Author Archives: Molly Cerreta Smith

Molly Cerreta Smith

About Molly Cerreta Smith

Molly Cerreta Smith has enjoyed a career as a writer and editor for more than 10 years. She loves writing about local business people, restaurants and chefs, as well as celebrities and all things mommy-related. She lives and plays with her family — including her husband and their two young children — in Scottsdale, Ariz.

Meeting Planners Are Learning To Be Advocates - AZ Business Magazine Sep/Oct 2010

In Troubled Times, Meeting Planners Are Learning To Be Advocates For Their Industry

Politics, economic setbacks and disasters of all kinds pose constant threats to the meetings industry. But increasingly, MPI, its members and others associated with meeting planning, are taking steps to be advocates for their industry before problems arise. Christine Duffy, president and CEO of Maritz Travel Company in St. Louis, wants her peers to “pay attention to what’s happening politically in Washington, as well as the effects of current events.”

Disasters such as an erupting volcano in Iceland or the massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico affect travel and have a trickle-down effect on every area of the industry.

“Now more than ever, there is a heightened sense of awareness of how connected we are in the world,” Duffy says.

An example of that are the boycotts against Arizona resulting from the state’s tough new immigration law, SB 1070.

Roger Rickard has been an MPI member for almost 20 years and is a partner in the California-based consulting firm REvent. He has dedicated his career to advocacy since Arizona’s Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday controversy in the early 1990s led to boycotts similar to today’s SB 1070 backlash.

While Rickard is clear that he does not represent MPI, he does believe that “we need to do more as an industry … if we don’t, we’ll become extinct.”

To that end, he has created Voices in Advocacy, which defines a strategy of how meeting and travel planners can advocate for themselves, including promoting and raising awareness for the industry using various tactics. In particular, the strategy details the significance of educating elected officials on the importance of the tourism industry, as well as the value of meetings.

“I aim to bring together members of all segments of this industry and help them set up meetings with officials to educate them,” Rickard says. “We want them to understand who we are and our value, and answer any questions they may have about what we do.”

Duffy adds that after 2008’s corporate meetings backlash, the US Travel Association became instrumental in advocating for the industry. The group released an ad pointing out the number of jobs lost in the industry (an estimated 1 million) due to the backlash. The association now serves as a powerful lobbyist on Capitol Hill.

Rickard notes that it’s important to get out the hard facts about the positive benefits of the meetings industry. He points to an Oxford Economics study that found that for every dollar spent on business travel, the return to a company’s bottom line is $12.50.

Theresa Davis, director of strategic communications with MPI national, adds that the organization’s research-based initiative, Meetings Deliver, “provides a comprehensive analysis of independent research conducted during the past two years on the value of meetings.”

She says it is critical for MPI members to “commit to speaking the ‘language of business’ by providing solid business arguments that speak to strategic meetings management from procurement and programming to measuring ROI, and being compliant with corporate CSR policies.”

Debbie Johnson, CEO of the Arizona Hotel & Lodging Association, says many controversies surrounding the meetings industry have been blown out of proportion. It’s her challenge, she says, to “change people’s minds by providing facts and getting correct information out there.”

Johnson notes that additional marketing, public relations and direct communication efforts can provide event and meeting planners with talking points they can use to inform their clients about everything Arizona has to offer.

“We need to remind people about the benefits of the state and the reasons to visit,” she adds.

Thanks to MPI, Arizona’s meeting planners don’t have to fight this fight alone.

“When you bring the collective know-how and buying power of 23,000 members from more than 80 countries around the world, affiliation with a leading organization of MPI’s breadth and depth often helps drive our collective point home,” Davis says.

Arizona Business Magazine Sep/Oct 2010

people gambling - AZ Business Magazine Sep/Oct 2010

New Resorts Are Sprouting In The Valley Despite The Shaky Economy

Arizona touts dozens of breathtaking resorts with countless amenities, but there’s still room for more. The Wild Horse Pass Hotel & Casino in Chandler opened its doors in October 2009, and Talking Stick Resort in Scottsdale opened this past April. What makes the opening of these two new resorts all the more remarkable is that they happened during the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression.

Of course no one plans to open a hotel in a tough economy, but who could have predicted this level of devastation a few years back? However, Harold Baugus, CEO of Gila River Gaming Enterprises, the driving force behind the Wild Horse Pass Hotel & Casino, is not one to be easily deterred.

“We determined long ago that we needed a better, more sophisticated and more advanced product offering more entertainment value and better food and beverage for our clients,” he says. “In 2005, we started the process, and at that time the economy was on the upswing … but it doesn’t drive what we do. We wanted to build this product for the future of the community. The economy didn’t really play a factor.”

Steven Horowitz, director of sales for Talking Stick Resort, says the venture has proved successful so far, even in this economy.

“Hospitality demand was at its lowest during the majority of our building phase,” he says. “We were due to open when the economy would hopefully begin the cyclical upswing. That has been the case.”

Developed by the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community, Talking Stick encompasses a 240,000-square-foot casino in a 15-story tower that houses almost 500 rooms.

Despite early encouraging signs, Horowitz does think people are continuing to be very careful about how they spend their money.

“While we feel like Talking Stick Resort is opening as the economy is beginning to rebound, some of the initial challenges during recovery would be the lack of demand for resorts, and the overall economic downturn in gaming,” he says. “For obvious reasons, people have been very careful about their discretionary income, and entertainment, until recently, hasn’t been top priority.”

Baugus says his property is competing for all discretionary dollars, not just those targeted to other hotel properties.

“We have created an overall entertainment experience for those with complete discretionary income,” he says. “We are not necessarily concerned with other facilities or casinos, but rather if people are going to take those dollars to a ballpark or the movies.”

These properties offer guests a laundry list of entertainment and luxury options. Besides gaming and lounges, Talking Stick has its signature restaurant Orange Sky, multiple pools, and entertainment venues.

“We are truly an all-encompassing entertainment destination. A guest literally does not have to leave the property,” Horowitz says.

Baugus also is proud of the options and amenities available at Wild Horse Pass Hotel & Casino. The 10-story property has 242 hotel rooms with a 100,000-square-foot casino. It also boasts a range of dining options, including the area’s only Shula’s Steak House; a 1,400-seat entertainment venue; the AiRIA nightclub; and pool parties.

“We’ve tried to offer something for every demographic,” he adds.

The two resorts also offer plenty of meeting space for corporate or organizational gatherings. Talking Stick has 100,000 square feet of indoor/outdoor meeting and banquet space; Wild Horse Pass Hotel & Casino has about 12,000 square feet of meeting space.

Along with providing world-class amenities and entertainment, the actual construction of these facilities has given the local economy a much needed boost. The opening of Wild Horse Pass Hotel & Casino added about 500 jobs. During construction, 1,000 workers a day were employed to complete the facility. Talking Stick Resort added 600 jobs to the economy when it opened, and employed hundreds of additional workers during its construction phases, as well.

Both Baugus and Horowitz are pleased with the resorts’ initial numbers and neither is letting the summer heat slow down that momentum. Talking Stick Resort offers regular gaming promotions and a concert series. Wild Horse Pass Hotel & Casino has kicked off a comedy series for the summer, pool parties and golf specials.

The Valley’s resorts are often ideal places for staycations during the summer, and both properties appear to be generating interest from the locals.
“There are so many facets of Talking Stick Resort that you just can’t see or get anywhere else, and that naturally sparks interest from folks both locally and those who are out of town,” Horowitz says.

Baugus adds: “We have had a tremendously positive response and have already seen repeat business. People were pleasantly surprised with the opening. They were not expecting this level of quality.”

    If You Go:
    Wild Horse Pass Hotel & Casino
    5040 Wild Horse Pass Blvd., Chandler
    800-946-4452



    Talking Stick Resort
    9800 E. Indian Bend Road, Scottsdale
    480-850-7777

Arizona Business Magazine Sept/Oct 2010

Civic Space Park - AZ Business Magazine Sept/Oct 2010

Local CVBs Sound Off On Boycotts And Why Arizona Is Still A Top Meeting And Travel Destination

It’s no secret that the meetings industry, and travel in general, has taken quite a few hits in Arizona over the past few years. As a result, local convention and visitors bureaus — the ones who promote travel to and meetings in the state — have had to overcome new obstacles in their quest to make the Valley a top destination spot.

