By Rebekah Morris for AZBEX
On Wednesday, July 8th, nearly 80 people attended the BEX Virtual Leading Market Series discussion highlighting current and upcoming economic development happenings in the Central and West Valley of Phoenix. Panelists included Lori German, Communications Director for the City of Glendale, Sintra Hoffman, President and CEO of Westmarc, Christine Mackay, Community and Economic Development Director for the City of Phoenix and David Roderique, Economic Development Director for the Town of Buckeye.
Focus on Employment Growth and Services while Overcoming Misconceptions
For years, the West Valley has battled to overcome a perception that the workforce is not available for major employers. Hoffman detailed the efforts of Westmarc, working with the Maricopa Association of Governments and Arizona State University, to bring data on residency, industries represented, educational attainment and more to the market so that potential employers know that they will have available workforce if they do choose to locate there.
Buckeye is consistently one of the fastest growing cities in the nation, with a projected population of 1.5 million in a hundred years. Much of the growth is happening on the residential front, with single–family permits in the 2,500 to 3,000 range annually. They are currently up 12 percent year-over-year. On the commercial end of things, “big areas of attraction are related to advanced manufacturing, logistics and energy industry activity and for that right now, we’re seeing huge amounts of activity coming out of Southern California” according to Roderique.
Glendale is also growing, but unique to them is the way they are growing; they have annexed more than 5 percent land area in the last decade. Important industries the city focuses on include aerospace and defense, manufacturing and industrial, healthcare and bioscience. Major employment hubs include the Arrowhead area, the Westgate entertainment district next to State Farm Stadium, and the ‘New Frontier’ along the new Loop 303.
Phoenix is focused on bringing high wage jobs to the city, and unlike the suburbs, is a maturing city. According to Mackay, Phoenix’ land development is 70 percent built out. Most of the available land to develop lies in the West Valley. Their Industries of focus include biosciences and health care, aerospace and defense, advanced manufacturing, technology and software, advanced business services and education. Phoenix has benefitted from the economic development efforts to diversify the economy, going from 43 percent of jobs being in advanced industries to now more than 60 percent of employees falling in that category.
How West Valley Cities are Reacting to COVID-19
Economic development professionals have a basic three-pronged approach to their role: business attraction, business expansion, and business retention. In the first few months of 2020, the panelists acknowledged that everything was going so great that their primary focus was on new business attraction. When COVID-19 hit in Mid-March, much of the efforts had to shift to business retention. Mackay described how in March, her team looked at the city, realized they had 18,000+ businesses with more than five employees, and advisors had predicted that 25 percent of them might not survive the economic effects of the health epidemic. Mackay created an atmosphere that everyone on her 50+ person team was to reach out to businesses by phone and ask what they needed. Amazingly, in the four months since that effort began, the city has connected with more than 16,000 of those businesses.
Similarly, Roderique and German detailed how their efforts have shifted to one of sustaining and assisting existing businesses. They learned and provided education regarding the CARES Act and the PPP small business loans. Glendale noted that the City Council has been promoting new development by restructuring annexation policies.
Pipeline for New Business is Growing
All panelists concurred on one point – they are busy. Mackay says that she has never had a book of business so large on the industrial side and her overall pipeline prospects are back to pre-COVID-19 levels. While some office projects had paused in mid-March, they are already being restarted. She went on to point out Metrocenter as the next ‘Park Central’ – an opportunity for a complete redevelopment.
Roderique highlighted the widening of I-10 in Buckeye that is about to start as a key infrastructure investment that will bring new development opportunities for the long-term. He also is hopeful that I-11 will eventually be funded and provide another major transportation route through the city. Last, the efforts to re-shore and near-shore manufacturing from overseas will ultimately benefit the West Valley and Buckeye.
German echoed the infrastructure investment, touting the new water, sewer and power lines that are enabling new manufacturing and industrial to be built along the Loop 303 north of Northern Ave.
Next up – Retail, Entertainment and Hospitality
The next LMS on Wednesday, July 22nd, 2020 will feature a panel of developers active in the Retail, Hospitality and Entertainment spaces. Registration is now open; sign up today!