We’ve finally made the move to Tucson and are getting ready to move into new office space in the next few weeks. We are still finalizing some of the corporation issues but we have made some progress. Moving a business is never easy! I thought it would be interesting to share with some of my readers what we have discovered about Tucson as a place for small business and emerging technology businesses.
First, it’s pretty well known nationally that the city of Tucson, and to some degree Pima County is not very embracing and welcoming when it comes to small business and technology businesses. There are a few exceptions to this and I want to point out two of these at the very beginning. Thryve and StartUp Tucson are very hands-on and welcoming. These folks have a plan and great ideas. They deserve a lot of support.
The reputation of Tucson for not being business friendly is well known. There are lots of folks who have left the Tucson area and migrated back east. They are quick to talk about the raw beauty of Southern Arizona as well as how terrible the business climate is in the area. Much of the blame seems to be around a very welfare centric government, higher than average union memberships, highest sales taxes and property taxes in the state of Arizona and an alarming lack of good leadership.
It’s a common refrain among the folks I have met here who have migrated to the Tucson area that you either bring your job or bring your money. The meaning behind that is the job scene here is pretty poor so you need to have a job that is portable – where you can basically work from anywhere. The bring your money part of it means you need to be wealthy enough to move here as in being a retiree because it’s slim pickings otherwise. Which has some ramifications if you are married and your spouse needs to find a job.
When was the last time you saw an advertisement in Fortune, Forbes, or Bloomberg’s Businessweek on the virtues, attractions and compelling reasons for locating your business to Southern Arizona?
Issues surrounding education are enormous here. We have discovered that the politicians and ruling elite (currently a democrat majority) and specifically referring to the Mayor, City Council and Pima County board of Supervisors are anti-education. Strange as that sounds, the facts are there.
TUSD which stands for the Tucson Unified School District is generally just awful. I have not yet met anyone who sends their child to a TUSD school. The priorities expressed are so out of whack with reality that it’s kind of entertaining. Everyone we have met here sends their children to a charter school (Basis Tucson) or to a private school. TUSD is widely viewed as being inferior at every level including curriculum, teachers, superintendent and school board. Once you earn that reputation, it’s really hard to shake it. It tends to follow you for decades.
The Tucson political elite tends not to support higher education either. Even with the University of Arizona in the city, Tucson shuns any venture supporting higher education. Grand Canyon University was very interested in building a major campus in Tucson. GCU is a private school that has a religious orientation. Building a campus in Tucson would have meant hundreds of good paying jobs at occupational levels from janitorial and maintenance to faculty positions. However, the city council torpedoed this, in large part by council member Regina Romero. It just defies any logic how this once in a life time opportunity was wasted by the (ignorant) elite running this town.
As further evidence of the anti-education mentality by the elected elite, one of the very first considerations to stave off an operating deficit at the county level was to shut down a number of library branches. What consideration was given to reducing hours on weekends or create summer hours? Instead, it was the heavy handed threat to just shut down these branches. I have to wonder if the idea is a back handed attempt to keep certain patrons from reading and learning about how bad the local government is instead of offering a high quality service.
Pima Community College is another horror story. Having just been removed from probationary status after two years with the possible loss of accreditation. Still in question is the quality of the education, the college readiness of students who enroll at PCC and the faculty in particular.
Tucson is said to have the 5th highest poverty rate in the country as reported by CBSNews. I suspect that the city elite has not recognized or correlated that education and poverty are highly related. That would be a very simple observation to make for even the most casual observer. The public school system is so badly managed they can’t even attract teachers to fill 200 open positions. Low salary and miserable conditions are often cited as reasons for so many unfilled vacancies. At least that’s what I hear when I talk to some of the local business people. TUSD has to recruit teachers from outside of the state, in part because the districts reputation is so awful.
There have been some gains made in Tucson. Comcast is opening a call center in the area will employ around 1100 people. There has also been an announcement in the last year about some warehousing and distribution jobs being created as well. Let me say, any new jobs are welcome and I have to applaud Comcast for opening a call center here, but Tucson needs jobs that are better paying than what is typically found at call centers and warehouses.
Tucson seems to move from one crisis to another. Tucson never really appears to solve a problem but instead offers to kick the problem down the road by considering additional research or offering to fund a feasibility study on a given project. Long term problem solving and positioning the area for future growth is not a strong forte demonstrated by city or county leadership.
My advice, if you are considering moving or opening a business in Southern Arizona is to do your homework. Unless it’s absolutely necessary, don’t locate in Tucson proper (meaning the incorporated areas of Tucson). Take a look at the Catalina Foothills, Oro Valley and Marana as your future home base. These three communities seem to have the highest quality of life, income and education attainment in the area. They also have the best elementary and high schools. There’s plenty of quality office space in these areas. If you do a lot of sales online in Arizona (hence you have Arizona sales tax) the Catalina Foothills is probably the place to be. Two other areas that deserve mention but I have not yet researched these communities are Green Valley and Sierra Vista. Depending on their tax base, educational infrastructure and distance from other communities, they may be worthy of consideration.
About the author: Phil Rack is President of MineQuest Business Analytics, LLC located in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Phil has been a SAS language developer for more than 25 years. MineQuest provides WPS and SAS consulting and contract programming services and is a authorized reseller of WPS in North America.