In the last blog post, we discussed issues around opening a western office in Tucson, Az. I have received four emails and two phone calls about the blog post and whether we thought our experience should be construed as the “norm.” One caller who is local to Tucson (and God bless him for taking the time to call and discuss) explained at great length the disconnect between Tucson and the city of Phoenix and the declining quality of life in Tucson.
That conversation got me thinking about some parallel cities where the same thing seems to have happened. That is, the local economy went downhill and how peer communities viewed the situation. Take a look at Columbus, Ohio and Cleveland Ohio. It’s so similar to how Tucson and Phoenix view themselves that it’s Eeerrie (Erie, get it?)
Columbus is the state capital, lots of white collar jobs and some light manufacturing. Columbus is home to The Ohio State University and Battelle Memorial Institute. Battelle is the world’s largest privately held think tank and employs 22,000 people. It’s also home to a number of Fortune 500 companies.
Having lived in Columbus for 30+ years, I can tell you that the people viewed Cleveland as part joke and part social welfare entity that really didn’t do much for the rest of the state. Cleveland was (and still is) dominated by democrats who’s agenda was to disperse as much social welfare as they could get their hands on. Cleveland’s reputation was so poor in Columbus that there was little serious contemplation about how the state could help the city. It found itself in a downward spiral and still has not been able to reconcile its union bias and liberal leanings to the rest of the state or rest of the country.
Now let’s drive two hours east from Cleveland and see what has happened to Pittsburgh. If there’s any single city that can be called the comeback city, it’s Pittsburgh, Pa. Here is a city (actually the whole regional area) that took an economic hit that was devastating. The bottom fell out of the demand for domestically produced steel. The city was on the ropes in so many ways but found a way to remake themselves just to survive. And boy have they. They have become a tremendously prosperous city.
Pittsburgh remade itself by utilizing the local universities. Carnegie Melon and the University of Pittsburgh are both powerhouse research institutions. Along with Duquesne University, Pittsburgh became an education and research Mecca. People in Tucson, most notably Regina Romero should take note of this. My understanding from reading articles on the Web and talking to business owners is that Ms. Romero (a Ward 1 Councilor) was instrumental in undermining Grand Canyon University and submarined the universities decision to not locate in Tucson. They have located in Phoenix and have invested over $400 million dollars ($400,000,000) in buildings, classrooms, dorms, etc… Just think about how many local jobs this would have created for Tucson. Here again we have a liberal political body that just seems happy to live in the 5th or 6th poorest city in the country. It’s just total ineptness.
Supporters of Ms. Romero are quick to say this was a misstep on her part and the larger council. I have to disagree. My definition of a misstep is that a mistake took place, something was overlooked, that it was unintentional. This was a deliberate act and Ms. Romero and the larger council were all purposefully part of this decision. Btw, the city didn’t want to let go of a golf course called the El Rio Golf Course where GCU wanted to build. Anyone who has visited Southern Arizona knows that there is no shortage of golf courses in the area. But there is a shortage of is water and golf courses consume an incredible amount of water. Go figure what the real reason is here but I suspect that Ms. Romero and the council are pretty much against religious universities and this was their way of thwarting Grand Canyon University opening a religious based school in Tucson.
I want to point out to the powers that are in Tucson that there are huge benefits beyond just the economic when you bring in companies and universities that are highly educated. You see, many of these organizations have programs that encourage employees to get involved in schools. Many companies actually adopt schools. These folks come into the class room and discuss careers, they tutor students in math, science and reading, they teach business skills. These services you get for almost nothing. Perhaps just a handshake and a “Thank You.”
So what happened with Pittsburgh? Companies have flocked to the region setting up research centers and local offices. They all want to be part of the technology and growth that comes out of the area. Computer Science, Robotics and Health Research is a big piece of this and both CMU, University of Pittsburgh and the Pittsburgh region are well situated to take full advantage of this sector of engineering, manufacturing and science. If you have any doubts about Pittsburgh’s comeback and don’t want to spend days reading about it, check out this blog: http://pittsburghcomeback.blogspot.com/
What is so interesting to me is how much Pittsburgh has cleaned itself up. The technology companies that are now in Pittsburgh are typically low environmental impact and high wage organizations. You still see some brown fields but those are quickly being eradicated. You don’t see smog like you did in the 60’s and 70’s and it’s a very pleasant place to live and visit.
For the city of Tucson and Southern Arizona, the loss of IBM and Grand Canyon University is irreversible. The horses have left the barn so to speak. Getting organizations like this to locate to your community are probably once-in-a-lifetime events. If opportunities like this do come up again, don’t blow it. If you do, Tucson is going to start looking like Flint, or Detroit Michigan.
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.