I climbed out of my funk that was half cabin fever from the rare Seattle snow (thank God, I'm downtown and not out in the suburbs) and part brain damage from the GOP debates. So far my nomination for the most under-covered Arizona story of the year goes to the abrupt resignation of Don Cardon as head of the state Commerce Authority. The Phoenix Business Journal carried the story. Then Betty Beard of the Republic wrote something more in depth:
Cardon, 51, said he believes it is a good time to leave because the commerce authority gives the state a good foundation for job recruitment, the Legislature has enacted more laws to help lure businesses and because there is improved cooperation among business and political leaders.
Cardon said he is especially pleased that the state recently attracted Silicon Valley Bank, which plans to build an operations center in Tempe, because it is a major venture-capital firm. All in all, he said, economic development efforts have come together faster than he expected.
Yet the "why" of old-school journalism remains largely unanswered.
Then Cardon received a compensation package of $1 million over three years. It didn't hurt that he had become buds with Jerry Colangelo and Ken Kendrick. According to the Republic, he said he will repay half the salary to the authority's new CEO. "I am a visionary type of person, and I love to create what can be, especially in difficult situations. That's how I came up with the idea of CityScape and how I suggested the idea of privatizing the department of commerce," he said. OK. But the fact remains that the authority is a nebulous thing, lacking the economic-development toolbox denied the old Commerce Department for years. It makes one go, "Hmmmm."
Apparently nobody in a leadership position thinks Arizona needs the toolbox. The old game of low-wage back-office, tourism, service and warehouse ("fulfillment center") jobs, along with a real-estate recovery will make everything dandy again. Thus, Peoria wants to make its "old town" into an entertainment district. Surprise still wants to build a "downtown," just like Scottsdale's. Really. Tucson's plan, a bit more urban, is to offer free rent to somebody, anybody, who will locate downtown. In Phoenix, the old Chris-Town is trying to reinvent itself again — too bad the former owners were so foolish that they refused an offer to let light-rail have a station inside the mall. Deck chairs are shuffled and pieces of the pie stolen, as the "University" of Phoenix moves out of old office space off the Maricopa Freeway in the city over to new digs in Tempe. (Why is it that the UofP, one of the few substantial local headquarters, has no presence whatsoever in the Central Corridor?) With the vast Phoenix Desert Ridge flailing amid the wreckage of CityNorth, Mayor Greg Stanton wants to make it a biotech hub. No mention of the affect this will have on the still slow-moving Phoenix Biosciences Campus downtown. Why not just de-annex Desert Ridge? Scottsdale wants to build three new resorts near the McDowell Mountains. Abundant transit will no doubt be provided for the working poor who will staff these sunning spaces for the toffs from out of town.
And, of course, real estate. An 800-house "planned community" will break ground on the old GM proving grounds in far-away Mesa. Really. In fact, this backbone remains broken. The median house price in metro Phoenix last year was $125,000, compared with $260,000 in 2007 — and this is a median including all that stucco crap built out in the 'burbs. As far as existing house sales, 2011 saw 125 fewer than the previous year, according to an ASU report. Faced with a dismal report, the East Valley Tribune tried to focus on foreclosures being bad, but not that bad. C'mon. No wonder the employment situation remains dismal. Yet the boosters are undaunted, predicting such a stunning comeback that the metro will face a housing shortage by spring. Really, the housing market is "on the mend." This would be a laffer if not reported by a supposedly serious news outlets and believed by millions.
Meanwhile, Education Week's annual Quality Counts report places Arizona 44th out of 51 nationally (states plus D.C.), down two ranks from a year ago. The boosters may say, "Hey, we got a C-minus!" But that won't cut it in the competitive world economy. And in fact, school finance, K-12 achievement and the teaching profession all received Ds. Yet the state is focused on closing down that commie ethnic studies program in Tucson and furthering its reputation of intolerance and hate, hardly a draw for talent and capital however many Canadians buy a few cheap tract houses during the bust.
The focus remains where it has been stuck for years: On development for development's sake. The worst that could happen would be a temporary return to the old pathology boom, for it would only reinforce the delusions that drive what passes for leadership in Arizona. The focus should be on ensuring an excellent public education, especially for the children of the working poor, attracting foreign direct investment, building export industries, sticking with one sector in one location (the downtown biosciences campus) in an effort to create one successful high-wage cluster, tamping down the white-right extremism and driving serious non-real estate economic development. But, no. It's so 2007. In their minds, at least. So Phoenix and Arizona will continue to underperform, continue in a depression. Happy centennial. It's all Obama's fault, right?