What can we do to expedite the recovery in the Tucson region? It’s going to take each of us taking a close look at Tucson’s opportunities and challenges. Many of us attended the recent University of Arizona’s Economic Forecast luncheon where we heard comments forecasting nominal growth, a continued lagging construction market, and about Tucson’s dependency on Government and Education jobs. Coupled with federal defense cuts and our State’s budget crisis, this was depressing news for the business community. I left the event considering our role as one of the largest chambers of commerce in our State in positively impacting these projections.
The focus of our chamber is to serve the business community in the bilingual, bicultural region of the Arizona Sonora border. Our greatest impact on our local economy can be in assisting in growing our members’ businesses. Support for our small business community, focus on the more than $50 billion in Hispanic purchasing power in Arizona, educating our businesses on opportunities for trade with Mexico and improving Arizona’s image are priorities in our work at the chamber.
Arizona and Tucson have an opportunity we are not taking advantage of – sustaining and growing our small business community. We rarely hear about Arizona’s economic dependency on the small business community. Growing our businesses means not only the coordination of resources to assist our state’s existing businesses, but outreach seeking input on tools they need to succeed and barriers to their success. Admittingly, this is a longer road and will warrant fewer headlines, but the small business community is vital to our financial recovery. According to the latest Wells Fargo/Gallup small business index, small business owners are the most optimistic they have been in more than six years, and business owners are feeling the most upbeat about the year ahead since the start of the Great Recession. The time is right to focus on the success of our largest employer – Arizona’s small businesses.
At the Tucson Hispanic Chamber, more than 70% of our members have 25 employees or less which is representative of business in our region. Our efforts are focused on improving the economic climate in Southern Arizona by offering in English and Spanish “Beyond Startup” business education workshops, one-on-one business consulting and highlighting trends and market opportunities to our members. We understand the needs of the business community as more than half of our Board Members as well as several of our staff own or have owned small businesses and can relate to our members. Did you know that Tucson ranks as one of the top 5 cities in the U.S for Entrepreneurs (Entrepreneur Magazine 2013)? As a community, we need to identify what we can do to retain these businesses and make them scalable.
An obvious opportunity to many of us in Southern Arizona is our relationship to Sonora, Mexico. Over the last two years, we’ve seen a renewed emphasis by our State, County and City elected officials. This is encouraging and as a business organization – we need to ride this wave and continue to grow relationships with Mexican businesses as suppliers, customers and tourists. We intend to increase our efforts in 2015 to assist Southern Arizona businesses in building connections with Mexican enterprises.
Southern Arizona needs to awaken to the value of the purchasing power and growth of the Hispanic market. By 2035, a majority of the State of Arizona will be Hispanic yet we find that most businesses have not clearly identified their strategy to reach this fast growing market. Recently, our chamber launched two affiliate chambers of commerce – the Sierra Vista Hispanic Chamber and the Ambos Nogales Hispanic Chamber. We intend to reach out to businesses throughout Southern Arizona to educate the communities on the Hispanic Market, stress the importance of exporting to diversify our businesses, and advocate on behalf of the Hispanic business community and our members.
These opportunities also highlight a major challenge faced by Arizona. Simply, we have an image problem. The perception of Arizona is overshadowed by some of our recent misguided legislation and the negative national media attention we have attracted. This is Arizona’s largest opportunity and it starts collectively with raising our advocacy voice at the State Capitol and individually by talking positively about Arizona and Tucson. An example is our image related to the quality of education in our City. But did you know that Tucson has two of the top ten High Schools in the nation per the U.S News and World Report in 2012 (University High School in TUSD and charter school Basis Tucson)? Our community conversation should focus on what we should be doing to replicate these incredible schools in our community. By changing the dialogue among us, we can change the perception of Arizona on the outside. With the incredible impact of social media – it’s time we create our own news.
Our Governor’s message of “kick starting the economy” can start with each of us. Take the time to focus on growing your own business or your employers by researching new markets. Start a discussion with a neighbor or colleague at work about what is going right in Tucson and how you can get involved. Together let’s engage on how to improve the Tucson economy.