Pamela Powers, a progressive voice for Arizona
Since 2005, Tucson and Pima County have sunk millions of dollars into the economic development group Tucson Regional Economic Opportunities, Inc. (TREO).
Until I read Josh Brodesky’s recent Arizona Daily Star article on TREO, I mistakenly thought it was primarily funded by governmental entities like Tucson, Pima County, and other municipalities in Southern Arizona. Wrong.
Yes, Pima County kicked in $350,000 this year (down from $1.2 million in previous years) and the City of Tucson kicked in $520,000 (down from $1.5 million), but did you know that TREO has a membership structure in which businesses buy-in for $25,000 or $50,000 per year?
From the Star…
The TREO board is a veritable country club filled with the region’s heavy hitters in government and business. Members pay $25,000 to join the board. [I wonder how much the TREO membership overlaps with the Southern Arizona Leadership Council (SALC)?] But that pales in comparison to the exclusive Chairman’s Circle.
“Over the years, what I’ve realized are big players, CEOs of companies, we charge $50,000,” Snell said of the circle. “They can’t make board meetings or are in New York all the time, you know, living the lives that none of us do. But they want to have a say in shaping economic policy.”
Talk about the 1 percent.
This pay-to-play structure troubles Robert L. Davis, a commercial broker with Grubb & Ellis, because TREO operates on private and public funds. It also cuts out people in the business community who don’t have the cash.
“You can spend $50,000, but it doesn’t mean you should have a greater voice than Jim Smith,” he said. “I offered to do a big amount a year if they would just list all of their investors in alphabetical order” and create a separate, independent board of members chosen for their skill, not their wealth. “That went over like a lead balloon.”
One of the big criticisms of Snell and TREO is simply being missing in action.
“I don’t see them,” Pima County Supervisor Richard Elías told me.
“I don’t see him out in the community very often,” Davis said.
“We don’t know what’s going on,” Marana Mayor Ed Honea said back in 2008 when Marana bolted from TREO. “We’re really not apprised of what’s happening on a month-to-month basis. It seems like we just send a check, and that’s it.”
After having read Brodesky’s article, I was left wondering: What are TREO members buying for their $25,000-$50,000 membership? And who are these businesses? The Chairman’s Circle membership– including local heavy-hitters like Jim Click, Carondelet, Raytheon, TMC, and COX Communications– is listed on the TREO website; the Board of Directors is also listed. But what about the other businesses? I agree with Davis (above); there should be more transparency regarding the how TREO operates.
Between Pima County and the City of Tucson, we– the taxpayers– are contributing nearly $1 million per year. I think we have the right to know who the other players are, how this organization really works, and who they are working for.
Since no “journalist” in the town can read, I’ll point out that every investor in TREO is listed on their website, in any order needed, and Bob Davis’s company is one of them.
I found the Board of Directors and Chairman’s Circle and linked to them. Those 2 groups overlap nearly 100% with each other. There is also — not surprisingly– tremendous overlap between TREO and SALC (the group that has proposed many ballot initiatives to “fix” city government).
All of this smells fishy to me. What are these businesses buying with their membership? The obvious answer would be influence related to which businesses are courted by TREO and which aren’t.
TREO’s website is misleading. The map showing their projects over the last 6 years includes businesses that have come and gone already.
Tucson’s money could be better spent. TREO does nothing to grow local business.
The video strikes me as being very white and male. Where’s the diversity?
A few people in Oro Valley have been saying the same ting for years.
TREO started as a way to unify a number of boards and commissions that were trying to influence regional planning. I don’t see any unity – all those small time players are back and funded on their own dime for the most part. TREO managed to get itself well funded yet has no accomplishments commensurate with it. The local community would be better off if those membership dues were thrown out of an airplane circling the city. Most of the people I talk to about regional economics see TREO as a venue for the local elite to bask in each others reflected radiance.
The late Roy Drachman once said, “economic development is a real estate broker doing their job.” He insinuated that the glob of money spent to essentially gain control of the client base was a waste. This is the man who brought Hughes to town! No one to this day has hit a grand slam like that. Eloy has created as many jobs as Tucson in some years. All that TREO has achieved is a moniker and a branding of Tucson as the “Study City.” That is how the city is known in the Southern California development community where I now reside half time. One individual called us the “Monarch Notes City.” Another prominent 5th generation developer quipped in a social gathering, “Tucson has a flashing yellow light over the city.” And, “its leadership is unreliable.” This is possibly the reason that Tucson does not benefit from any of the companies that are fleeing California for a lower tax tab.
I can name 9 major developers who have pulled out of Tucson in the past 20 years for the lack of business acumen and leadership. Many point to a “control” issue that seems to be intractable. Meaning, we do not play well with out of town money.Ergo, most all downtown. My superiors from Cleveland left in the late 80’s for this very reason. One of them, stated, “the people of Tucson are some of the friendliest in the nation, but your business climate is one of the nastiest around.” This has yet to be ameliorated, and the view of TREO has never helped. The newcomer says, ” if you cannot find common ground with your own people how will I be treated.” Think, Spring Training baseball.
I participated in the Town Hall consensus building workshops in 2007 at Ventana Canyon. Little of the consensus achieved in those workshops has had any glue. That was the work of SALC. It is possible that the core problem is that the same people have been at the helm a bit too long. If TREO were a U of A Sports program, would there not be a new coach by now? What is the score?
Sorry, hit post before finishing. The irony is that I agree with everything in that promotional video and continue to plug Tucson on a daily basis. Leaders like Flethcher McCusker may be the solution. I just cannot figure out what holds the team down. It has to be the coaching staff.
“. Leaders like Flethcher McCusker may be the solution” He certainly has the money to pull any and all the strings to create what he wants when he wants it, He is a COMMANDING force in any room his corporate check book opens and closes many doors. He created 2nd Saturdays Downtown and has bank rolled it, he has given bucks to Rialto and is running the FOX. Why bother with a council or Mayor, or city manager. COT has given the wealthy a key to the tax dollars and let them spend it– with THEIR matching funds pet projects are on the front burners ,so WE can create what they need to keep them Big fish in Little ponds.
When the same folks are on all the BOARDS in any environment it can only result in their personal interest and the wishes of their pets to being fulfilled.