By Jay Gonzales
The region’s top business leaders are ready to capitalize on Tucson’s growing reputation of post-pandemic resilience with a comprehensive roadmap forward.
They have formed a working group within Sun Corridor Inc., the region’s economic development engine, on a post-COVID-19 recovery plan. The group comprises a broad base of local business and government leaders, headed by retired Raytheon Missile Systems executive Steve Eggen, a former CFO at the company.
“We have never before faced a crisis of the scope and scale we are now confronted with, and community/business leaders from the region recognize the need for a single, focused Recovery & Response Plan to address the impacts of COVID-19,” said an introductory statement outlining strategies for the working group.
“We can’t just sit back and say, ‘Well, it’s gonna happen because they ranked us,’ ” added Joe Snell, president and CEO of Sun Corridor Inc. “It’s going to be cities that get ahead of the curve now that win.”
That’s exactly where Tucson is trying to be as the pandemic continues to batter the nation’s economy. Though unemployment remained high through the summer, there were a few glimmers of hope with a recovering local housing market and businesses reopening.
A Site Selectors Guild survey released in July noted that mid-sized cities like Tucson will be the winners of future corporate relocations and expansions. “As advisors on corporate location strategy across all industries, Guild members are the first to see emerging trends and changes in corporate location decisions before they are ever made public,” said Jay Garner, Site Selectors Guild board chair.
“When you think about what Tucson has to offer, we’re not high-density, we’ve got affordability, we’ve got a great university,” Eggen said. “We have a situation where we have a smaller town with all of the benefits of a larger community.”
“We said let’s talk about what we really want to do as a group of leaders positioning ourselves for this recovery,” he said. “We started asking the questions – what do we need to do in order to be positioned? Not only do we have to think about our health recovery, but how do we think about our economic recovery?”
The first order of business was to define focus areas for the working group, based on the existing Economic Blueprint developed in 2007 and updated by Sun Corridor Inc. in 2014. The blueprint identified four industry clusters that have been the focus of regional economic development efforts: aerospace and defense; bioscience and healthcare; renewable & mining technologies; transportation and logistics.
To continue to serve those industries, Sun Corridor Inc. has identified a series of issues to be addressed for the industry clusters – workforce, supply chain, infrastructure, capital and other resource availability, education and training, business climate, technology and automation, quality of life, access to markets, utilities and governmental impact.
The next step, Eggen said, is to establish facilitators for the focus areas and develop strategies that will be refined and incorporated into a formal plan to be released the first quarter of 2021.
“I expect that will be a result of everyone’s effort,” Eggen said. “Everyone will have had an opportunity to give their input and we’ll then take it forward.
“It can be overwhelming, but that’s the thing, you’ve got to take the nuggets and polish them up so that you’ve got a little jewel,” he said. “If we let ourselves take too long, we will miss the opportunity. We’ve got to be fast and we need to make decisions and make them quickly and move forward.”