KINGMAN – The city hired Economic Director Jeff Weir for no small task – initiate a process to create an economic development strategic plan.
Designing a road map for a community’s economic objectives is similar to coming up with a successful long-term business plan, said Weir, who has a background in strategic business planning and most recently served as economic director of Oro Valley, a community just north of Tucson.
Weir said he left Oro Valley with a vision set into motion and progressively moving forward on its own momentum.
Creating an economic vision would incorporate Mohave County’s North River Economic Region plan, the city’s growth strategy and General Plan, educational teams, consideration for infrastructure, and roles of the Chamber of Commerce and the existing business community.
First off, Weir said the city would kick off a retention-expansion program.
“If we’re not aware of what’s going on, the easiest way of finding out is go ask. Plus it strengthens the relationships,” he said about working with existing businesses.
“This effort will allow us to knit something a little bit closer, and for us to listen to them, too.”
Weir said the city’s economic strategy would be tightly coordinated with Airport Authority Bob Riley’s effort to bring more businesses into the city’s industrial park.
“Once we can have a chance to look forward, try to understand what we think we want to be, see how realistic that can be, then we need to prepare people here for those new employment opportunities, what the new job skills are, what the young people coming through our school systems can anticipate, and what we can feed back to the educators to better prepare kids to get a job and keep a job.”
Weir said that requires working with employers to identify their ongoing training needs and working closer with the community college and the high schools.
“I know a lot of that goes on, but there’s never enough of it,” he said.
“It’s so important for businesses to have a quality workforce, because if they don’t, they’ll go somewhere else in a heartbeat.”
Weir said he would not want to see a situation that exists in Globe or Payson, where people leave because of a lack of jobs.
“What happens in too many instances is that the young people go, they set their roots into the new place, they have their own families and it becomes their home,” he said.
“I know for a lot of people here already, that is the number one thing, will you please focus on creating job opportunities of our children.”
Reflecting on his past experience in Oro Valley, Weir said the city involved about 700 people in the community to identify “here’s what we would like, here’s our expectations for ourselves and our children” and the kinds of jobs and businesses that community desired. From there, the city worked with developers in a 3- to 5-year process of bringing in businesses, the first of its kind in the Tucson region.
The city, he said, worked with developers through every part of the review process.
“That’s why we were able to achieve so many things,” he said, mentioning an effort of the city bringing in a high tech company that drew other industry counterparts.
“All of this stuff really started fitting together, working with the residential community, building houses in the right way, a lot of open space, a lot of architectural planning and landscaping improvements,” he said. “I see that coming here in that way.
“We will sit with the development community. We will clearly identify what they need to do.”
Weir said the next 6 to 12 months would be an important part of coming up with a structure he described as weaving together what may be fragmented objectives.
Weir said the city’s development plan would have a major emphasis on downtown revitalization, and that would entail a lot of commitment from downtown merchants in terms of physical investment in the buildings, hours of operation, design and looking at redevelopment opportunities for affordable housing.
“We can’t allow the downtown to deteriorate, because once it’s gone you’ll never get it back,” Weir said.
Some of the businesses will have to change, some businesses will come in to bring more businesses, he predicted.
“We’re going to try to encourage more and more visitation activity,” he said.
“There’s all these things that we’re going to work on. It’s not just industry, it’s not just retail, it’s not just tourism, not just the downtown, it’s all these things and more that we’re going to be working on. Trying to find a way to provide to the people living here a nicer life, better paying jobs, more enjoyable things to do; have visitors come in and share with us this wonderful community. We’ve got a lot of work, a lot of things to do, but that’s why I think they created my position.”