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Speaker’s Advice to Yuma: Market Uniqueness

2013-01-22 20:58:00

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The former mayor of Tempe had some words to the wise for Yuma as it seeks to encourage economic development and create jobs.

At the top of his list is advice that the community stay true to itself, said Hugh Hallman, guest speaker for Tuesday’s quarterly investors luncheon for Greater Yuma Economic Development Corporation.

Hallman, a life-long resident of Tempe, describes himself as an economist, attorney, politician and civic activist and since 2009 has served as headmaster of Tempe Preparatory Academy, a sixth- through 12-grade public school serving more than 450 students. He recently announced his candidacy for governor.

He noted that Yuma is similar to Tempe with its rich historic and cultural heritage. “Those unique elements can’t be duplicated anywhere else.”

Don’t bulldoze those historic buildings that line Yuma’s Historic North End, Hallman said. “Hang on to them … exploit those assets.”

Once they’re gone, the community will look like every other city, he warned. “Try not to give away your soul … don’t lose what you are to attract development.”

Hallman praised Yuma for stepping up and taking over its two historic state parks, the Yuma Territorial Prison and the Quartermaster Depot, when the state was going to close them for lack of funding.

He cautioned against cities getting into a competition with other cities in a bidding war to attract economic growth, committing taxpayer dollars that don’t result in the return expected and incurring a large debt service.

“That’s a race to the bottom,” he said.

Communities may try to hit home runs when it comes to economic development, only to find they picked a loser, he said. “It’s better to try to get some base hits that will serve you well.”

For example, he said, Tempe’s efforts to compete with Scottsdale by developing a golf course were ill advised. “The city was going to spend a lot of money to get people to come to Tempe. It didn’t look at how it might better attract business,” he noted, adding that’s why he ran for mayor.

One of the most effective economic development tools for a community is provide a business-friendly environment so developers know the rules, he said. He noted that at one time Tempe had a reputation as being one of the most difficult cities to deal with, and there was a tremendous cost to doing business.

The role of the city’s staff members should not be to put the barrier higher but to help people get through the process, he said. “Create a system that makes you a better place to do business.”

And when making a deal, the test should be whether it will generate new business and new money, Hallman said. “Watch out for politicians who create problems only they can fix.”

As for the idea of growth paying for growth, he agrees with the idea but not with the tools that have been used in the form of one-time payments of development fees. “That will chase off new opportunities,” he said. Instead, he suggested that cities could create an infrastructure development system that shifts the financial and construction burden to the private sector. It’s less expensive and faster, and the project’s investors pay for it through the property tax stream.