This could be a Mesa girl does good story.
But it’s really a story about how good it is for Mesa that a Mesa girl did good.
Karrin Kunasek Taylor was born and reared in Mesa. She graduated from Mountain View High School and received her law degree from Arizona State University.
Her eyes lit up as she talked about growing up in Mesa where her father, veteran lawmaker and former Arizona Senate President Carl Kunasek, owned three drug stores.*
To Taylor, these are once again exciting times for the city of Mesa.
“It’s professionally satisfying to see Mesa come into its own,” she said. “Mesa is moving in the right direction and I’m proud to be a part of that.”
Indeed. There is no denying her role in Mesa’s future and present.
Taylor is executive vice president and chief entitlements officer for DMB Associates.
DMB is a Scottsdale-based developer that six years ago bought five square miles of what had once been the General Motors Proving Grounds.
On it is staked much of Mesa’s future as well as DMB’s success.
The company on its website predicts that the area it has named Eastmark will become “the future heart and hub of the East Valley.”
And Taylor’s job has been to work with government and others who have a stake in the future of that 3,200 acres in southeast Mesa.
She said her task has been to manage “a huge zoning case.”
But it has become much more than that and that’s why I first crossed paths with Taylor while working not on a column about Eastmark but about rumblings of discontent over Arizona’s seeming laissez-faire approach to new aerospace opportunities.
“Call Karrin Taylor,” I was told when I asked how I could learn more about a meeting held in Mesa Mayor Scott Smith’s office on Jan. 4.
Taylor was at the meeting along with others who felt Arizona was not moving aggressively enough to compete with other states for federal designation as a test area for unmanned aircraft system – what we commonly call drones.
States are fiercely competing for that designation, knowing that it will mean coveted aerospace jobs, and that’s something Smith and, to my surprise, Taylor have made a priority.
It was “frustrating to be unable to coalesce leadership,” she had told me in January.
In other words, state leaders did not seem to be getting their act together.
The tracks of other states in the hunt, from North Dakota to Virginia, are all over the place.
Not long ago an East Valley aerospace development advocate emailed me a Jan. 19 letter from the governors of Maryland and Virginia to the U.S. Secretary of Transportation on the matter. Here is an excerpt to give you a flavor of the competition:
“…aUAS Test Range based in the MD-VA region offers the FAA the
lowest risk and highest value proposition….
“Facilities in both states have extensive experience integrating UAS into the national air space.
“Our states have the capability to be the center of gravity for UAS operations.”
Days after the meeting in Smith’s office, the Arizona Commerce Authority designated retired US Air Force Gen. John Regni, who had been at the mayor’s meeting, and Vicki Panhuise, chairman of the Arizona Aerospace and Defense Commission, to get Arizona in the game.
“Are they moving in the right direction?” I asked Taylor, referring to an action plan that Regni and Panhuise have put together.
“Absolutely,” she replied.
Taylor dates her involvement in Arizona aerospace issues to 2006 when DMB bought the proving grounds land, due east of Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport.
At the time, Mesa state lawmaker Kirk Adams, who would become speaker of the Arizona House, told her and DMB: “Whatever you do, don’t do anything that will hurt Boeing.”
Taylor was invited to a subsequent meeting at ASU with Boeing officials and William Harris, president of Science Foundation Arizona.
“Everybody became aware that we don’t focus on the aerospace industry,” Taylor said. That was about to change.
As the economy was making a sharp turn toward a recession that would devastate the housing industry, DMB began to recognize that it had to put its back into high quality job development if its planned communities were going to be successful.
The growth industry has come to realize that, “Arizona can’t survive on the growth,” Taylor said.
“The focus is to bring high wage jobs that will sustain the economy which, at the end of the day, is good for us.”
With the Eastmark development close to the airport and former Air Force base and aviation embedded in the area’s DNA, aerospace job development made a lot of sense to Taylor.
She also came to the attention of aviation interests in the West Valley where she was made an honorary commander at Luke Air Force Base.
Her range of aerospace connections grew beyond the state’s borders when she was selected to be on U.S. Air Force Chief of Staff’s civic leadership group—an assignment that has taken her to such places as Afghanistan and Dubai.
I tracked Mesa Mayor Smith down after Monday evening’s council meeting to ask him about Taylor.
He called her an “active and vocal” leader in Mesa and Arizona aerospace efforts.
He talked about Mesa’s efforts “to raise the bar on what we want to accomplish.”
“Karen has been the glue,” he said. “Without her this whole effort might have fallen apart.”
Does it matter that she is a Mesa native?
“It makes a lot of difference,” Smith answered without hesitating. “She’s proud of her community.”
“What she does is her passion. It’s out of her love for Arizona, Mesa and a sense of civic responsibility,” Smith continued, making note of her father’s many years in the legislature and with the Arizona Corporation Commission.
“Passion.” it’s not a word that I would ordinarily think to couple with zoning lawyer.
But it fits Taylor.
Oh, there’s one more thing that drives her passion.
She’s a mom with four kids.
“I don’t want my kids going away and not coming back,” she told as I detected an ever so slight tremble in her voice.
“I want there to be opportunities in Arizona for my kids to come home to.”
*[Editor's note (March 23, 2012)] Information reported in the original version of this column, appearing in print and online March 21, 2012, was found to be in error. A note from the author: "Reader Corrine Brooks called to tell me that I erred in reporting that Carl Kunasek owned Everybody's Drugs in downtown Mesa, While he owned other drugstores, Corrine said she and her husband, Al, bought Everybody's Drugs in 1966. Thank you for being a reader, Corrine, and thanks for the correction."
Jim Ripley is the former executive editor of the East Valley Tribune. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.