Connecting with Tempe...with Pam Goronkin
Boring? Maybe, but vital to our quality of life

Economic development? You’re probably wondering why I’m boring you with an “uncool” topic in the middle of a long, hot summer.

In fact, your quality of life in Tempe is  directly related to it. Tempe’s budget office reports that the average household spends about $1,200 per year for all services. The true cost of these services, however, is nearly double that.

Even so, economic development in our community helps make city services a real bargain. Here’s how:

Economic development in Tempe takes many forms.  It certainly means business. Some of this business manifests itself as retail establishments, a big source of sales-tax revenue for Tempe.  Restaurants and bars, too.

Small businesses, along with our many technology and service-sector employers, help to make Tempe the largest per capita employer in the state. 

Did I mention that business owners and corporations contribute substantially to the taxes that fund Tempe’s public schools? 

Tourism in Tempe constitutes healthy economic activity as well.  Various “guesstimates” claim that between 35 to 45 percent of Tempe’s sales-tax revenue comes from “visitors” to our community. 

Some folks insist such figures can’t be proven and, yes, it can be tough to get an accurate assessment. 

However, an unscientific survey conducted by the Downtown Tempe Community at Tempe’s recent Downtown Cooldown revealed that only about 26 percent of those attending live in Tempe.  Persuading other people to spend money in our community—which creates sales tax dollars for our General Fund--has been a key reason for Tempe’s variety of events.       

And it goes beyond events. 

“Bed nights” is a term used in the hospitality industry. For every “bed night” generated at a local hotel, motel or resort, the City’s General Fund rings up revenue.  When tourists shop and dine in Tempe, the value of their visit multiplies in the local economy. 

Having a great downtown (more than 2 million people visited Town Lake last year) is important because visitors definitely spell economic development in Tempe.

As long as sales tax revenue contributes about 45 percent of Tempe’s total General Fund, retaining and attracting desirable and unique retail will be a priority.

It’s an unfortunate unintended consequence of our state’s budget structure that cities in this region compete with one another for your shopping dollars. Remember when Tempe was vying with Chandler for what eventually became Arizona Mills?

We won that battle but missed the boat entirely for the Casa Paloma development, now ringing up sales for Chandler.

Then Chandler built its new mall, eating further into south Tempe’s retail prowess. Now comes a proposal for a regional mall at the confluence of the 101 and 202. Would that project cannibalize retails sales from Mill Avenue? Or would Tempe be worse off if the developer took the project, and its projected sales tax, just east of the 101 into Mesa as has been suggested? 

Tempe policy makers are concerned enough about retail “leakage” to employ a full-time retail specialist, Tamera Norwood.

Her challenge is to entice the right mix of retailers to locate--or stay--in Tempe as new homebuilding attracts them to the fringes of the metropolitan area. 

If you ever wonder why your favorite store is gone, it may be because some developer in Gilbert offered the owners a more desirable leasing opportunity near a newer neighborhood.

This is one reason for taking a fresh look at zoning and signage ordinances in Tempe. Tempe must remain competitive to retain simple neighborhood services nowadays.

Seeking out developers who are willing to think creatively about some of Tempe’s semi-deserted shopping corners has become a priority, too.

Certainly, it’s a quality-of-life issue for our residents to be able to shop near their homes. And it keeps valuable sales tax revenue in Tempe.    

Meanwhile, we’re exploring non-retail economic development. Partnering with Arizona State University, Tempe hopes to attract new technology businesses--and the knowledge of workers they employ--to our community.

Being a magnet for the “creative class” is a terrific opportunity for new urban-lifestyle residents with more cash to spend in the local economy. Mid-market conferences and other meetings associated with ASU, the Biodesign Institute and spin-off businesses may stimulate new “bed nights” as well. ASU is another of the trump cards Tempe must use to its advantage.

Summer, winter, spring or fall, economic development is key to Tempe’s quality of life.

City Council creatively competes for business development, jobs creation, tourism and retail sales tax in the region to ensure good value for our residents.