AZ State CapitolThe arrival of January is accompanied by new priorities, refreshed goals and an optimistic outlook on all that can and will be accomplished in the upcoming year. As small business owners spend a fair portion of January rewriting over the 5 in “2015” to change it to a 6 on checks for employees and vendors, I look forward to the vital work we get to do this year on behalf of our members and the business community as a whole. I want to share a few of our top priorities for this year.

During its first year, the Chamber’s collaborative, data-driven Phoenix Forward strategic economic development initiative illustrates that local businesses need a more qualified workforce and a talent pipeline. Combine that with the fact that 80 percent of new jobs come from the expansion of existing companies within the community, and it becomes undeniable that we must take every opportunity to provide to those business owners the workforce they seek.

We can create that workforce by making decisions now that will ensure the state’s education system is appropriately funded so it can eventually produce trained employees ready to fill these jobs. Gov. Doug Ducey and the state Legislature have provided families all across Arizona the opportunity to take a critical, unified step toward ensuring our children receive an education that prepares them for the workforce.

A yes vote on May 17 on Proposition 123 is that step.

Our Chamber and the business community stand with the thousands of other parents, teachers, community leaders and legislators that are both committed to improving K-12 education and to voting yes on this measure.

At the state Capitol, lawmakers will return refreshed and reinvigorated after a nearly 100-day regular session and brief special session in 2015. Our public affairs team and I have the privilege of advocating on behalf of our Chamber members on several important issues this year.

Chief among these issues is restoring funding for Arizona’s joint technical education districts (JTEDs), which provide tuition-free career and technical training (CTE) to Arizona students up to age 22. JTEDs’ 90-plus percent graduation rates show they are a great return on investment for the state, placing students on a path to successful lives by providing them training and skills for the workforce of today and tomorrow.

We will also advocate for much-needed reform of the public safety pension program to ensure this system continues to be the safety net upon which upon which our police officers, fire fighters and their families can depend.

Our outdated and convoluted campaign finance system also needs some tweaking to provide clarity and legal certainty to those who use it.

On the economic development front, this year we look forward to expanding outward our collaborative Phoenix Forward mission of strengthening Phoenix’s competitive edge, connecting businesses to vital resources, gathering industry intelligence, influencing public policy and promoting Phoenix as the economic hub of the southwestern United States.

How are we going to do that?

We build upon the business support and retention successes and we’ve had working in conjunction with our Phoenix Forward partners – the Arizona Commerce Authority, Maricopa County and the City of Phoenix. We add the strengths of other, similarly focused organizations and municipalities, ultimately creating a defined and coordinated economic development powerhouse that provides resources and data at an unprecedented level to support business attraction, retention and expansion in the Greater Phoenix area.

Happy New Year and I look forward to working with our business and political leaders in 2016 to continue to move Phoenix Forward.

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