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Saturday, July 22, 2017

Bringing Big Business to South Mountain

Even though national retailers such as Target, Lowe’s and Wal-Mart opened in recent years, the desire for more big businesses remains strong among many South Mountain-area residents. But attracting larger brands remains a challenge, especially during the economic downturn.

So what can a community do to attract big businesses?

According to local developer Michael Moreines, who owns three retail centers in Laveen, effort now more than ever must come from residents.

“I really think, at this stage of the game, the community as a whole should try to approach the types of businesses they would like to see,” he said, adding that forming a community-led economic development board might be necessary. “Until we really get a full community (involved), all we’ll be doing is chasing.”

The problem commercial developers now face is the lack of financial incentives to lure big businesses. In addition, many national retailers aren’t doing deals right now, since the promise of buyers if a business builds isn’t enough.

“It goes back to the economy and what’s happening on Wall Street and the bankers – that’s what the dilemma is out here,” Moreines said.

Steve Glueck, executive director/membership development for the South Mountain/Laveen Chamber of Commerce, agrees that community support is key. He encourages residents to move from beyond just living and investing in the community to serving as advocates.

The problem, Glueck said, is more people want things done than are willing to get involved. One way he suggests combating this challenge is by encouraging residents to share their passion for the community with others.

“As you travel about and you engage in conversation with a restaurant owner or people who are interested in the Phoenix area, you can begin to talk about what makes your community attractive and a worthwhile investment,” he stressed.

On a larger scale, competition is an additional challenge. Neighborhoods from around the Valley also compete for the same big businesses. As a result, other factors in creating an attractive environment come into play, such as the political environment, education base and taxes.

These are among the issues Glueck and several other community leaders are tackling as part of the President’s Community Advisory Council at South Mountain Community College. The group’s three focus areas include job development, education and civic engagement.

“We’re looking at what can we do better as a community in terms of identifying what the community wants, what’s our community voice and what issues are important to us – and then taking that as a coalition to the influencers in those areas,” Glueck said.

Competition was also mentioned by Bruce MacTurk, deputy economic development director for the City of Phoenix’s Community and Economic Development Department, as a factor in attracting bigger businesses. The good news, he said, is the South Mountain area features assets found in few places around the Valley, which leads to more aggressive marketing at the city level.

“When we’re selling, it gets down to our workforce, as well as the inventory of available land, buildings, business parks and all the infrastructure,” he explained. “It (the South Mountain area) is a very good product to sell for prospective companies coming into the region and those considering staying there.”

Through combined efforts with the Arizona Commerce Authority and Greater Phoenix Economic Council, MacTurk said 13 new businesses have opened in just District 8 during the last 2.5 years.

In addition to marketing, the city is on continuous search for ways to generate funding for projects, added Donna Stevens, economic development program manager for the City of Phoenix’s Community and Economic Development Department. In the South Mountain area, current attention is going toward redevelopment.

“Our division is looking to establish a redevelopment area to potentially get more federal funding,” she said.

Stevens emphasized that retail throughout the Valley is expected to increase within the next year or two, adding that her department is in preliminary talks with a few developers to bring more national retailers to the area.

In Laveen, future development hinges on what happens with the South Mountain Freeway.

“Especially around that area, we have commercial interest.” Stevens added. “But it all depends on that (freeway) alignment.”

Victor Vidales, owner of RE/MAX New Heights Realty, see franchises as one way to bring more national and international businesses to the South Mountain area. In addition to accomplishments achieved with his own business, Vidales points to success from other area franchises as proof of what’s possible.

“That national affiliation or national branding creates the opportunity for strong businesses here locally,” he said.

From a promotional perspective, Vidales believes national franchises are helpful in establishing a presence and providing opportunities to stay in front of the marketplace – benefits that aren’t always available with traditional businesses. Just this year, thanks in part to RE/MAX’s national and international TV and print ad campaigns, his business has served families from Australia, India, Mexico, Argentina and Canada.

“There would be no way I could afford that type of reach and brand recognition on my own,” Vidales said.

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