Changing Perception

Face-to-Face Strategy Designed to Be Welcoming

By Dave Perry

Most Mondays, Oro Valley Mayor Joe Winfield goes face-to-face with Oro Valley retailers and business leaders, learning “about their challenges, and their successes, and how we can better serve the businesses in our community.”

He’s typically accompanied by Margie Adler, the town’s economic development specialist, and Leah Bahan, the Oro Valley Chamber’s business development director.

The visits try to communicate to businesses “we are interested in them, we care about them, and they’re an important part of our community,” Winfield said.

When the mayor walks in, or a prospect learns of the one-on-one visits, “that blows them away,” said Adler. She’s nine years into her position and serves as a liaison between the town and its 688 storefronts. “Ask me, and I’ll help you,” she said.

“Our goal is to respond to any issues they have in three days,” Adler’s boss, community and economic development director Paul Melcher, said. “The town’s not just going out to shake a hand. Margie’s out there to solve problems” and “find some common solutions.’ ” The Town offers promotional, informational and development assistance services to businesses. It conducts an annual business survey. It has an online directory, The Business Navigator, and a website that helps site selectors and others learn about available properties, key industries, demographics, quality of life, workforce, and “what we do to help people,” Melcher said.

“We help them from the day we hear from them,” Melcher said. “We want to have that relationship because we’re invested in your success.”

Melcher knows there are challenges to meet, and perceptions to overcome. The Town has “a special strategy to defuse” the perception Oro Valley is hard to deal with, he said. “We love hearing the stories of the Paul Tees of the world.”

Tees is chief credit officer at Southwest Heritage Bank, formerly Commerce Bank of Arizona, which remodeled a space at Oracle Road and Ina Road for its southern Arizona headquarters.

“He said, ‘We heard you were so difficult,’ ” Melcher recalled. Not so. “It was an amazing experience,” he said Tees told him.

Marketing, outreach, signage and hot summers “are always going to be a challenge,” Melcher knows. Businesses must understand “the changing dynamics of consumer habits,” as well as modern-day pressures on brick-and-mortar locations. Oro Valley has put in rules for “adaptive re-use” of vacant retail spaces for “second and third generation uses,” he said. “We’re starting to finally see that rebound.” The Van Gogh Experience continues to thrive in a former retail space at Oro Valley Marketplace. Sherwin Williams now occupies a one-time Pizza Hut.

Crispin Jeffrey-Franco, who operates Stacks Book Club with his wife Lizzy, understands the “particular challenge” faced by town government and its leaders over a no-growth segment of the community.

“How does Oro Valley continue to grow in a way that businesses like ours can be successful, but in a way that is inclusive and brings the community with it, and we’re not fighting with residents, especially longtime residents, for that growth?” Jeffrey-Franco asks.

Jeffrey-Franco feels supported by citizens, customers and government alike. He believes that if local businesses can become “more ingratiated” with residents, those people will come on board in “an environment that’s more hospitable to businesses.”

Winfield believes the heart of Oro Valley’s business backing is “focusing on what communities do best,” namely providing public safety, good roads, water, parks and amenities.

“Generally speaking, our businesses are doing well,” the mayor said. “Businesses want to be here, and we welcome them.”


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