What is now the PHX East Valley Partnership may have “officially” launched in 1982, but as former association President and CEO Roc Arnett tells it, its origins started much earlier. More than a decade prior, individuals throughout the East Valley became a united front, focused on advocating for the region’s development and growth. Ultimately, this collection of like-minded people formed an advantageous organization that — 40 years later — continues to affect positive change throughout the East Valley and beyond.
PHX East Valley Partnership early days
As PHX East Valley Partnership commemorates its 40th anniversary, there is much to reflect upon. The desire for transformation and dedication to regional collaboration is something group has always prioritized. According to Arnett, before the PHX East Valley Partnership came to fruition, the desire for growth and alignment was already brewing. By the early 1980s, eastside pioneers agreed to put their weight behind Bruce Babbitt for governor if he agreed to appoint East Valley members to influential state boards and commissions. Both missions came to fruition, and thus, the East Valley Partnership was born.
One of the early victories of EVP occurred in the formation and voter approval of Proposition 300.
“The half-cent sales tax for Maricopa County ultimately helped build the Valley’s freeway system, including the East Valley’s Loop 202 freeway and US 60 extension, as well as other significant arterials,” Arnett explains.
Additionally, early EVP members participated in the transitioning of Williams Air Force Base into what is now Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport, as well as contributing to the establishment of the Arizona State University Polytechnic campus, Chandler-Gilbert Community College and the East Valley Maricopa County Court Complex.
Continued progress through collaboration
For the first 20 years, Arnett served as EVP’s president and CEO. Following the leadership stints of Arnett and former Gilbert Mayor John Lewis, Denny Barney, a former member of the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors, took up the baton. During his time at the helm of PHX East Valley Partnership, Barney says one of his greatest joys was seeing the many companies that discovered the benefits of doing business in the East Valley.
“I have enjoyed working alongside a talented and collaborative group of leaders to advocate on issues such as education and transportation that are critical to our region,” Barney says.
Collaboration has been a common thread uniting past and present EVP leaders, as well as those who have worked with them.
Current EVP President and CEO John Lewis (who returned to the organization after a missionary assignment in Phnom Penh, Cambodia) recalls his first glimpse of unity at work, which came shortly after moving to the East Valley in 1985, three years after EVP was established.
“I quickly learned that our community leaders had great vision as they prepared for future residential and commercial subdivisions, schools, roads, utilities, recreational parks and public safety needs,” Lewis says. “I was amazed and inspired with the foresight that was part of planning for the future. And I was grateful for the regional cooperation that was occurring to ensure that both large and small cities would be able to adequately prepare for the impending growth.”
Jenn Daniels, former mayor of Gilbert and Arizona Transportation Board member adds, “Overall, the East Valley is interconnected in that our economic development in one city impacts another, and it’s what helps us be able to get to that 30,000-foot level.”
Daniels cites Boeing, Deloitte and Intel expansions as perfect examples to showcase the East Valley’s unity, resulting in economic expansion and workforce development for the region and state.
Another collective accomplishment for the East Valley, thanks to the efforts of the PHX East Valley Partnership, is the Superstition Vistas. The project encompasses 175,000 acres of Arizona State Trust Land just east of the Maricopa County line in Pinal County that tracks from south of Apache Junction to north of Florence. The project, which began under the tutelage of Arnett in 2003, was a long-term vision combining sustainable urban and rural living.
“The EVP’s Superstition Vistas Project growth is actually happening now,” Daniels says, “and we’re seeing the benefit of new infrastructure in the area, which has been a key focus for EVP for many many years.”
In December, Brookfield Residential and D.R. Horton announced that the first two communities to take residence in Superstition Vistas are slated for a 2023 opening, with commercial, recreation and school zoning to follow.
As the PHX East Valley Partnership moves forward, it continues to set its sights on regional cooperation and growth — not only for the East Valley, but also for the entire Greater Phoenix area.
“When I look at the partnership and see our members serving in busy leadership positions — but who make time to build our region’s future — I know the organization’s founders would be proud,” Barney says. “After all, their bright idea has helped to guide thoughtful planning for the region and Greater Phoenix, unite a skilled labor force that is nearly 800,000 workers strong, contribute to a thriving economy — locally, regionally and nationally — and create a quality of life that is second to none for the region’s 1.6 million residents.”
“We will continue to advocate for infrastructure such as transportation and water needs,” Lewis adds, “knowing that there are several important action items to complete in 2022.”
“It seems to me the entire Valley is on the cusp of even greater phenomenal growth and development,” Arnett says. “The PHX East Valley is poised to receive its fair share.”