Southern Arizona Leadership Council Honors 25 Years of Advocacy
By Romi Carrell Wittman
Improving our future.
It’s a simple yet incredibly complex concept that Southern Arizona Leadership Council members step up to champion.
For the past 25 years, SALC has established itself as the region’s most influential nonpartisan and policy-focused organization. Composed of C-suite executives from a wide array of sectors, SALC’s mission is to bring together resources and skilled leadership to enhance the economy and quality of life in Southern Arizona.
Today SALC has more than 140 members who devote their time and talents to pressing issues facing the region, including transportation and infrastructure, governance, preschool to postsecondary education, healthcare and innovation, among others.
SALC President & CEO Edward P. “Ted” Maxwell said the group formed organically in 1997 in response to a vocal anti-growth sentiment in the region. “The founding members were concerned that the greater Tucson area was not being receptive to economic growth.” he said. “There had been other organizations formed that weren’t effective, so a new approach was important.”
SALC immediately focused on coalition-building and bringing together people with diverse viewpoints. The group was cognizant that they couldn’t just be concerned with immediate business issues, and needed to look at all the issues effecting quality of life like education and healthcare.
SALC has had tremendous success on a variety of fronts over the years. The Regional Transportation Authority, the first-ever independent taxing district focused on multi-modal transportation projects, was passed in 2006 thanks in large part to SALC’s tireless efforts to form the policy, then garnering voter support. The first RTA plan went into effect in 2006 and, since that time, 928 major improvement projects have been completed along with 300 miles of new bike lanes, including portions of the Chuck Huckleberry Loop. The second 20-year phase of the RTA will begin in 2026, pending voter approval.
SALC was also instrumental in establishing the Pima County Joint Technical Education District, which provides free career and technical education to high school students and is an essential component of developing the region’s workforce. Education remains one of SALC’s five primary focus areas, along with infrastructure, healthcare, innovation economy, and governance.
Rob Draper, president of O’Rielly Chevrolet and SALC’s current chair, said SALC brings people together, even during polarizing times, by focusing on shared priorities and putting the needs of many over the wants of a few.
“I think SALC has remained important to Tucson and Southern Arizona because its mission is aligned with the ambitions of – and can be embraced by – pretty much every community-minded, growth-oriented individual and entity in the region,” he said. “Differences of opinion will almost certainly [happen], but…it would be difficult to find many who would oppose the mission itself.”
Susan Gray, president and CEO of TEP/UNS Energy and current vice-chair of SALC’s board, said that SALC influencers and advocates bring much-needed clarity and visibility to critical issues. “Crystallizing priorities, sharing perspectives and brainstorming is important, but these aren’t just theoretical conversations,” she said. “Our members are drawing from their own professional experiences in our community to identify shared areas of concern that can be effectively addressed through coordinated action.”
David Cohen, president of BeachFleischman and SALC’s Chair Pro Tem, took this thought a step further. “Anything that affects the community at large also affects business owners,” he said. “When making decisions, SALC digs deep into the issue to make informed decisions.”
Many issues lie on the horizon for the region. SALC’s Focus Areas, driven by dedicated teams of experienced professionals and SALC board members, focus on positive and workable solutions in education, infrastructure, healthcare, innovation and governance.
SALC President and CEO Ted Maxwell said that, in the area of public education, SALC is focused along the entire education pipeline. “SALC has successfully advocated for initiatives to provide targeted funding for early childhood, K-12, community colleges as well as Arizona’s universities. Each step in the education continuum is important and builds on one another. SALC provides strategic and timely support of initiatives that we believe will move the needle in terms of educational attainment. And we work with many partners in the state in this work.”
Promoting effective governance at the local and state levels is also an ongoing priority. Sarah Smallhouse, who co-chairs the Governance Focus Area alongside Ted Hinderaker and Si Schorr, said, “We believe our governance could be meaningfully improved though election reform. We are actively exploring alternative election processes that could improve our statewide and local election structures, as well as supporting efforts to educate voters on problems created by primaries. Our current system allows a small minority of voters to determine our general election choices. The goal is cross-partisan problem-solving and a collegial spirit of working together for the benefit of all.”
With drought severely impacting much of the western United States, water policy also remains critically important. “There is much focus on the state of the Colorado River and therefore the Central Arizona Project,” Maxwell said. “But there are several other key issues as well, such as groundwater management.”
To that end, SALC has numerous members engaged on the topic both locally and statewide. Kip Volpe chairs the Tucson Regional Water Coalition and was a member of the Governor’s Drought Contingency Plan steering committee. Maxwell continues to serve on the Water Augmentation, Innovation and Conservation Council and currently serves on Senator Kyrsten Sinema’s Water Advisory Council.
Partnership and coalitions like these have always been and will continue to be a vital part of SALC’s advocacy work. “SALC is a trusted partner in our region,” said Nicole Barraza, SALC’s director of governance and outreach. “Elected officials and community stakeholders consistently reach out when issues of regional or statewide significance arise.”
The Arizona Commerce Authority is the state’s leading economic development organization with a streamlined mission to grow and strengthen Arizona’s economy. Sandra Watson, ACA’s president and CEO, has worked frequently with the SALC team and believes SALC’s commitment to collaboration has advanced the quality of life throughout the state.
“We are grateful for SALC’s commitment and partnership to foster Southern Arizona’s economy and enhance opportunities for Arizonans,” she said.
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