phoenix Forward umbrella, developed the charters that will serve as blueprints for the critical leadership our Industry Councils will provide and, finally, on April 29, unveiled Phoenix Forward for all to see.

So while you may have only heard of Phoenix Forward just over a month ago, it’s been years in the making. We are truly standing on the shoulders of the many visionaries who helped get us to this point. With your help, the future for Phoenix Forward – and for our economy – will be a bright one.

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