In no uncertain terms, Phoenix City councilwomen Kate Gallego and Thelda Williams communicated to the groups of business leaders that the city is 1,000 percent dedicated to being an active participant in helping businesses grow and the economy thrive.
Their comments came during the Greater Phoenix Chamber of Commerce’s Day at the City event Dec. 4, which connects Chamber members to top-level city officials and city council members who provide an up-to-the-second update on city business while answering questions from attendees.
Gallego headlined a group focused on the city’s economic development efforts in general, while Williams’ group focused specifically on transportation.
Gallego and Williams individually cited the successful passage of Proposition 104 – Phoenix’s $31.5 billion, 35-year transportation ballot initiative – as the most critical economic development occurrence of 2015.
“State funding is much less than it used to be. Prop. 104 provides several billion dollars for roads, light rail and the bus system, which is important for us to have a more connected city,” Gallego said. “That has been very exciting to me. We’ve had many deals come because of it.”
Prop. 104 infuses money into a transportation system in desperate need, Williams said to her group.
“Transportation is a key, a basic need, it not only helps our businesses, but it protects our neighborhoods. Public safety depends on great streets as well as economic development. It’s essential,” Williams said.
Williams revealed several areas where Prop. 104 funding will be used, including street maintenance, new bike lanes, more buses and light rail expansion.
Street resurfacing is one of the city’s biggest transportation challenges. Due to decades of neglect, Phoenix has a large number of streets that need repairs beyond just resurfacing. She added that 1,080 miles of new bike lanes slated to be built with Prop. 104 funding need to be coordinated and placed with safety as a key consideration.
Williams said that putting money into increased bus service and the light rail is vital as the younger generation wants increased public transportation options. Owning and driving cars isn’t as high a priority as it used to be.
In her economic development group, Gallego continued to espouse Phoenix’s advancements in being a business-boosting partner.
The city has also made it easier for companies and especially for small businesses to get city contracts by creating a one-stop website for all city procurement.
“If you want to sell the city paper, you can sign up to hear about when we’re doing procurement for office supplies,” Gallego said. “When you have to be an expert in everything, you need support and experts who can help you start a business. We have folks in economic development who can walk you through city procurement.”
The city is also taking steps to diversify Phoenix’s economy. City leaders are pursuing development in the biomedical field and in precision medicine, which feature high-wage jobs poised for growth. A more diverse economy is stronger than one dependent on a particular economic sector.
“As a city council, we want to have as many industries as possible so if one isn’t doing as well we still have job growth in other areas,” she said. “Bioscience has really been an exciting industry in my district.”
Of course, Gallego noted, all the job growth in the world doesn’t matter as much without trained and qualified workers ready to step up and fill those jobs. Workforce development ranks near the top of all challenges faced by businesses looking to expand.
“We work with many institutions to address workforce needs because we often hear from companies that the workforce here is one of the reasons they can’t grow,” Gallego said. “With the Phoenix Forward partnership led by the Greater Phoenix Chamber of Commerce, we are really trying to get everyone at the same table.”
Both councilwomen concluded their breakout group sessions by strongly encouraging business owners to communicate with City Hall.
“We need to know what you need,” Williams said. “We can’t fix it if we don’t know what the problem is.”
“The more we know about what the business community needs, the more helpful we can be in going out and bringing in whatever is missing from the pot here,” Gallego said. “We have so many great opportunities to sell Phoenix.”
–written by Josh Coddington, marketing and communications manager.