Steve Moore, president and CEO of the Greater Phoenix Convention and Visitors Bureau (GPCVB), notes that while room night consumption was up nearly 11 percent from January through May (versus those same months last year), future business-lead production since this past May has dropped to 40 percent below the year-over-year pace.

“And remember,” he adds, “we were in a severe recession and also a key target of the (corporate meetings backlash) last year.”

While the corporate meetings backlash has abated, the state’s tourism industry was hit again this spring when the state Legislature passed, and Gov. Jan Brewer signed, the nation’s toughest immigration law, SB 1070. The media firestorm that ensued caused cities, companies and individuals to boycott doing business in and traveling to Arizona.

Stephanie Nowack, president and CEO of the Tempe Tourism Office, is aware of just two groups that decided not to meet in Tempe due to the immigration law. However, the combined economic impact of those cancellations was a loss of $385,000 to the city.

Pam Williams, CTA, convention sales manager for the Mesa Convention and Visitors Bureau, notes that the immigration law may be having a greater negative impact than can be seen on the surface.

“We have had a few groups express their concerns about this bill, and some organizations have specified that their group will not be considering Arizona as a destination in the near future for their conferences and meetings due to SB 1070,” Williams says. “However, industrywide, it’s the meetings we don’t know about that have silently chosen to exclude Arizona on their RFPs and short lists that will have the greatest impact. This will make calculating the monetary effects to our industry next to impossible.”

But, believe it or not, there is some good news to report on the tourism front. According to Rachel Sacco, president and CEO of the Scottsdale Convention and Visitors Bureau, “Scottsdale’s January through April 2010 occupancy and revenue per available room (is) ahead of last year … This past year, 50 percent of our meetings leads were for new business.”

In addition, a Metropoll XIII study, conducted by the market research firm Gerald Murphy and Associates, recently found that “meeting planners rank Scottsdale first for its romantic atmosphere, friendly residents, green policies, outdoor recreation, and great shopping and restaurants.”

The positive outlook is not contained in Scottsdale, but is being felt all over the metro area.

Moore notes that “the GPCVB typically books between 600,000 to 700,000 hotel room nights per year, and last fall we doubled our meeting planner fly-ins, targeting those groups with a peak block of 200 rooms. Most were over 1,500 rooms on peak, and we were very successful in showcasing the ‘New Phoenix,’ as too many planners had not been to our destination in many years.”

Over in Tempe, voters recently approved Prop. 400, which increased the bed tax by 2 percent.

“It is our job to promote the area and drive traffic to Arizona,” Nowack says. “With this additional funding, we’ll be able to put into place a strategic initiative to market the area in a consistent and positive way.”

Nowack also is proud to announce a new event in the Tempe/Scottsdale area, the Women’s Half Marathon. It will begin in Scottsdale and end at Tempe Beach Park, and is expected to draw 5,000 participants on Nov. 7. Nowack says the event is “a perfect example of new business still looking to Arizona.”

“They chose us because of our knowledge, experience, and success hosting events,” she adds. “We are known for hospitality.”

It is this local hospitality that Nowack would like to remind meeting planners of when it comes time to schedule their travel and events.

“(The immigration law) has given us a challenge to rebuild Arizona’s brand,” she says.

But Moore says this may be easier said than done.

“Because our hard-earned brand has somewhat been hijacked, this effort will take longer than many suspect,” he says. “Substantial marketing resources from both the public and private sectors must be enhanced and maintained. Tourism/meetings (have) been impacted far more than any other sector in the state, and our industry needs to create a compelling reason for the state’s business leadership to better appreciate how visitors and conventions impact them.”

Arizona Business Magazine Sept/Oct 2010

At First Fridays, thousands of residents and visitors gather - AZ Business Magazine June 2010

Downtown Art Walk Is A Homegrown Success

If you’ve ever been to the Downtown Phoenix area on the first Friday night of the month, you most likely noticed that the streets were alive with people. At First Fridays, thousands of residents and visitors gather to tour more than 70 galleries, venues and art-related shops in what has become one of the largest, free, self-guided art walks in the country.

The event has come a long way since its humble beginnings in 1994, when it was “an informal, self-guided tour of art spaces Downtown,” says Greg Esser, a key player in the Artlink First Fridays program. Today, the events attract more than 15,000 people to the Downtown area each month.

Esser credits the Greater Phoenix Convention and Visitors Bureau (GPCVB) in part for the growth and success of First Fridays.

“The GPCVB has been a critical partner in making sure this success doesn’t remain a ‘best kept secret,’” he says. “ The efforts of the GPCVB have expanded the word-of-mouth phenomenon that started First Fridays, into national coverage and recognition for the event that now attracts visitors from well beyond the state line.”

Doug MacKenzie, director of communications for the GPCVB, calls First Fridays the perfect way to showcase “Downtown at dark,” as well as the talented artisans and vibrant art culture that exists and thrives in the area. He adds that First Fridays is just one of the “various segments that weave a pattern of hospitality and uniqueness” throughout the Downtown Phoenix area.

Beyond simply bringing people together on a Friday night to enjoy tours of local art galleries and museums, Esser believes, “The arts have been both a catalyst and a beneficiary of the growth and development of Downtown. Audiences have attracted new development and new development has attracted more audiences.”

Specifically, he notes Arizona State University’s new presence in Downtown and the development of the light rail as helping to give First Fridays events new life.

“The presence of ASU Downtown has infused new vitality, participation and programming on the part of students, staff and faculty,” he says. “Light rail has created a widely popular way to experience First Fridays without the challenges of parking Downtown.”

Despite the event’s success in attracting more and more people each year, it has not been immune to the state’s current economic troubles.

“The recent decline in consumer spending has created a significant strain on many of the businesses, artists and cultural organizations that are vital to Downtown,” Esser admits. “We have unfortunately lost a handful of businesses.”

This recognition of the harsh realities of the economic upheaval prompts Esser, who is now director of civic art for the Los Angeles County Arts Commission, to send Valley residents a message.

“Now more than ever it is important to spend locally and support those who have committed all of their energy and resources into creating a more vibrant community Downtown,” he says.

He anticipates First Fridays attendance will continue to expand over the next five years from its current monthly status of 15,000 visitors.

“I hope to see that number continue to grow to where (we) attract 100,000 visitors that support the rich fabric of Downtown neighborhoods, including Roosevelt Row, Grand Avenue, Garfield, the Warehouse District, Melrose, Coronado, the Museum District and the newly emerging CityScape and East McDowell Arts District — 10,000 visitors in 10 Downtown neighborhoods,” Esser says.

MacKenzie echoes those sentiments and notes that the GPCVB’s marketing efforts highlight all the services in the Downtown Phoenix area, as well as unique events such as First Fridays. He believes that despite the economic challenges, Downtown Phoenix is starting to become a “destination Downtown” in which people come to check out an event and then stay at one of the new or revamped hotels in the area.

“There is a glimmer of hope,” MacKenzie says. “We just need the spirit to move forward.”

Quick Facts

First Fridays

First Fridays runs all year from 6-10 p.m.

Free event shuttles run throughout the tour route, so you can get on/off wherever you choose.
The shuttles initiate at the Phoenix Art Museum, First Fridays’ headquarters.
Free parking is available at the museum, as well.

While local artists are highlighted, you can also check out pieces from national and international artists.

Arizona Business Magazine June 2010

Local First Arizona Champions Buying Locally - AZ Business Magazine June 2010

Local First Arizona Champions Buying Locally

Today, people generally recognize the importance of shopping locally and supporting our region’s independently owned and operated businesses. But that wasn’t always the case. As recently as seven years ago, the concept was nearly unheard of in Arizona. But in 2003, Kimber Lanning, of the independently owned and operated Stinkweeds music store, started Local First Arizona, then called Arizona Chain Reaction, in an effort to bring the community together and support each other.

“People weren’t really connecting,” says Lanning, who lives in and loves the Phoenix area.

That love of Phoenix compelled her to start a crusade for local, independent store owners. That crusade turned into Local First Arizona, a statewide organization aimed at helping to strengthen local communities in Arizona, bring them together and encourage them to support one another. And she did it one person at a time.

