Mesa’s long and tumultuous path toward hiring a new economic development director seems to be nearing an end.
The city is currently considering three candidates from such faraway places as Richmond, Va., and Mesquite, Texas, and as close to home as Scottsdale.
Mesa recently hired a headhunting firm to help fill the position. The city’s Office of Economic Development hasn’t had a permanent director since Richard Mulligan left Mesa for Chandler in late 2005.
Terri Kilgore, appointed Mesa’s interim head, recently followed Mulligan to Chandler’s Economic Development Department.
Despite the defections, city officials are optimistic that a new director will help attract businesses to a city struggling just to keep libraries open on the weekends.
“Things are ripe for them to reorganize the office and make some good things happen here,” said Councilman Rex Griswold.
Mesa’s list of finalists includes: Thomas Palmer, who recently worked in economic development in Mesquite, Texas; William Jabjiniak, a city business manager from Richmond, Va.; and Katherine Hutton, who worked as an economic development manager in Scottsdale.
Roc Arnett, executive director of the East Valley Partnership, said he’s encouraged that the city is moving forward in its job search. The successful candidate will be responsible for recruiting new businesses, finding real estate for them and retaining existing businesses.
Two prior rounds of looking for a director came up fruitless. City Manager Chris Brady, in his second year, brings a strong development background to the city. Brady helped land a Toyota plant and a hotel-convention center as an assistant city manager in San Antonio.
However, Mesa’s reputation as a struggling city has hurt its search for a new manager, Arnett said.
“With Mesa’s issues and Mesa’s past — they have a certain kind of reputation around the country that has to be corrected and changed,” he said.
Officials say there’s plenty of work ahead for a new economic development director. The city’s plans to turn Williams Gateway into a bustling airport, revamp the Fiesta Mall area and usher light rail into downtown is going to take a new vision and approach, observers say.
The Mesa Chamber of Commerce is watching the city’s moves with interest, but is also taking steps of its own.
The chamber launched a study with Arizona State University Polytechnic in Mesa to determine what the city’s longterm economic future could hold.
Members of community groups active in aging west Mesa said the city’s new economic development director will be important to the emergence of light rail downtown and businesses around it.
“This is the perfect opportunity for a fresh look at things,” said Tanya Collins, with the Mesa Grande Community Alliance.
Thomas Palmer: His most recent positions include manager of economic development for Mesquite, Texas, and executive director of Frisco Economic Development Corp. in Frisco, Texas. Palmer has a bachelor’s degree in environmental design from Texas A&M University and a master’s degree in planning from the University of Virginia.
William Jabjiniak: His most recent positions include business management officer for Richmond, Va., and director of economic development for Richmond’s Department of Economic Development. Jabjiniak has a bachelor’s degree in accounting from Franklin Pierce College in Rindge, N.H., a master’s degree in business administration and a master’s degree in community economic development from Southern New Hampshire University.
Katherine Hutton: Her most recent positions include economic development manager for Scottsdale and economic development specialist for Scottsdale. Hutton received a bachelor’s degree in regional development from the University of Arizona and a master’s degree in business administration from Arizona State University.