Thu, July 18

Bringing in the Cheese
Local effort to boost economy may be in the works

Local government officials and businesspeople filled the Community Learning Commons room at Yavapai College Thursday in hopes of developing a Verde Valley regional economic development organization.

The Verde Valley Economic Development Council was started years ago, but has, for the most part, fizzled out. Revitalization has been talked about since.

Attendees at this year's annual Verde Valley Economic Forum agreed that it is time to stop merely talking and put together an action strategy.

The organization would focus on attracting new businesses to the area, attracting new higher-paying jobs, retaining existing businesses and other measures to boost local economy.

Ex-President of the Greater Phoenix Chamber of Commerce Valerie Manning and two other economic development professionals gave advice on how to successfully operate such an organization.

"Your largest challenge is what to do next," Manning said. "What type of companies do you want to bring here? What capital resources can be tapped? What are the economic strengths of the Verde Valley?"

She added that they keys to success for an economic development organization are having the right support, attitude, funding and governance.

Former vice-president of the only economic development organization in Maricopa County, Paul Ringer added that it is important to "Put yourself in the shoes of the company ­ ask what do they want?"

He stated the importance of showing an adequate labor force and finding a balance.

Founder and President of ESI Corporation Judie Scalise added that one of the most important keys is having what the possible future clients want.

"If you don't have the product, you're not going to get the deal," she said.

In this case, one example of "the product" would be adequate available building space for businesses to set up in.

After listening to the speakers, participants in the forum were separated into breakout groups and asked to answer questions as to what they would like to see in a Verde Valley economic development organization.

The responses were presented and combined into a consensus response.

The general consensus was that the organization would be governed by a public/private non-profit board, funded with a mix of public and private funds and staffed with competent, entrepreneurial workers.

Currently, there are similar economic development groups and professionals in the Verde Valley. The City of Cottonwood recently hired Casey Rooney to be the city's economic development planner. Camp Verde also has staff working on economic development.

In addition, there is the Cottonwood Foundation for Economic Development, which is ran by a group of business people interested in furthering economic development in the region, Rooney said.

Rooney works with the Cottonwood FED. The FED meets every month.

Cottonwood FED Chairman Randy Garrison said the FED and similar organizations would continue to operate if the regional economic development organization was established.

He said the regional organization would focus on getting businesses to the Verde Valley, then, they could decide more specifically where they want to go within the valley.

Some remain skeptical of the formation of the organization; however, many attendees at Thursday's forum were optimistic.

Cottonwood Chamber of Commerce President Margie Beach said she is "very" optimistic about the organization.

Beach is still serving on the Verde Valley Economic Development Council, which meets only about twice a year. She said remaining funds in that council may be used for seed money for the new organization.

She believes the reason the council fell apart is because results weren't seen quickly and people had unrealistic expectations.

She is confident that this time around will be more successful.

"I think it'll really happen," she said. "I think our timing is better."

About 15 to 20 people wrote their names on a list at the end of the meeting, committing themselves to the effort.