“I just started knocking on doors,” Lanning says of her start-up approach to educating local residents about the importance of celebrating the uniqueness of independently owned businesses in their very own neighborhoods versus the chain stores.

In 2006, she applied for 501(c)3 nonprofit status and changed the name from Arizona Chain Reaction to Local First Arizona to better reflect the goal and mission of the organization — to help people understand the benefits of buying locally and to build a better sense of community.

“I think neighborhoods are finally realizing how important it is (to buy locally),” she says. “It’s like it finally just dawned on us that we can create diverse and unique cities … we can control this.”

It is part of Local First’s mission to educate people on the facts about the real benefits of shopping locally. Studies show that for every $100 spent in a locally owned business, approximately $42 stays in the state. If that same $100 is spent in a chain store, just $13 of it stays right here.

In 2008, Lanning created the Small Wonders maps, pocket-sized guides — one each for Phoenix, Tempe and Scottsdale — that list unique shopping and dining destinations in the three defined areas. Lanning printed 75,000 copies of the Phoenix version, and downloadable versions of the maps also are available at www.localfirstaz.com. She says the buzz around the maps has been incredible.

“They’ve really taken off,” Lanning says. “Now is the best time to promote independent businesses.”

Indeed that remains one of Lanning’s biggest challenges, managing the rapid (“almost too rapid”) growth of her concept, along with securing funding. But she hasn’t let the latter stop her.

“With any new concept, it’s difficult to secure funding,” she says. “So I’m running it like an entrepreneur would, rather than relying on grants.”
Local First currently has 1,800 members, but Lanning has high hopes for the future.

“As I’ve gotten more involved, I’ve realized things we need,” she says.

She hopes to develop awareness for the adaptive reuse of existing buildings to ensure sustainability, increase business-to-business support, grow membership to 5,000, and develop a diversified staff that can offer programs, benefits and support for the state’s locally owned businesses.
Lanning, whose very own personal business, Stinkweeds, resides in the Central Corridor, is thrilled as she talks about the recent growth and development in the Downtown area.

“I am overjoyed to watch the city growing into itself,” she says. “It’s phenomenal. I feel like I’m in the right place at the right time.”

But Doug MacKenzie, director of communications at the Greater Phoenix Convention and Visitors Bureau, thinks it’s more than just a little luck. He credits Local First and Lanning with driving the unique farm-to-table food product and for helping Phoenix become a culinary destination in its own right — complete with amazing farmer’s markets and unique events. One such event was the recent Devoured Culinary Classic at the Phoenix Art Museum, which Local First spearheaded and co-sponsored.

MacKenzie says that due to efforts by Local First, locals and visitors to the Phoenix area have the opportunity to “really experience the authentic and native foods of the region and the Southwest. Local First is great for promoting our culinary scene.”

More than just promoting local dining establishments, Local First also seeks to bring together communities, neighborhoods and people — one door at a time.

www.localfirstaz.com

Arizona Business Magazine June 2010

Downtown Phoenix Ambassador program - AZ Business Magazine June 2010

Downtown Phoenix Ambassadors Work To Make Visitors And Residents Feel At Home

Whether you are a visitor to the Downtown area trying to find a parking spot, a new resident in search of a security escort to your car, or a local looking for a new hotspot to frequent, the Downtown Phoenix Ambassadors can help.

Perhaps you’ve noticed these boosters in bright orange — you know, the ones wearing the shirts that announce, “Ambassador, Ask Me” on the back.

According to Ambassador Program Manager Samantha Jackson, the Downtown Phoenix Ambassador program, formerly called the Copper Square Ambassadors, began in 2001 as a safety program. It has since evolved into more of a hospitality service. The Ambassadors try to make someone’s day, she says, whether that someone is a visitor to the area, an ASU student, a Downtown employee or a resident.

“We go beyond the typical concierge service,” Jackson adds. “It is the goal of every Ambassador to go above and beyond the call of duty; and you just never know how we can help, which is why our motto is ‘Questions? Ask Us!’”

The Ambassadors work the Downtown area 365 days a year, from 6:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. on weekdays and 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. on weekends. They offer a bevy of services that include recommending a great new restaurant (and even calling the place to see if there is a wait) and giving directions to jumping a car battery or helping someone find their car when they can’t remember where they parked.

The program works closely with the Greater Phoenix Convention and Visitors Bureau (GPCVB) to ensure it is heavily staffed during major events and conventions.

“Convention guests are some of the people who need the Ambassadors the most,” Jackson says.

The Ambassadors often take a table inside the conventions held Downtown, so they can be of added assistance.

“We try to meet any special requests the CVB may have, because we know that our service could be that added bonus that sways delegates to select Downtown Phoenix as their destination,” Jackson adds.

Doug MacKenzie, director of communications for the GPCVB, says he hasn’t seen a program to the extent of the Downtown Phoenix Ambassadors in any other city.

“It is truly one of a kind,” he says. “They are true ambassadors in every form of the word. They are on the forefront, greeting our guests from all over the place, and they are the prime example that our hospitality is as warm as our weather.”

And it’s no coincidence that the Ambassadors are friendly, in addition to being knowledgeable about everything pertaining to Downtown. Jackson says the program has been very lucky when it comes to its staff members, who all really believe in the Downtown area and love to promote it.

“We have taken the program from meet-and-greet to really having specialized jobs,” Jackson says.

She calls one staff member the First Responder Ambassador for helping the homeless in the Downtown area by collecting clothes, checking in on them when needed, and maintaining a good relationship with the police in the event they need to be called in. The Ambassador program also boasts an Arizona State University liaison who promotes the Downtown area to the students, a resident liaison who pens a weekly “what’s happening” column and a streetscape supervisor.

All this adds up to a program that really wants to help Downtown Phoenix feel like a community, according to Jackson. In that vein, the program has hosted several free events, including Festive Fridays in which Ambassadors gave out food samples and gift certificates for various Downtown restaurants; Third Fridays Insiders Tour, which included tours of local art galleries, retail boutiques and restaurants and was led by Sloane Burwell, president of Artlink; a Mardi Crawl pub crawl; and a Zombie Walk around Halloween in which participants dressed like zombies and dragged through the streets of Downtown.

Beyond fun and games, Jackson is proud of the help the Ambassadors offer the people both living in and visiting the Downtown Phoenix area. One particular Ambassador became a hero to a young mom with two children. As she was getting off the light rail with her younger child in the stroller, the train took off with her four-year-old still inside. The Ambassador chased the train to its next stop and returned the child to a very relieved mother. It was all in a day’s work for a Downtown Phoenix Ambassador.

So the next time you see an orange-shirted character strolling the streets of Downtown Phoenix — ask them anything — more than likely they’ll know the answer.

www.downtownphoenix.com

Quick Facts
Downtown Phoenix Ambassadors

  • In 2007, the Ambassadors tracked 87,000 assists; in 2009 that number jumped to 94,043.
  • If an Ambassador can’t be found on the streets, there are many ways to get in touch with one via the hotline (602) 495-1500, text (“ASK” to 25866) or e-mail at ambassadors@downtownphx.org.
  • The Ambassador Information Center, located at 101 N. 1st Ave, Ste. 190, is open every day from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. and offers all things Downtown, including restaurant menus, brochures, coupons, entertainment guides, information on the light rail, and more.

Arizona Business Magazine June 2010

meetings industry

MPI Is Touting The ROI Of In-Person Meetings

The best advocates for the positive return on investment of in-person meetings may very well be members of the Arizona Sunbelt Chapter of Meeting Professionals International. The meetings industry has been hit hard by the media and public scrutiny of the actions of major companies that received bailouts from the federal government. But members of the industry remain adamant that face-to-face meetings are a crucial part of every business.

Mindy Gunn, CMP, AVP, senior meeting and event planner with Wells Fargo’s bank technology and operations group, and an MPI member for four years, is the first to admit that times have become increasingly challenging for professionals in the meetings industry.

“We are in a very transparent environment, and the meetings industry is being scrutinized from many angles,” she says. “This, combined with technological advances, has created a movement toward more virtual meetings, whether they be via Web, video or teleconference.”

