Arizona has a lot of reputations. It’s a land of lush golf courses installed among desertscapes, a call center and distribution hub, home to the largest university in the country or some of the less appealing facets that make an economic developer cringe to hear. One organization that has worked for decades to educate Arizonans and the rest of the country about what makes this state great — and what can be done legally to make it better — is the Arizona Association for Economic Development (AAED).
Outside of the AAED, there are a handful of economic development organizations in Arizona — the Arizona Commerce Authority (ACA), Greater Phoenix Economic Council (GPEC) and Tucson Regional Economic Opportunities (TREO).
The ACA was founded in 2010 by Gov. Jan Brewer. TREO was formed in 2005. GPEC just celebrated its 25th anniversary.
Founded 40 years ago as the Arizona Association for Industrial Development (AAID), AAED is the most established, organized group of economic developers in the state. In 1991, it changed its name to the Arizona Association for Economic Development to reflect its broader focus and mission statement, which is to “serve as Arizona’s unified voice advocating for responsible economic development.” AAED’s membership is indeed a unified voice, including economic developers and staff from tribal communities, southern and northern Arizona cities as well as many public and private sector members, even members of the aforementioned economic development groups.
The association, just like the state, has spent some time this year reflecting on imagery and whether or not the three pillars — professional education, public policy and collaboration — actually hold up to its mission.
“We have transformed from an organization feeling the hit of the recession along with so many others to one that is now thinking about its longterm goals and impacts on a daily basis,” says 2014 President Danielle Casey, director of economic development for the City of Scottsdale.
Economic development is a team sport, says APS’ Statewide Communications and Economic Development Manager David Bentler. APS has been an AAED member since its inception, and Bentler says AAED is the way he stays in touch with the many players working on projects that land jobs in Arizona.
“AAED provides the atmosphere to create a statewide effort that works as a team to bring quality projects toArizona,” Bentler says. “While some states are divided in this effort, AAED has helped instill a professional work ethic and respect among our economic developers that collaborate on projects for mutual success.”
Before any change can happen, AAED needed to realign as an organization. So, last year, it looked critically at how to reinforce its three-pillared mission statement. Casey calls the level of commitment from the board of directors and AAED members to the “strategic plan” over the last year “exciting.”
“Collaboration is the pillar where AAED’s greatness awaits,” says two-year member Marcelino Flores, Pascua Yaqui Council Member. “I have learned that community, workforce and economic development come together at AAED among the many proactive committees.”
Economic development, in broader strokes, also appears to be a matter of unifying the different organizations. When it comes to AAED’s role in diversifying Arizona’s economy, Casey says she has seen tremendous focus placed on business retention and expansion.
“The Arizona Commerce Authority has launched a division focusing specifically on serving the needs of existing businesses and their expansion efforts, and I have seen positive results firsthand in my own community,” she says. “The Greater Phoenix Economic Council has begun working with its member organizations to help gather market research and intelligence so we can better serve our existing firms. Small communities across the state are thinking of ever more creative ways to encourage entrepreneurship and innovation through partnerships with the (ASU) Alexandria Co-working Network at local libraries, shop local initiatives, and small business training programs and incubators. We are learning to grow our own firms with a focus on quality, high-wage jobs that generate new wealth for Arizona. AAED is helping to facilitate this through its quality educational programming to help teach practitioners and community leaders about the importance of a diverse economy and related strategies, and is creating connectivity among the practitioner community like never before so we can share ideas and learn from each others’ successes.”
AAED made huge strides in professional education with the implementation of classes from the International Economic Development Council (IEDC) to Arizona. AAED hosted two IEDC courses in 2010, which resulted in the highest-attended non-conference courses IEDC had seen in years. Over the next year, AAED established The Economic Development Academy of Arizona that launched in January 2012. The course sold out in weeks, says Town of Gilbert’s Business Retention and Expansion Administrator Jennifer Graves, CEcD, a 10-year member and former Professional Education Committee chair. The largest stride thus far happened when the AAED Executive Director Joyce Grossman and Professional Education Committee Chair Susan Hyatt facilitated the Arizona Economic Development (AZED) Pro designation. This marks the first time the IEDC has held an exam separate from one of its conferences. AAED also graduated its inaugural class of AZED Pros earlier this year.
“As one of AAED’s three core focus areas, education plays a critical role in strengthening the organizations position as the leading advocate for economic development in the state,” says Graves. “If AAED continues to raise the bar and provide meaningful programming for its members and practitioners across Arizona, I believe the organization will continue to see growth in both membership and prominence.”
“One element of AAED’s future that I am very excited to be part of is an initiative to increase the number of aspiring or emerging economic development professionals,” says Hyatt, Arizona Commerce Authority’s vice president of business expansion. “We are not only working to increase the number of emerging economic development professionals in our organization, but we are also developing some programs to provide those individuals ongoing support through mentorship and educational opportunities.”
Education is the basis of professionalism, the beginning of advocacy and the best way to understand values key to collaboration, says Flores.
“This [AZED Pro] designation shows the proactive recognition of a need to do things a little differently in Arizona,” hesays. “Some tools practitioners rely on are not available in Arizona. Similarly, some resources, land, people and bio diversity, are treasures the AZED Pros become aware of and use to the advantage of high quality, sustained economic development.”
PUTTING AAED ‘ON THE MAP’
Collaboration between the different regions of Arizona has been a direct interest for many members this year.
“Putting AAED and Arizona ‘on the map’ is a big goal, and after the first year of our strategic plan implementation, I believe it is on track,” says Casey, calling AAED “the leading organization in the state for provision of economic development training for practitioners.”
The organization has also increased its investment in advocacy year-over-year to ensure it becomes a go-to for legislative information that can impact economic development.
“Aligning professionals from rural and urban environments to improve the economic health of our communities” is AAED’s greatest contribution to Arizona, says Jacqui Sabo, sales manager of Goodmans Interior Structures and AAED member since 2008. Sabo has been involved with five of AAED’s 14 committees, including chairing the tribal committee and education efforts.
“This year, I am working on a special education task force to encourage students and mid-career professionals to consider economic development as a career path,” Sabo says. “As a result, we are collaborating within our organization, and it’s been fantastic.”
Moving forward, Sabo says she’d like the organization to “make sure we have congruency on what our brand is and should be.” Likewise, Flores says Arizona needs to “put its resources where its mouth is” — particularly in education and business opportunities.
“Arizona needs to be ‘top of mind’ for the site selectors and decision makers to consider the great potential of locating projects with quality jobs in Arizona,” says APS’ Bentler. “As the statewide economic development organization, AAED helps bring all of these wonderful partners such as the ACA, GPEC, TREO, community economic development organizations, utilities and many others to help unify and set professional standards to ensure the economic development success in Arizona.”
“I believe that AAED’s commitment to advocacy, education and collaboration and related achievements are equally commendable, but its ability to maintain an overall strong membership base year after year through commitment and reaffirmation of member value is what makes it an organization to emulate,” Casey says.