They tell Mayor Bob Walkup that his hand-picked group does not represent Tucson.
By TEYA VITU
Tucson’s economic development community yesterday let Mayor Bob Walkup know his panel to assess regional economic development efforts lacks input from small businesses and job-growth professionals.
The city-county-university-private-sector panel, set up a month ago, has charged itself with making recommendations about coordinating efforts among the more than 20 economic development entities in southern Arizona.
“We are disturbed that the blue-ribbon panel does not represent Tucson,” said Ian Ellison, chairman of the Southern Aerospace & Industry Alliance. “(Panelists) Raytheon and TEP (Tucson Electric Power) are not representative of the people here.”
The panel’s leadership team includes Walkup, Pima County Supervisor Sharon Bronson, University of Arizona President Peter Likins, Pima Community College Chancellor Roy Flores, Raytheon Missile Systems President Louise Francesconi and UniSource Energy (TEP’s parent) Chief Executive Jim Pignatelli.
A working group preparing an economic development analysis for the panel includes Tucson’s city manager, the Pima County administrator, a PCC campus president, a Raytheon vice president, a venture capitalist, an attorney, a UA vice president, and the executive director of the Southern Arizona Leadership Council.
But the small-business sector and economic development professionals are missing, noted Paula Stuht, economic development director for the Tucson Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce, which advocates for small businesses.
“I believed our role as economic development people is to be at least involved in any planning in the community,” Stuht said. “Without that, they could be missing ground. It’s important because once the process is done, it’s done.”
Working group member Larry Aldrich, general partner at Valley Ventures III, said nearly everybody on the panel or in the working group has close ties with economic development.
“We want to make sure we are looking at this from a broader community perspective,” Aldrich said in an interview in response to the absence of economic development professionals on the panel and in the working group.
Walkup insisted that once the working group submits its report in early May, the panel will seek input from across the community. Residents are invited to submit input to the mayor’s office at P.O. Box 27210, Tucson, AZ 85726 or electronically at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“The real heart of this will be what your input will be,” Walkup told a room full of economic development, high-tech industry and education leaders attending a Southern Arizona Industry & Aerospace Alliance breakfast at the Doubletree Hotel at Reid Park.
“You can make an argument where are neighborhood associations, where are K-12, where is anybody? We picked six people who represent a large mass of people.”
Similar panels have been assembled over the years, but many in the room saw little achieved with prior efforts.
“This is the fourth blue-ribbon panel since I’ve been here,” said John Grabo, a former Greater Tucson Economic Council executive, now director of marketing at the UA Science and Technology Park. “Are we stuck in the mud covering the same ground? We have a community vision. Do we have an economic vision?”
Walkup foresees a bright future for Tucson in bioindustry and unmanned aerial vehicles.
“Are we going to see big manufacturing in Tucson? There are not many big manufacturers left,” Walkup said. “The next decade will be biotech, biopharmaceuticals, biomedicine and bioagriculture. There will be a proliferation of smaller companies. We have to provide capable people. I’d like to capture the flag with UAVs. I’d really like to see that happen.”