However, she does not believe these technological advances can entirely supersede face-to-face meetings.

“I don’t think that in-person meetings will ever be completely replaced by Webinars or video conferences, especially those that are designed to build relationships and network with teams,” she says. “I do think, however, that the smaller meetings with existing teams can and will be replaced with the virtual approach.”

She adds that face-to-face meetings facilitate a form of relationship building that simply cannot be done via the telephone or Internet.

“The meetings where interaction plays a key role, such as large project planning, team networking and sales coaching, requires at least periodic face-to-face contact in order to create solid teams,” Gunn says.

Bernadette Daily, meetings manager, corporate meeting solutions with American Express and an MPI member for four years, agrees that in-person meetings offer something that other meeting formats cannot: the human touch.

“Yes, technology has changed meetings, and attendance for in-person meetings has lowered,” she says. “But we are humans. We like to see, feel and touch. People like to put a face with a name, and they like the camaraderie and personal touch that you get with an in-person meeting. Face-to-face interaction and body language mean a lot.”

Technology and recent media scrutiny may have changed the way meetings are being held, but MPI members are united in their belief in the benefits of face-to-face meetings.

There are obvious benefits of in-person meetings, according to Kathi Overkamp, CMP. Overkamp has been an MPI member since 1995, is past president of the Arizona Sunbelt Chapter, past board director for the international board of directors for MPI, and manager, special events and client hospitality for US Airways.

“In-person meetings are important for a number of reasons: better learning environment, networking, peer-to-peer interaction and accountability,” she says. “Our meetings are all business.”

Overkamp also thinks that conference calls and the like can be less effective as a result of daily diversions and interruptions.

“Have you ever been on a conference call at your desk? Do you check e-mails? Handle paperwork? Put the call on mute and talk to someone? How can you be engaged when there are so many distractions?” she asks. “Being able to see your counterparts face to face and meet folks you may have only communicated with via e-mail or on the phone is important.”

In Overkamp’s opinion, the biggest return on investment of meetings is face-to-face communication, whether it is a company or business update or training.

“You can communicate via the computer, conference calls and Webinars, but to have the leaders of your company in the same room as you, giving you important information about the direction of your business and then being able to network with these same leaders and talk to them up close and personal — that is priceless,” she says.

Gunn adds: “Meetings create a venue where strategy can be discussed efficiently and key decisions are made. In my industry, especially in the current economic climate, this is critical in doing business.”

She thinks that without effective meetings, the strategic and decision-making processes slow down and critical business suffers.

“Meetings, when planned and executed efficiently, bring together the key players and allow them to communicate in a way that other venues cannot duplicate, thus saving time and resources,” Gunn says.

www.wellsfargo.com
www.americanexpress.com
www.usairways.com

Laura Scheller

Laura Scheller: CMP, President And Founder, Solmonte Hospitality

Laura Scheller, CMP, not only is a member of the Arizona Sunbelt Chapter of Meeting Professionals International, she also is the chapter’s president-elect. In the course of the 18 years Scheller has been involved with MPI, she has held numerous other roles, including chair of various committees and director positions within the organization.

Scheller says the biggest benefit by far of her involvement with MPI is the relationships.

“MPI provides three things: world-class knowledge for our industry, a marketplace to promote our services and products, and, probably the most important to me, a human connection for both personal and professional development,” she says. “In an economy like this, where the entire profession has been knocked to its knees, through no fault of its own, relationships are critical to my success. MPI provides a platform to increase our contacts and tools and provide the maximum ROI for every meeting and event we touch.”

As president and founder of Solmonte Hospitality, which offers full meeting planning services, Scheller says MPI has been critical to the development and expansion of her business.

“Without the support of my fellow MPI members, my company would not be in existence today,” she says. “We are running a business and our members are our clients. We have to provide value to our members through education and opportunity and still be profitable. All of these skills help me to be a better businesswoman in my company.”

Scheller admits that the economy and the “AIG affect” have decimated the meetings and event market. The AIG effect refers to the public backlash to corporate meetings and events following the disclosure last fall that insurance giant AIG was still planning lavish get-togethers for employees even after it received a massive bailout from the federal government. The public and media outrage did not take into account that corporate gatherings make up an important part of the tourism industry — especially in places such as Arizona.

With the help of MPI, Scheller is hopeful the AIG effect will disappear.

“There are significantly fewer meetings occurring, and those that do still exist are often cut back dramatically in scope. MPI, along with other industry organizations, has created a campaign called Meetings Mean Business,” she says.

“Our goal is to dismiss the notion that meetings are fluff and to help educate the business community on the value of meetings and events, and to create guidelines and best practices that support positive impact to our economy. As a chapter leader and local businesswoman, I am proud to be a very small part in this endeavor.”

Jennifer Castro MPI

Jennifer Castro: Dual Market Sales Manager, Dave And Buster’s

Officially the dual market sales manager for Dave and Buster’s, Jennifer Castro prefers to call herself the Ambassador to Fun. With a title like that, you can expect passion, out-of-the-box thinking and positive energy. But there is even more to Castro than that.

Castro acts as the Arizona Sunbelt Chapter of Meeting Professionals International’s vice president of education, a role that allows her to manage the details related to the chapter’s monthly programs. She has been an MPI member for eight years and counting.

“I joined in 2001 in California, but became very active in August 2007 after I transitioned to Arizona and needed to create a networking foundation, since I was new to the area,” she says.

MPI provided that venue, and more, for Castro.

“MPI offers incredible professional and leadership development opportunities,” she says. “On a business level MPI was an incredible way for me to get acclimated to the Arizona hospitality market after moving here in late 2006. Over the past two years I have fostered strong networking connections and friendships, as well as generated strong brand awareness for Dave and Buster’s.”

Castro has been with Dave and Buster’s for more than 11 years, and she credits MPI for providing an avenue for her to professionally challenge herself in new ways, as well as allow her to continue her passion for ongoing education in her industry.

“I am responsible for selling events at both Arizona Dave and Buster’s locations at the Tempe Marketplace and Desert Ridge Marketplace,” Castro says. “My membership with MPI has proven to be essential in a variety of ways. I can always count on MPI for vendor needs I have for my events.

Additionally, Arizona is a huge destination city for corporate events and conferences. MPI is a great way to build business relationships with the event professionals that make decisions on where to host their offsite events.”

While it seems no industry is immune to the current economic climate, Castro admits that the event and meeting industry has been particularly challenged this year with negative media exposure.

“Companies across the board have cancelled events nationwide, which has impacted Dave and Buster’s,” she adds. “Corporations are really scrutinizing the events they decide to move forward with.”

However, Castro manages to find the silver lining among the clouds of the economic storm.

“At Dave and Buster’s we have found that many companies are now focusing heavily on team building, which is great for us since that is our specialty,” she says. “MPI is an integral part of helping to re-educate the public on the importance of meetings and helping those in our industry navigate through the changes that are impacting everyone in our industry during these unfamiliar times.”

www.daveandbusters.com

Beth Fagan MPI

Beth Fagan: Senior Manager, Meeting Planning And Membership Services National Council For Prescription Drug Programs (NCPDP)

Beth Fagan has been an active member of the Arizona Sunbelt Chapter of Meeting Professionals International for five years, and has served as co-chair of the chapter’s membership recruitment committee for two years.

This involvement is a natural fit for Fagan, who manages the membership services and meeting planning departments at the National Council for Prescription Drug Programs (NCPDP) based in Scottsdale.

“As the manager of membership services, my role is to oversee the maintenance and the analysis of the data for over 1,500 members,” she says. “As a membership association, MPI provides excellent practical examples of dealing with the challenges of attracting and retaining members.”

As manager of the meeting-planning department, Fagan also is responsible for coordinating all aspects of NCPDP’s annual conference, as well as quarterly meetings.

“This includes hotel arrangement, meeting room set up, food and beverage, trade shows, golf tournaments, formal dinners, informal parties and receptions,” she says. “MPI provides education programs focusing on current trends, and by staying informed about what’s going on in the industry, I am able to plan innovative and effective meetings for our members.”

