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Forum’s Message: ‘Think regionally’

2013-11-13 22:21:14

“Think regionally.”

That is the message that attendees took away from this week’s regional economic forum organized by the Yuma Metropolitan Planning Organization.

The forum’s purpose was part of an effort to promote collaboration between all area agencies to reap the most benefit from economic opportunities.

The program targeted those “interested in logistics, transportation in a changing world, how we can strengthen our economy, and how we are working on our border economy, tourism and linking transportation,” Charlene FitzGerald, YMPO executive director, noted.

Speakers included representatives from the Arizona Commerce Authority, Arizona Department of Transportation, Arizona Office of Tourism, City of Yuma, City of San Luis, Greater Yuma Economic Development Corporation and Yuma Visitors Bureau.

Linda Jordan, executive director of the Yuma Visitors Bureau, stressed the need to “think regionally and work together with our neighbors south of the border to both attract people from Yuma to go there and for us to increase shopping and entertainment opportunities for them. And we want them to spend the night here when they’re shopping.”

Karen Churchard, an assistant deputy director of the Arizona Office of Tourism, also noted the impact tourism has on the local economy. She presented statistics on tourism in Arizona and what it brings to the state and Yuma County.

“It was very informative and educational. A lot of great information was presented, what our strengths and weaknesses are as far as economic development,” Jordan said.

She particularly liked the updates on the current efforts of the various agencies. “We learned what the many entities are doing and how it all fits together.”

Jordan also expressed appreciation to YMPO for taking the lead in organizing it.

Kevin Wilkins, economic development administrator for the City of Yuma, kicked off the forum with his talk “Economic Food for Thought.”

The forum “enlightened areas of consensus and opportunity of collaboration in regional efforts,” he said.

Those opportunities, Wilkins noted, include developing Yuma County as a binational region and strengthening the “interrelationships” between the top industries – tourism, agriculture and government.

He also appreciated the forum’s intended purpose of bringing so many agencies together. Local and state elected officials were also in attendance.

“It was well received by the attendees,” he said

FitzGerald explained that the forum grew out of a conversation between her and a group of local officials about how Yuma County can benefit from the economic opportunities in the state and Mexico.

The region has several advantages, such as the San Luis Port of Entry for commercial freight, railroad, Highway 95 and Interstate 8, that can be showcased, she pointed out.

“We’re a freight corridor from Mexico all the way to Canada, as well as east to west,” she said.

The forum has set the stage for a future bi-national economic forum with Sonora, Mexico, and elected officials to discuss transportation, trade and tourism and their utilities, FitzGerald said.

“Our local officials have joined together to show their sincerity and assured sense of importance in building an economic partnership and strengthened relationship with Arizona’s largest trading partner, Mexico,” she said.

“They are serious in joining together and connecting with Mexico, as we have been connected culturally and regionally and need to work together to support each nation’s economy.”

Mara Knaub can be reached at mknaub@yumasun.com or (928) 539-6856. Find her on Facebook at Facebook.com/YSMaraKnaub or Twitter at @YSMaraKnaub.