Ashley ferguson taylor gillings headshots

(L to R) Taylor Gillings and Ashley Ferguson

Thirteen months and over 150 visits later, the Greater Phoenix Chamber’s economic development team continues working tirelessly to propel Phoenix’s growth.

Phoenix Forward is a strategic economic development initiative that fosters a pro-business environment. The five-member team has gathered an assortment of industry intelligence, connected businesses to resources and promoted the region as an economic hub.

In addition to nourishing the business community, Phoenix Forward has served as a great professional development opportunity for business research analyst Ashley Ferguson and economic development specialist Taylor Gillings. Ferguson and Gillings are young professionals who have gained incredibly valuable experiences working on the team.

A huge component of the initiative involves meeting with business owners to discuss their needs and assess their industry.

“A big part of my job is meeting with and speaking to high-profile executives, which can be intimidating for anyone,” Gillings said. “The visits have also allowed me to become better connected to my community. I have a much greater appreciation for the various types of businesses and how we can all work together to find commonalities.”

After gathering industry information from visits, Ferguson works to organize and analyze the data.

“I am able to see where the industries might be divided in their options within their sector through their dialogue in the visits,” Ferguson said. “I can see where they might need some assistance and most importantly, I can see where we have helped.”

Visiting with businesses doesn’t only yield data, though; it helps form solid relationships, assists businesses in their area of need, and helps determines industry trends.

“It isn’t all just about collecting the data. It is about being able to paint a picture with it,” Ferguson explained.

In this Q&A, the second of two parts, Gillings and Ferguson answer a few questions about how they’ve grown professionally, what they’ve learned from visiting with Valley businesses, and share some advice for other young professionals.

Ashley Ferguson, economic development business research analyst for the Greater Phoenix Chamber of Commerce

  1. What’s your favorite part about working with data?
    I think working with a large volume of data is fascinating and the analysis of the data is definitely a favorite aspect of mine. When we began, we only had a small sample of the region so there was not a clear picture of what it all meant. Now that we have grown, I am able to identify trends forming. However small or large these trends might be, I am able to follow and compare everything in our data to other statistics around the Valley and see how we match up on a local and national level.

2. Since starting with economic development, have you grown professional?
I have definitely grown as a professional since I began working in economic development. Everything I have done in the last few years has been a tremendous learning experience. When the Chamber began its Phoenix Forward initiative, we built everything from the ground up and my position was new. I have also been give many opportunities to meet with other people doing similar work, I have attended a few dozen of Maricopa Association of Governments’ (MAG) workshops, gone to various information sessions, and I constantly scour the Internet for useful information and best practices. I have a great desire to make economic development my field of expertise.

3. What’s different from the way you approach your tasks now and a year ago?
As part of our Phoenix Forward economic development initiative, we have collected so much information and it’s exciting because we’re only in our first year, so our base of information will continue to grow. Now that we have more data to work with, my job has changed a bit. I help with telling our Valley’s story with this information, which can be difficult at times, but the end result makes it worth it. The tasks that I used to work on quarterly, I now work on monthly. Tasks I used to work on monthly, I now work on weekly and sometimes daily. It’s important to keep revisiting the data to keep it fresh in my mind and to be able to recall it quickly if I discover any discrepancies or changes in trends.

4. What are some things you see working with data?
My position is more than just about collecting the data; it is about being able to paint a picture with it. With that being said, I can see many things when I put everything together in our reports. I am able to see where companies might be divided in their options within their industry through the dialog in the BRE visits with companies. I can see where they might need some assistance and most importantly, I can see where we have helped. Growth is mainly what I look for, but it’s interesting to find companies that might have been forgotten and those are really my favorite to find. I can see the impact our partners at the City of Phoenix, Maricopa County and theArizona Commerce Authority have on these businesses and the Chamber’s far reach.

5. How do you see Phoenix changing?
First and foremost, I have noticed that there has been a sense of culture developing here and I think that’s important. It makes people want to be a part of our city. So many areas have been revitalized and new innovative businesses have been flooding in. It’s exciting when innovation becomes the norm. We have some incredible ventures coming out of places like Seed Spot or the Center for Entrepreneurial Innovation. Business leaders in Phoenix have also recognized the need to teach certain skills to students at a high school level. Once those kids reach the point of entering the workforce, we will have a very powerful framework reaching far beyond our city.

6. You have a background in literature and computer science, what drew you to economic development?
I have always had a propensity for researching everything I could get my hands on. Joining the Chamber’s economic development team has given me of the opportunity to learn about what has been happening in Phoenix and in the whole state. I’ve realized the complexity of economic development and I think it’s exciting. One company can simultaneously affect multiple industries and communities. A company that is growing might hire 100 people from around the Valley. That means the company will need more space, which might mean they buy an existing building or they might build one from the ground up, which means more business for construction companies. More business for construction companies will present the need for construction supplies, equipment rentals and more workers for the construction site.

7. Any reflection about yourself and the work your team has done over a year?
The Chamber’s economic development has covered a lot of ground within the last year, and I’m fortunate to be part of a very talented team of professionals. We are a well-oiled machine and our different backgrounds and varying levels of experience in economic development complement each other very well. It’s amazing that we have reached our business retention and expansion (BRE) visit goal with two months to spare. I remember when we set our goals last summer and we thought 150 BRE visits was going to be difficult to reach and now we will most likely hit 200 or more by the end of the fiscal year. As this initiative expands next year we will raise the bar even further and have some exciting stories to tell.

-Written by Carolina Lopez, digital marketing administrator. Q&A by Ashley Ferguson. This article was featured in the Valley Young Professionals newsletter. To learn more about Valley Young Professionals, click here.

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