Fagan believes that MPI offers some incredible benefits to help her in these roles, including educational programs and the opportunity to meet and interact with others in the meeting planning industry. “Monthly speakers at the local meetings and annual conference provide a wealth of information that I find extremely useful,” she says. “In addition to the educational speakers, I am able to learn from my peers in the industry at both the local and national levels. The opportunity to network with those who have a shared understanding of the industry has often provided input, ideas and contacts that have helped me become a more proficient and innovative meeting planner.”

All levels of business travel, including the nonprofit sector, have been affected by the state of the U.S. economy, according to Fagan, but she’s dedicated to moving forward in her industry.

“It’s a constant struggle to gain active involvement from our members, but we have tried to address the economic shortfalls with an aggressive membership recruitment campaign and a constant line of communication to our members that illustrates the value of active participation,” she admits.

“Through MPI’s online forums, I’ve had the opportunity to share my experiences and learn what others are doing to counteract this issue.”

MSkalny

Mike Stawiarski: Owner/Technical Producer, MFS Event Technology

July of this year marked the beginning of Mike Stawiarki’s one-year term as president of the Arizona Sunbelt Chapter of Meeting Professionals International. With this role comes great responsibility, but Stawiarski is up for the challenge.

As president, Stawiarski leads “a very talented 16-member board of directors who sets our agenda for the year with a business plan to serve our members with monthly educational events, networking opportunities and social events.

“In the end, it’s the leadership team’s mission to inform and educate our chapter and bring them all together to develop our individual businesses,” he adds.

Stawiarski is proud to be this year’s president. As a member of the Arizona Sunbelt Chapter of MPI since 2003, when he started his own company, he has moved through the ranks in various leadership roles and has enjoyed every moment of the experiences MPI has brought him.

After working for the Marriott for 17 “wonderful years,” Stawiarski says, “I ventured out on my own in 2003 as technical producer/owner of MFS Event Technology. I service events with technical audio/visual and production support to make my clients’ events shine.”

As for the importance of his involvement with MPI and the success of his business, Stawiarski reveals, “MPI without a doubt keeps me on the cutting edge of my industry and the direction it is headed. The old phrase ‘it’s who you know’ certainly applies, since MPI has many of the top minds and professionals that I need to know in my business life.”

He believes some of the most beneficial aspects of his MPI membership and involvement are networking and continual education.

“Certainly making business connections is a key benefit, and being educated at our local and national events about all facets of our meetings industry is truly valuable, as it enhances my career and makes me a better, more informed producer,” he says. “Serving my fellow chapter members and giving back to the industry that had been so good to me is the main benefit that I am proud of.”

Perhaps this education comes at no better time than when the economy has suffered such a slump.
“Our industry and my business are both facing challenges in this economy right now like everyone else,” Stawiarski says.

However, Stawiarski is not going to let a little thing like an economic crisis get him down.

“I am an eternal optimist and feel we’ve hit the bottom and are slowly on our way back up,” he says. “More than ever, this is a crucial time to belong to groups such as MPI to keep your client and business partnerships alive and vibrant. This is not the time to be passive, but (it’s the time to be) active in your industry. Meeting Professionals International is a positive force to keep you connected.”

AZ Sunbelt MPI Chapter

MPI Is A Handy Resource For Professionals Throughout The Meetings Industry

Meeting Professionals International has 70 chapters worldwide with 24,000 members who service and support the meetings industry. The Arizona Sunbelt Chapter’s membership currently stands at 532, and is comprised of meeting planners and suppliers who partner to organize and serve the meetings industry across the globe.

With statistics like that, who could doubt the importance and value of MPI as a resource for those in the industry? Not its members, that’s for sure.

Mark McMinn, CMP, director of sales for the Tempe Convention and Visitors Bureau and vice president of finance for the Arizona Sunbelt Chapter, has been associated with the organization for 20 years and a member of the local group since 2001.

In that time, he has experienced first-hand the resources the group offers. He says “education, relevant content to the industry and career advancement and knowledge, marketplace connections to further my business contacts and sales, and being in a community of like-minded professionals and people who understand what you do, and who want to make sure you are successful in the marketplace” are some of the most important aspects of his MPI membership.

Regarding resources, McMinn points to MPI’s directory, available online and in print, as a great place to find a member.

“After you have found us, give any one of the members a call and doors are opened for you,” he says. “A wealth of information can be gained through one phone call or e-mail. It’s the power of connection. There are many resources that can be found at MPI: best practices, forms, directories, books and publications, speakers, subject matter experts, legal advice, discounts, and so much more.”

Beyond that, McMinn says education is MPI’s best resource.

“You can learn so much from our education resources online and at a monthly chapter meeting or at one of our fantastic conferences,” he says.

McMinn adds that with MPI “you are connected to so many professionals like yourself that you are instantly able to get what you need, when you need it from some of the finest professionals in the meetings business.”

Beth Longnaker, site selection specialist with Scottsdale-based Hospitality Performance Network and vice president of membership for MPI’s Arizona Sunbelt Chapter, is all about helping MPI members maximize their memberships and make the most of their involvement with the organization. She even developed the global development committee and has been active on various other committees during the course of her membership.

She agrees that the education aspect is a great tool MPI members can take advantage of, including earning accreditations and certifications within specific specializations.

Longnaker says networking, industry discounts and the MPI global directory are some of the most beneficial resources MPI has to offer, even though, in her opinion, the latter does not get utilized as often as it should.

“People don’t use the directory enough and they don’t use their references enough,” she says. “They need to utilize those connections.”

In addition to the online directory, Longnaker cites as wonderful resources some of the online programs available via the international Web site.

“There are subject boards, special interest groups and programs,” she says. “You can go on and gain knowledge of current trends, and you can ask questions and get honest answers because there are more than 20,000 professionals around the world from which to get feedback.”

Longnaker believes there is always an opportunity to learn something new within the forum of MPI, because it constantly presents new products and tools to help its members keep on top of current trends.

As a site selection specialist, Longnaker acts as a liaison between her client and the hotel they are negotiating a contract with, and she finds the knowledge she gains via MPI invaluable.

“My goal is to present the most beneficial contract for all involved,” she says.

MPI has given Longnaker the tools to offer her clients better opportunities.

“I have the personal knowledge to make qualified referrals and it offers a validity in my profession,” she says.

McMinn encourages MPI members to take full advantage of all the resources available to them.

“Use your membership to the fullest and you have the meetings industry at your fingertips,” he says. “It’s like having a secret handshake … but there is no secret.”

www.exploretempe.com
www.hperformance.com

Four Seasons Resort Scottsdale at Troon North

One Valley Resort Shares Its Side Of The Meetings Controversy Issue

The Four Seasons Resort Scottsdale at Troon North is synonymous with luxury, indulgence and the utmost in customer service. The property, nestled in the natural desert setting of the Pinnacle Peak foothills, boasts grand casitas, fine dining, breathtaking views of the city below and some of the finest meeting-and-function facilities available.

Just a year or two ago, one may not have said the words “Four Seasons” and “budget friendly” in the same sentence. But things are different today. The current economic climate has dictated changes in nearly every industry, but the meetings industry has been particularly hard hit by the public frenzy over the abuse — both real and perceived — of Troubled Assets Relief Program (TARP) funds. Companies receiving government bailouts were blasted by the public and the press for continuing to hold meetings and events, even when taxpayer money was not used to foot costs.

The Four Seasons has not been immune to the situation. But there is light at the end of the tunnel, according to the property’s director of marketing, Dave Akin.

“The crystal ball is still cloudy, but we would like to believe that the worst is over,” he says. “We are cautiously optimistic.”

Akin says that due to the TARP backlash, public scrutiny and the political climate, the Four Seasons saw quite a few cancellations and a dramatic decline in its booking pace starting in the fall of 2008 through the beginning of this year. But he adds that the situation has “stabilized a bit.”

For Akin, the bottom line is that “meetings matter” and they need to continue to take place for many important reasons.

“People need to get together to share ideas and for continued education,” he says.

Although the media spotlighted the amount of funds being spent on meetings, Akin says the public was not apprised of the trickle-down effect of those meetings dollars. A meeting can directly impact literally thousands of jobs.

