Tucson Progressive

Pamela J. Powers, a progressive voice for Arizona

‘Thinkers of Tucson’ offer job creation ideas

First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.

Mahatma Gandhi

Job creation and economic development in Tucson (and many other cities) has historically revolved around a few well-worn strategies:

Luckily, the citizens stopped the fancy convention hotel plan last summer, but Tucson and Pima County have jumped on board and spent millions of dollars on these other strategies. And what have we got to show for it? A 23.4% poverty rate, high unemployment, a shrinking workforce, a rising home vacancy rate, home foreclosures in the thousands, and falling home values. Need I go on?

We need some new strategies. To this end Progressive Democrats of America (PDA) Tucson Chapter sponsored a panel discussion on job creation recently. Job Creation in Tucson: Building a Sustainable Future featured talks by Lisette DeMars of Local First Arizona, Melissa Black of the Green Chamber of Commerce, Joe Higgins of Arizona Small Business, and Jim Mize of Pima County employer outreach, plus local business owner Tim Carmichael of La Posada Solar Cogeneration Project.* Rep. Raul Grijalva was on hand to offer his perspective, and The Tucson Progressive gave an economic overview (above).

The focus of the evening was on growing and investing in local business— instead of throwing money and tax breaks to lure businesses here or offering Band-Aid solutions like cutting fees (which often lead to reduced governmental revenue and cuts in jobs and services).

Although the right-wing blog Tucson Choices dissed PDA’s local business focus and dismissed the group as a bunch of intellectuals– the Thinkers of Tucson (hey, thanks)– the evening was filled with creative ideas. Tucson Choices says that local politicians don’t have the time to come up with new ideas, so they listen to Tucson’s Thinkers. I hope they’re right.

To climb out of our current economic slump, Tucson needs to foster out-of-the-box ideas and invest in local innovation– rather than focus on being the low-wage call center capital of the country.

We have businesses that are born and raised in Tucson. They’re not going anywhere. Rather than chasing after the next IBM with tax breaks, the smart investment is to help local businesses grow by offering innovation grants. Instead of offering millions of dollars to lure a large company here, let’s take even 10% of that economic development money and fund local innovation. I’m not suggesting that we give Joe’s Machine Shop $5000 to move into a new building; I’m suggesting we give Joe $5000 – $50,000 to develop the next generation of electric motors. Now that’s business friendly.

In addition, Tucson economic development should play to our strengths. We have a research university and one of the country’s top hospitals– right here in the middle of town. The city should work with the UA and enable increased technology transfer. Research has shown that growing “eds and meds” does foster economic development, provides good-paying jobs, and is a better investment than convention hotels or sports teams.

Here are a couple of the videos from the PDA Tucson event.

Facing Our Economic Realities

Local First: The Importance of Buying Locally

The entire PDA event can be found on my You Tube channel.

* By the way, PDA invited TREO to join in the panel discussion, but they declined.


5 comments on “‘Thinkers of Tucson’ offer job creation ideas

  1. James
    November 22, 2011

    How about you open the ports to the Sea of Cortez? OMG that would create hundreds of thousands of jobs. Or open up more mines? I dont know why you see these uneducated liberals with bumper stickers that say “NO OPEN PIT MINES” when their car came from an Open Pit Mine (Only in Arizona will you see that). Anyway, there are tons to do, except the leadership treats this town like it has 300 people. By the way this is not a tourist town, our town looks like crap, stop building hotels.


  2. Friend of Pam's
    November 22, 2011

    What’s this with calling people intellectuals? Is there something wrong with studying issues in depth, then suggesting thoughtful solutions? Or are we just supposed to watch Fox Noise and emote all day long?


  3. usmctrucker
    November 22, 2011

    I agree with James, I used to be in hotels in Tucson and it should tell you something when not even Humberto Lopez sees opportunities worth buying in  downtown properties and the Westin LaPaloma is bankrupt.  Tourism is not much of a vehicle for Tucson.  And don’t blame SB-1070, the crime rate has more to do with it.  Believe it or not, outfits like the PGA, NCAA, MLB and the everyday travel agent really do pay attention.

    As for the other ideas, people are so eager to ignore what built Tucson in the first place: mining, railroads, and cattle.  The overall climate in Tucson is hostile to transport, power generation, ranching, and don’t even mention mining or guys really get upset.  Tucson has been dragged kicking and screaming into the 21st century.  If you want to start somewhere, repeal the zoning restrictions that prevent the eyesore 75 year old houses from being torn down and replaced.  Get the blight owners to modernize or sell, that will turn your housing and construction industries around as you will reintroduce opportunity into home and land ownership in Tucson and get away from the Economy of Inheritance that shackles the whole city to the economy of the 19th century.  Then we can talk about (dare I say) going to the NCAA to get the Copper Bowl back.  But I’ll settle for repealing the zoning restrictions for a start.  Even Las Cruces looks better than Tucson. 


  4. Tucson jobs
    November 22, 2011

    In response to USMC trucker, I really like Tucson’s decay. Without a sense of history, what’s left? You take everything down that’s old, you’re going to wind up with another LA/Phoenix clone.


  5. Ricardo
    November 23, 2011

    At last weekend’s art festival, we walked around the historic area and saw many very appealing, old and probably 75 year old homes.  The place was vibrant with over 100 artists displaying their work.    I think downtown Tucson has a lot of appealing aspects to it, the courhouse being the centerpiece, although it certainly needs continuing effort to improve.   I have been through Las Cruces many times; the writer must have had a blindfold on to think it has any appeal whatsoever, and quite a sad tranformation from what it was like in the 1960’s.  And there certainly is a lot of appeal for Tucson if over 8,000 bike enthusiasts, including many coming from all over the country, are returning year after year for the event.


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The Tucson Progressive: Pamela J. Powers

I stand on the side of Love. I believe in kindness to all creatures on Earth and the inherent self-worth of all individuals–not just people who agree with me or look like me.

Widespread economic and social injustice prompted me to become a candidate for the Arizona House, representing Legislative District 9 in the 2016 election.

My platform focused on economic reforms to grow Arizona’s economy, establish a state-based public bank, fix our infrastructure, fully fund public education, grow local small businesses and community banks, and put people back to work at good-paying jobs.

In the Arizona House, I was a strong voice for fiscal responsibility a moratorium on corporate tax breaks until the schools were fully funded, increased cash assistance to the poor, expansion of maternal healthcare benefits, equal rights, choice, unions, education at all levels and protecting our water supply.

After three terms, I retired from the Arizona Legislature in January 2023 but will continue to blog and produce my podcast “A View from the Left Side.”

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