The Verrado master-planned community in Buckeye is a popular home for young families in the West Valley. (Provided photo)
WESTMARC helps West Valley create a recipe for success
Karrin Taylor Robson may have summed it up best at the annual WESTMARC Economic Development Summit.
The founder and president of Arizona Strategies says there are a few essential ingredients to create the perfect the recipe for great communities: transportation and infrastructure, education, healthcare, quality of life and a robust, competitive workforce.
Guess what community has all these ingredients — and all the proverbial perfect seasoning? It’s the West Valley, where the average household income ranges between $64,634 to $100,000, outdoor recreational hot spots span 3,000 square miles, more than 20 schools (and growing) offer programming to local students and businesses, a skilled labor pool of roughly 1 million residents reside along the I-10 and Loop 303 and a bustling, expanding entertainment mecca boosts an already burgeoning economy.
Not too many cooks in this kitchen
Many other prominent voices of the West Valley echo and elaborate upon Robson’s community recipe analogy. And it’s more than fitting for the fastest-growing region in Maricopa County.
“Over the next 25 years, 49.5 percent of the growth in Maricopa County will occur in the West Valley,” says Sintra Hoffman, WESTMARC president and CEO.
That’s proof alone, that whatever is baking in the West Valley not only has the right ingredients, but also the opportune alignment in leadership in the kitchen, which the West Valley most certainly possesses. The collaborative efforts of Avondale, Buckeye, Goodyear, Glendale, Peoria, Surprise and sister West Valley cities have made the entire region a competitive force in attracting skilled labor, new business and unique entertainment opportunities.
“Places like Mesa and Phoenix isn’t competition for the West Valley.” Robson says, “Austin, Seattle, and Denver are who we compete with now.”
And once again, the eyes of the world will be on the West Valley when it hosts its third Super Bowl in 2023. To show the value of bringing back the big game, Super Bowl XLIX in 2015 generated $719 million in total economic impact for Greater Phoenix, according and Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport experienced record days. That’s a lot of potential new residents and new business owners getting to see the value of the West Valley up close and personal.
Adding spice to an already flavorful workforce
Did you know that 28 percent of manufacturing laborers, 34 percent of professional finance and insurance workers and 37 percent of healthcare employees reside in the West Valley? While the 69 percent of the West Valley’s workforce currently commutes to other parts of Maricopa County, this is about to change. The addition of Chewey.com adds 700 new positions in Goodyear and BALL Corporation another 130. Avondale is adding King Koil and 50 new jobs and IAC another 30. And Buckeye attracted a 500-acre, one-million-square-foot facility that will represent $1 billion in capital investment from Nikola Motor Company. This facility is slated to bring 2,000 jobs to Buckeye and will manufacture Nikola Motor Company’s hydrogen-electric semi-trucks.
While nationally recognized organizations are already calling the West Valley home, WESTMARC and partners have recently implemented the West Valley Pipeline initiative. This five-year plan represents 15 West Valley communities and their 1.6 million residents in an effort to reinforce a prospering talent pool of high-demand and higher-wage occupations.
“The West Valley Pipeline is a unique strategy for the West Valley,” says WESTMARC Chair Bobbi Magdaleno, Arizona State University’s executive director of government and community engagement. “It mirrors WESTMARC’s membership of business, education and government all working together toward a common goal.”
And how exactly will this pipeline flow? Largely through the continuation of connections and collaboration of local businesses and educators.
“The West Valley Pipeline highlights the region as a strong competitor for a powerful skilled workforce by articulating its strengths, filling our gaps and sending consistent messaging,” Magdaleno says. “ASU and all post-secondary education are vital to the pipeline.”
Equal parts education, business and partnerships
Similar to the success of a culinary endeavor, the prosperity of any community-driven goal depends upon the appropriate measure of influence and collaborative mix.
“Our No. 1 job at ASU is to produce individuals capable of learning anything,” Magdaleno says. “With a large percentage of future jobs yet to be invented, we teach students at ASU how to learn in order for them to be able to adapt and grow with changing work dynamics and technologies.”
“ASU, West-MEC and the West Valley community colleges are united in bridging the education gap,” says Dale Larsen, ASU director of community relations and professor of practice at the College Of Public Service & Community Solutions. “Not all students jump into a four-year college, and 50 percent of our students are first-generation graduates.”
Part of effectively closing the gap for which Larsen refers is the “two-plus-two” initiative in which West-MEC and West Valley community colleges work to put students through their schools for the first two years of college and then help them successfully transition to ASU for the remainder of their four-year education.
On the businesses side of cultivating educational to workforce pathways, the West Valley Pipeline works with students, members of the military and other individuals seeking new employment or a change or transition in career.
“We’ve created a local solution to helping job-seekers make better and informed decisions to promote sustainability and growth in the West Valley’s skilled workforce,” explains Katherine Pappas. “This includes military personnel with an average of 22 days of transition from military to civilian jobs.”
“Skilled, educated professionals who are separating from Luke Air Force Base total 400-450 people annually,” Magdaleno says. “This offers the West Valley a unique opportunity to capture these people and make them permanent residents.”
Quality of life is icing on the cake
Entertainment, dining, recreation and infrastructure offer an enticing and diverse quality of life for West Valley residents, making it no surprise that it’s one of the fastest-growing communities in the entire region.
An example is Buckeye, which saw the fifth-fastest growth rate in the U.S. last year among cities with more than 50,000 residents, according to the Census Bureau. Buckeye added more than 3,800 people, a 5.9 percent growth rate that brought its estimated total population to 68,453.
“Like all of what we do in the West Valley, creating an attractive, sustainable quality of life is a collaborative effort,” Hoffman says. “From the Cardinals being a huge draw to the changes taking place along the Loop 101, the opening of Top Golf in the fall, Desert Diamond Casino coming in off Northern Parkway and the Loop 101, the West Valley is in a truly transformative state.”
“With I-10 and I-17 designated as Key Commerce Corridors for Arizona, Loop 303 and other freeway improvements in the West Valley allow for this uniquely positioned community to prosper economically,” adds John Halikowski, director of the Arizona Department of Transportation. “The proposed I-11 and State Route 30 corridors will continue to foster mobility and economic development for a growing region.”
And as transportation and infrastructure solidify, the West Valley’s recipe for success is expected to include more and more retailers, restaurants and entertainment experiences. If you’re looking for a seat at the table, come and get it — WESTMARC and the West Valley is ready to serve.
By the numbers
1.6 million: Number of people who live in the West Valley.
40%: Percentage of Phoenix residents who live west of Interstate 17. Phoenix, the state’s largest city, has a population of 1.5 million.
$62,775: Average annual income for households in the West Valley.
62%: Percentage of the West Valley population that is workforce age.
69%: Percentage of the West Valley workforce that commutes outside of the region to work in other parts of Maricopa County.
28%: Percentage of the manufacturing workers in Maricopa County who live in the West Valley, yet only 16% of the jobs are located in the West Valley.
37%: Percentage of the healthcare workers in Maricopa County live in the West Valley, yet only 21% of the jobs are located in the West Valley.
34%: Percentage of the professional finance and insurance workers in Maricopa County live in the West Valley, yet only 12% of the jobs are located in the West Valley.