“So many people are dependent on those dollars,” he says. “It is very important that people in and outside of our industry can put a face and a personality with the statistics they are hearing. We want to make sure people aren’t getting confused between luxury and waste.”

The Four Seasons is taking a very proactive approach in an effort to rekindle the meetings momentum, and in doing so is receiving support from the Arizona Sunbelt Chapter of Meeting Professionals International.

The resort’s partnership with MPI has resulted in some very successful endeavors. Akin says the membership database is a very useful tool for reaching out to individuals and sharing thoughts.

“MPI is very good to work with,” he adds.

The Four Seasons and MPI have co-hosted several events, including meeting planners’ World Educational Conference (WEC), where the property was given the opportunity to showcase itself.

“We are taking a collaborative approach to educate people and help them understand the purpose and benefits of meetings,” Akin says. “We need to clear up the misunderstandings so everyone will be better off in the long run.”

To this end, the Four Seasons has received advice from the U.S. Travel Association (USTA) on how to show potential clients and guests the true value, worth and return on investment of conferences. AZ Business Magazine cover October 2009Akin hopes these efforts will help shift the focus back to why meetings are so beneficial, as well as some of the important issues that MPI promotes, including green meetings and social awareness.

“We want to move those topics back to the forefront,” he says.

Meanwhile, Akin insists that while there are certainly specials and values for both business and pleasure travelers to take advantage of at the Four Seasons right now, one thing has not changed.

“We are a company that prides itself on our customer service,” he says. “We are not changing our standards or cutting corners during these challenging times. Our focus is always on taking care of our clients.”

www.fourseasons.com

healthcare onsite for large employers

Healthcare Solutions Center Provides Onsite Health Care To Large Employers

Time and money are two things few people can afford to waste, especially these days. In an effort to save both, people often put their own health concerns on the backburner. After all, who wants to take time away from work or family to go to the doctor, wait around to actually see the doctor, and then get a diagnosis and a prescription that has to be filled for a hefty fee (not to mention the cost of the visit)?

But Frances Ducar is changing the way health care is handled in the workplace and making it much more convenient for people to confront their health concerns. As founder and director of Healthcare Solutions Center, she strives to save Arizona employers and their employees money. And she’s saving lives along the way.

Ducar spent more than 20 years in the health care industry in various positions, including first assistant to some of the country’s top surgeons and as a family nurse practitioner.

“I’ve worked with some really amazing specialists, and a little piece of each of them is what makes me who I am today,” she says of her mentors.

In her experiences over the years, she saw how companies were being “eaten alive” by insurance companies. She knew she wanted to find a way to help employers offer their employees quality health care and help employees afford the health care they deserve. With that, Healthcare Solutions Center was born in 2003.

Healthcare Solutions Center offers large companies (with 500 employees or more) an onsite health care clinic staffed by a family nurse practitioner. With HCS onsite clinics, employers save money on their overall health care costs. Employees save money because HCS eliminates co-pays and deductibles and reduces prescription costs to as little as $4. Employees also receive confidential and top-notch care from a nurse practitioner. In addition, HCS has a relationship with a network of some of the state’s finest specialists. If a patient needs further examination beyond what the nurse practitioner can provide, HCS can arrange a timely appointment with a specialist — sometimes even the same day.

“A company is only as healthy as its employees,” says Ducar, adding that people are much more likely to visit an onsite clinic because it eliminates the need to take time off work to travel offsite to a doctor’s office.

Employees don’t just see the nurse practitioner if they are sick. HCS onsite clinics also offer wellness programs to help patients quit smoking and lose weight.

“Knowing you are helping everyone you see in one way or another, seeing a person change their lifestyle, and seeing companies save money and put it back into their wellness plans — these are just a few of the immense rewards of this business,” Ducar says.

She feels good knowing that employers are saving millions on their health care costs and that HCS is helping employees appropriately utilize every avenue and benefit of the company’s wellness plan, including counseling and beyond.

But there are challenges as well. Ducar personally selects her family nurse practitioners, and she admits that placing the right nurse practitioner with the right company is one of the hardest and most important, parts of her business.

“My nurse practitioners are a reflection of me,” she says. “They become the advocate for their patients who just don’t know where to go.”

Ducar must have a knack for placing her nurse practitioners because she says she’s never had a dissatisfied patient.

“The patients trust (the nurse practitioners), and they are all happy to have us there,” she says.

The entrepreneur predicts huge growth for the future of her company, but she says her business will remain in the state for the long haul.

“Love of medicine and the desire to help Arizona companies afford their health care is what drove me to start this company,” Ducar explains.

AH Endovascular OR Suite

Executives From West Valley Hospitals Assess The Impact Of The Current Economy

The need for health care services continues to grow across the state, including the West Valley. And under the current recession, hospitals are being asked to do more with less.

Jon Bartlett, CEO of Arrowhead Hospital, says the health care industry is not immune to the impact of the bad economy, but he remains optimistic about the current and future state of the market.

“There are plenty of challenges, but we remain focused and disciplined,” he says.

In fact, he believes West Valley communities are home to some of the finest hospitals around, and the members of the community wouldn’t have it any other way.

“Today, people expect the very best health care outcomes, but they also demand world-class service,” Bartlett says. “It is our responsibility to meet their expectations.”

Arrowhead Hospital has been recognized with three stars in the Society of Thoracic Surgeons’ national database in 2007 and 2008 for its superior cardiovascular surgery outcomes.

Tom Dickson is CEO of Banner Thunderbird Medical Center, a 413-bed acute care hospital that specializes in cardiovascular care, neurology care, pediatrics, obstetrics and emergency medicine. He says the slowing economy has actually allowed West Valley hospitals to catch up with their demands.

“Generally, the West Valley has been underserved in terms of acute care beds,” Dickson says. “Now that the economy has slowed and several hospitals have added additional beds, we are not in as critical condition as we were in recent years.”

With a recent expansion of the South Tower, which can grow to accommodate 600 beds, Dickson says his biggest challenge is retaining existing employees and recruiting additional workers to staff the additional beds and programs and services that are growing as a result of the tower.

“The most critical area of need is registered nurses,” he says. “We also have an acute shortage of physicians and other medical professions, including physical therapists, respiratory therapists, pharmacists and medical technologists.”

Jo Adkins, CEO of West Valley Hospital, says the West Valley currently has an adequate amount of hospital beds, but that may not be the case for very long.

“As growth returns to the West Valley, we will need to look at growth of both beds and services,” she says. “We need to stay in touch with the communities’ needs and grow the services so that we can remain a hospital of choice.”

Meanwhile, West Valley Hospital is already very strong in a number of specialties, including its heart and vascular center, chest pain center, emergency room, electrophysiology and obstetrics. But Adkins doesn’t mince words when it comes to the challenges facing the health care industry.

“(It has) taken a large hit,” she says.

Naming two recent 5 percent budget cuts, she adds, “That has had a $3.6 million impact on West Valley Hospital alone.”

Beyond working to overcome the challenges facing the industry as a whole, the leaders of these hospitals are 100 percent dedicated to providing the superior service they believe their community members deserve.

Bartlett notes that the emergency department at Arrowhead Hospital is making a concerted effort to decrease wait times, promising that patients are seen in less than half an hour.

“Our average wait time is 19 minutes,” he says.

And while Arrowhead Hospital does have plans to expand from 220 beds to 260 within the next 18 months, Bartlett explains that he doesn’t just want to grow, he wants to make sure the hospital is getting consistently better.

Lee Peterson, CEO of Sun Health Services (formerly Sun Health Properties), which recently merged with Banner Health, agrees that providing the utmost services and results for its patients is the hospitals’ top priority.

“Banner has a best-practice strategy that is very much in line with our passion for making a difference in people’s lives,” he says.

Boswell and Del E. Webb medical centers are now Banner Boswell and Banner Del E. Webb.

“By coming together with Banner we were able to bring some immediate technologies, such as electronic medical records, in addition to research institutes, which are such a major part of Banner Boswell and Banner Del E. Webb, to the West Valley,” Peterson says.

With the economy putting a freeze on growth for the most part, West Valley hospitals stand poised for continued expansion. All the while, they are not taking their eyes off their mission — to provide the residents of West Valley communities with first-class services administered by highly trained and compassionate health care providers.

