This is a turning-point election for Arizona. Seven candidates seek the governor’s post, the most important elected position in Arizona. Economic development and business leaders are concerned about the state’s image in the global market and what it will take to make the area competitive in the next economy. The new governor will need to take the branding lead.
AZ Business spoke with all but two potential candidates. One responded to questions by email and the other never responded to the invitation. While the interviews covered a range of topics, each candidate shared their key vision for economic development in Arizona.
In the free-ranging conversations, some in person, some over the phone, candidates were frank, sincere, and all are dedicated to taking Arizona into the next economy. Interviews are highly condensed to focus on candidates’ top priorities. Responses are in alphabetical order.
Ken Bennett, Prescott
“My policy is to create a business climate that changes Arizona’s economic development policy from a ‘lasso’ to a ‘magnet,’” says Arizona Secretary of State, Ken Bennett, a Republican candidate. “Arizona will be recognized by the international business community as ‘the’ place to do business.”
Bennett sees four pillars of Arizona economic development, “Cost, talent, time and image. These are drivers for a business deciding to do business in Arizona.”
Cost, according to Bennett, is covered with his “…broad tax policy creating a better financial environment for business growth.”
“Talent is our biggest asset,” he says and defines the need for quality education as the full spectrum: “Pre-K through 20 need resources to provide the best education to turn out the best workforce.”
“We need to cut startup time for business,” he says. “Not only regulations, but improving logistics and upgrading infrastructure.”
The state’s image as a magnet for business will polish itself with the other pillars’ successful implementation, Bennett says.
Doug Ducey, Scottsdale
Arizona State Treasurer Doug Ducey, Republican, responded to questions by email. When asked what “economic development” will mean in his administration, he responded, “Economic development is a growing healthy economy that spurs the creation of jobs – quality jobs that provide benefits and decent wages. It’s also about creating an environment that supports STEM-based education and training at all levels to feed the state’s talent pool needs, and supporting a culture valued by companies (to encourage their investments) and both students and workers (so they want to move to or stay and work in Arizona).”
Responding to a question about policies he envisions implementing, Ducey wrote, “I wholeheartedly believe the primary part of the government’s role economically is to set a level playing field so companies of all sizes can compete. We’ve seen this dynamic play out all across the country; states that reduce taxes, maintain fiscal discipline, and encourage growth are successful at creating jobs.”
Fred DuVal, Phoenix
The lone Democrat running for governor, former Arizona regent Fred DuVal says rebranding Arizona as a place for entrepreneurial success is his job one. “He says, “We have a diverse, interesting and compelling collection of talent in this state. Combine (entrepreneurialism with talent) and we are able to build and expand our local economy.”
DuVal believes are biggest challenge for succeeding in the global economy is building an effective workforce. “The state is moving forward,” he says. “It is important to continue investing in the new products of the future throughout our knowledge institutions.”
“We need to attract more venture capital.” DuVal is concerned. “Arizona is behind other states in breaking into the markets because capital is inadequate for growth and expansion.”
“When we cut funding for education and innovation, we’re sending the wrong the message to businesses outside the state,” he explains. “We need a governor who is going to be part of the economic development effort.”
Christine Jones, Scottsdale
“The role of the next governor is to direct our economy for the state’s next 100 years,” says Republican gubernatorial candidate Christine Jones, former legal counsel for GoDaddy. “As a leader in a fast-growing company, I learned it takes real partnerships to make things happen in business.”
Jones has three priorities for economic growth to set the foundation for the coming century. “We have to facilitate our local startups to ensure they survive and grow. Any program developed must include incentives to help our own succeed.”
Jones says it’s important to bring in corporate headquarters or major regional presences. “When a company puts roots in a community, it does more to succeed and is less likely to abandon the area.”
The capstone for her economic development vision is increasing foreign direct investment. She explains, “I plan to invite increased foreign spending in Arizona businesses. The governor needs to encourage this global investment.”
The governor as advocate-in-chief for the state’s economic development is a major role for the top state official, she says. “Business leaders should know that the governor’s office is going to contribute to success of the right businesses.”
Steve Pierce, Prescott
“The policy set by the governor in the next term is going to determine the type of state we leave for our grandchildren,” projects State Senator Steve Pierce.
“Job one for my administration is to develop a healthy, business economy and jobs that pay well for the people who live in Arizona.” He says, “We have strong opportunities to increase our trading with other regions. Mexico is our largest trading partner and we must strengthen that connection.”
Pierce, a Republican, sees opportunity in improved infrastructure, “With public-private partnerships (P3), we can move major infrastructure projects forward. I-11 and freeway improvements are needed.”
Procedural improvements he wants to implement are a program, “If agencies can simplify processes so that the state is working with businesses, we can better accommodate the growing and changing needs of business.
Pierce pays attention to economic development in rural areas, “Our rural communities have significant assets, and we need to do more to match those with growing local businesses and new firms entering the state.”
Scott Smith, Mesa
Mesa Mayor Scott Smith, not yet an official candidate, uses four words to wrap his Arizona economic vision: “We can do it.”
“Define our strengths and build the economy from those assets,” he says. “It’s proven in Mesa and can work Arizona.” Smith is referring to Mesa’s HEAT initiative: healthcare, education, aerospace and technology.
Smith sees Arizona’s competitive opportunity as promoting its strengths. “Whether it’s the Sun Corridor or Safford, there are assets that can be deployed to build strong local economies,” he says. “The future is definitely in metropolitan and regional economies.”
Smith believes that the role of government is to facilitate economic development, but that doesn’t mean a hands-off role. “Companies are looking for talent, and to provide a world-class talent pool, we need to focus on education from preschool to graduate school,” he says. “The recession devastated education funding at all levels, and it has to be restored or we cannot compete.”
He is enthusiastic about the Sun Corridor, “This is our greatest global strength. The Sun Corridor makes us a major league market of opportunity for local and incoming businesses.”