West Valley Industry Turnover

WESTMARC Unveils The Results Of A Work Force Labor Market Study

What started as an initiative from the city of Surprise Economic Development Department quickly turned into an unprecedented work force study on the entire West Valley spearheaded by WESTMARC. The study came about through a collaboration of communities, corporations, government entities and educational institutions that contributed more than $150,000 to fund the report.

“West Valley communities have experienced tremendous growth since the 2000 Census. They were having difficulty addressing questions from business prospects concerning the size and skill levels of the regional work force,” says Surprise Economic Development Coordinator Megan Griego, who sits on WESTMARC’s economic development committee and was chair of the Workforce Labor Study of the West Valley. “The communities of the West Valley formed a consortium to better understand their region’s work force and to better promote its growth and development.”

Russ Ullinger, senior project manager of economic development for SRP, and WESTMARC co-chair and member of the economic development committee, adds that the concept for the study developed out of necessity.

“Numerous surveys and studies have identified work force as one of the most important assets when national site selection consultants consider different regions and locations for businesses,” he says.

“This is relevant in good economic times, as well as poor economic times. This study truly drills and provides specific labor information unique to the West Valley.”

Harry Paxton, economic development director for the city of Goodyear, who also acted as co-chair of the study, credits WESTMARC’s partnerships with the Maricopa Work Force Connection, as well as Maricopa Community College in the development and funding of the study. He also praises WESTMARC for bringing together work force professionals to get their input on what the study should entail.

In May 2008, WESTMARC enlisted California-based ERISS Corporation to prepare the comprehensive labor market analysis.

“That analysis involved a survey of all businesses in the West Valley with 20 or more employees — all such businesses were contracted and 1,100 completed the survey — and a detailed review of newly available government information,” Griego says.

The detailed data developed by the survey and the analysis of various government data sources is also available through www.usworks.com/westmarc, which presents the comprehensive information and data relevant to businesses, site selectors, economic development professionals, work force development professionals and educators into convenient and customizable reports.

The results of the study can now help the 15 West Valley communities represented in the report to identify their specific needs when it comes to work force issues, transportation and industry growth, and demand. For example, Glendale encompasses more than 6,000 firms, according to the report. Health care accounts for more than 12 percent of total employment in Glendale, which is higher than the Metro Phoenix area as a whole (9.1 percent), but is on par with other West Valley cities. The results also show that 19.6 percent of Glendale workers live and work in the city. The majority of other Glendale employees travel from Metro Phoenix (35.3 percent) and as many as 1.3 percent commute from Tucson.

In general, the study found there are more than 450,000 workers available to fill jobs for the right offer. In addition, there are growth and expansion opportunities in the industries of transportation, wholesale trade, traditional and non-store retail, as well as education. Regarding industry growth, health care leads the trend with a 6 percent growth rate. Construction and transportation/utilities follow closely with a 5 percent growth rate each, and retail in the West Valley has a 4 percent growth rate.

As part of the study, businesses were asked to rate their own work forces on a scale of one to seven, one representing the lowest productivity rating and seven the highest.Sixty-six percent of the area’s employers ranked their employees in one of the two highest categories.

Absenteeism is also a non-issue when it comes to West Valley workers as a whole. The majority of employers, 63 percent, reported that absenteeism is “not a significant problem” at their firms, and when absences do occur, 61 percent of employers reported that the cause is a legitimate illness with childcare.
Jack Lunsford, WESTMARC’s president and CEO, says ERISS Corporation did an excellent job with the study and the results have given them a course of action.



“We found that we have in the West Valley, even in this economy, a very large and qualified labor supply, and we still have some industries that are currently growing and that anticipate growth,” he says, adding that results also show West Valley communities need to implement a live/work/play strategy to avoid the problems with transportation issues.

Landis Elliott, business development director for House of Elliott, says the benefits of the study are numerous. “The study is a tool that the West Valley cities can use while working with potential locates to validate the high-quality employees we have in this region,” she says.

hand sanitizer helps stay healthy at work

Staying Healthy At Work

Stress is present in almost everyone’s lives today, particularly with the cloud of an unstable economy hanging over the country. Not surprisingly, work is one of the top things that cause people stress.

The problem doesn’t end there. Stress can affect more than our mindset and our mood — it can affect our health. The Wellness Council of America reports that 70 percent of workers say job stress causes frequent health problems. The good news is there are many fun ways employers can help their employees beat stress at work and stay healthy.

“Stress can manifest itself in many ways including obsessive (behavior), excessive worrying, making simple mistakes — such as forgetting to write a check in the register — appetite loss, muscle tension, upset stomach and headaches,” says Dr. Paul Berkowitz, a psychiatrist at Banner Desert Medical Center in Mesa.

He adds that stress can also weaken the immune system, putting people at a higher risk for catching the common cold.

Dr. Bob Orford, who specializes in preventive, occupational and aerospace medicine at the Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale, adds that stress can also result in depression, high-blood pressure, sleep deprivation, hypertension and even obesity, because people often eat as a way to relieve stress.

Orford offers many ways employers can help their employees fend off stress and increase productivity in the workplace.

“They should allow several mini-breaks for their employees throughout the day — two or three times an hour — to stand up, stretch or simply walk around,” he says. “Productivity can be increased (as a result of) those mini-breaks. “Exercise is the single best way to relieve stress,” he adds.

Orford suggests that anything an employer can do to encourage employees to exercise can help them reduce their stress.

“They can offer incentives such as a contribution for a health club, which Mayo Clinic does, or distributing pedometers and giving a bonus or discount on a health care premium if they walk a certain number of steps,” he says.

Berkowitz adds that companies should also help their employees balance work and life — thus helping relieve their stress — by working with them in areas such as shift scheduling, if at all possible. He suggests employers can offer the option to come in early or work later hours, depending on the employee’s preference. He also suggests perks such as bringing in a corporate massage therapist or encouraging employees to take a yoga class.

In fact, massages can have overwhelmingly positive results in the workplace. In a study performed by the Touch Research Institute in Miami, massaged subjects showed decreased frontal EEG alpha and beta waves and increased delta activity consistent with enhanced alertness; math problems were completed in significantly less time with significantly fewer errors after the massage; and anxiety, cortisol (the stress hormone) and job-stress levels were lower at the end of a five-week period.

“As more and more is expected of workers during these difficult times, maintaining good health is essential in the workplace. Even the smallest employee incentives make a big difference,” says Tiffany Richards, founder of The Back Rub Company in Phoenix. “These affordable programs — like a 15-minute chair massage — are some of the only things that employees look forward to, especially when everyone is over-stressed and worried.”

The Back Rub Company offers on-site wellness services, including chair massages, fitness classes, “lunch and learn” wellness workshops, guided meditation, hypnotherapy sessions and even healthy cooking classes.

Massage Makers offers corporate chair massages and on-site table massages, as well as the unique Body Mechanics program, which addresses repeated physical problems people suffer as a result of how they sit or stand continually at work. Owner Andrea “Andy” Sobczak believes that massages benefit employees by helping relax their muscles and get blood flowing, and also by providing a mental booster.

“It shows employees that (employers) are invested in them, and it gives employees a sense of value,” she says.

Sobczak adds that the human touch also makes people feel like they are important.“People are deprived of human touch … they need to feel special and taken care of,” she says. “It makes people feel good.”

Yoga is another positive stress reliever that employers can offer their employees. Danielle Price Catalfio started StudiYo of Scottsdale after working in Corporate America and realizing how stressful it can be, particularly in a down economy. She created the T.E.A.M. Yoga workshops, which stands for “the ego aware manager,” to help people “take the ego out of the workplace and see each other outside of their titles as human beings not humans doing.”

Catalfio’s two- to three-hour workshops include three main elements: a series of yoga techniques such as breathing and stretching to help people relax; the physical aspect, which helps people let go of thoughts and simply concentrate on holding yoga poses; and workplace stretches that can be done during mini-breaks. She also incorporates relational activities into the workshop that help build trust and camaraderie among co-workers.

Workplace wellness programs don’t just benefit employees. Statistics show these types of incentives actually have an economic return for employers. A report by the U.S. Surgeon General on Physical Activity and Health states that corporate wellness programs return $1.95 to $3.75 per employee, per dollar spent, and have a cumulative economic benefit of $500 to $700 per worker, per year. In addition, the American Journal of Health Promotions reports that for every $1 spent on wellness, employers can get up to $10 back through fewer medical claims, reduced absenteeism, improved productivity and other factors. Berkowitz says employers should look at workplace wellness incentives “as an investment to offset potential losses.”

McCain, America's Next Leader - AZ Business Magazine Oct. 2008

America’s Next Leader

The last time an Arizona politician stood at the threshold of the White House was 44 years ago, when Republican presidential nominee Barry Goldwater introduced a new form of conservative politics to America before falling under the wheels of President Lyndon Baines Johnson’s campaign juggernaut.

american-next-leader 2008

Now, another Arizonan, also the Republican nominee, has the White House within his grasp.
Within weeks, Sen. John McCain will either make history or repeat it in one of the most closely watched presidential elections in modern history as he squares off against Sen. Barack Obama, the first African-American presidential nominee of either major party.

“I don’t seek the office out of a sense of entitlement. I owe America more than she has ever owed me,” McCain says. “Thirty-five

years ago, I came home from an extended leave abroad. While I was away, I fell in love with my country. I have been an imperfect servant of my country ever since, in uniform and in office, in war and peace.”

That he has made it this far is remarkable considering his campaign seemed on the verge of collapsing in the months before the Iowa caucus.

McCain had trouble getting his primary campaign off the ground. Then, after securing the Republican nomination, McCain’s campaign began to drift, says Larry Sabato, a nationally recognized political science professor at the University of Virginia.

“He was the nominee for the Republican Party long before Obama had the Democratic bid, but he didn’t seem to use that time wisely,” Sabato says.

However, Sabato believes McCain’s campaign has since tightened up considerably.

“They are making decisions quickly and rolling the dice as needed,” he says.

Deeply involved in politics since leaving the U.S. Navy in 1981, McCain was first elected into the U.S. House of Representatives in 1982. He was elected into the U.S. Senate in 1986. When he was reelected for his third Senate term in 2004, McCain won by an overwhelming percentage of the vote.

In between, McCain ran for president for the first time in 2000, hoping to ride his Straight Talk Express campaign bus all the way to the White House. An underdog, he surprised supposed frontrunner Texas Gov. George W. Bush by winning the New Hampshire GOP primary. That’s when the campaign turned ugly, and in the South Carolina primary, very personal. Bush, of course, eventually won the Republican nomination and the general election.

Over the past eight years, McCain has clashed with Bush on numerous issues, but he has remained unwaveringly behind Bush on the Iraq War, telling radio talk show host Mike Gallagher earlier this year, “No one has supported President Bush on Iraq more than I have.”

McCain went on to add, “… there are many national security issues that I have strongly supported the president (on) and steadfastly so.”

Bush in turn has expressed his support for McCain’s 2008 presidential bid, giving his endorsement earlier this year and saying that McCain has the “character, courage and perseverance” to lead the country, according to an article on CNNPolitics.com.

Even Paul Johnson, the former Phoenix mayor who at one time expressed concern about McCain’s famous temper, believes the senator is maintaining a solid campaign.

“I am proud of the way he is running his campaign and the issues he’s bringing to the forefront,” Johnson says.

Besides taking flak for his temper, McCain has also been taken to task for breaking from the Republican Party on some high-profile votes, and even for his age; at 72, he would be the oldest president in U.S. history, if elected. But countering that is the fact McCain is also a respected war hero.

McCain spent five and a half years as a prisoner of war during the Vietnam War in the infamous camp dubbed the “Hanoi Hilton,” where he was forced into solitary confinement, denied medical treatment and beaten by the North Vietnamese. But he maintains he is not bitter — rather he is humble.

“There is no higher honor than sacrificing for a cause greater than my own self-interest,” he says.

He also believes this experience, as well as his leadership in the Senate Armed Services Committee, makes him the most-qualified candidate to be commander in chief.

McCain’s domestic platform for his potential presidency begins with a goal to present greater opportunity and prosperity for workers and their families.

“That agenda will ensure those workers are employed by businesses that invest in innovative technologies, are not strangled by excessive regulation, are not burdened by high taxes, do not face rising health costs that squeeze wages, and sell more products and services in world markets,” he says.

On the foreign policy front, McCain has made no secret of his support of the war in Iraq, but he admits, “I do not want to keep our troops there a minute longer than necessary to secure our interests. And I believe we can achieve that goal, perhaps sooner than many imagine, and must give Gen. (David) Petraeus and our troops the necessary time to succeed in Iraq.”

He adds that if elected president, he will ensure “al-Qaeda has no safe haven anywhere in the world, including Afghanistan, where U.S. and NATO forces continue to root out and eliminate the threat of remnants of the Taliban and al-Qaeda.”

McCain promises that with him at the helm, American families will be secure from threats domestic and foreign. “I will take on our damaging dependence on imported oil and make sure that oil will never again be a weapon against us,” he says. “America’s workers will be secure in the fact that they have portable health insurance and pension benefits, allowing them to move from job-to-job, job-to-home, and job-to-retirement without fear of losing their financial safety net.

“They will be secure in the knowledge that if the economic foundation of their employer or industry shifts, they will be prepared to make the transition to a new job and have access to community college-based training programs that provide the skills to acquire and hold a better job for the 21st century.”

McCain does not deny that there are major economic challenges that must be confronted and he has plans to amend these crises. “Americans are suffering under high gasoline prices, rising food prices, a housing crisis, and tough credit conditions that threaten even the ability of our students to get their college loans,” he says.

As part of McCain’s approach to ease consumers’ current pain, he pushed for a summer gas tax holiday and to stop filling the Strategic Petroleum Reserve. He has also proposed his so-called HOME Plan to provide robust, timely and targeted help to those hurt by the housing crisis. In addition, he called for a Justice Department task force to investigate wrongdoing in the mortgage industry.

To ensure that college remains a reality, McCain has proposed a student loan continuity plan that will coordinate policies with the states to keep the credit crunch from hurting students.

McCain also promises to address the challenge of rising health care costs by “transforming the health care system to focus on quality, cost, and being responsive to the needs of American families.” He adds: “Furthermore, I will not leave difficult tasks like securing our border, entitlement reform, or fixing our schools for another generation of leaders to solve.”

McCain has lofty goals for the future and security of America and its people. But he has one major obstacle standing between himself and the White House. In the minds of many Americans, the sheer fact that McCain would be replacing another Republican — and a highly unpopular one at that — is a detriment to his campaign, according to Patrick Kenney, professor and chair of Arizona State University’s political science department.

“The Republicans have been in power since 2001 and ‘peace and prosperity’ is not going well,” Kenney says. “The economy is down, the war is not entirely supported and (McCain) is linked to Bush’s war and economic program.”

For his part, Obama is hoping the link to Bush will work in his favor. He released a television spot in late July titled “The Low Road,” in which, The Huffington Post reports, “the Illinois Democrat (is) playing his trump card: tying McCain to George W. Bush, both in politics and in policy.”

However, Arizona’s other senator, Jon Kyl, believes McCain’s connection to Bush and the war has a positive side. “He was instrumental in helping Bush with the surge strategy after he returned from Iraq and saw first-hand the things that weren’t being done properly to win the war,” Kyl says.
It is this military expertise and experience that Kyl believes will help McCain gain support from veterans.

“I think that all Americans appreciate his service and it will help prepare him to make decisions and winning strategies in the war,” Kyle says. “It helps identify him with leadership, experience, courage and independence.”

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Grant Woods, the former Arizona attorney general from 1991-1999, thinks it is that very independence that makes McCain the ideal man to lead the nation. “He will never be a scripted, always ‘on’ message candidate,” Woods says. “This is frustrating to the professionals, but makes him more attractive to real people because he is a real guy.

“We face great international challenges militarily and economically,” Woods continues. “I believe his lifetime of service gives him the judgment we need to lead the country at this time. He has the experience to make his own decisions.”

As Election Day draws near, Americans will be responsible for making their own decisions, as well. Regardless of the outcome, change is on the horizon — and that is exactly what the American people seem to want for the future.