Mesa Mayor Scott Smith unveiled several initiatives for 2012 to grow his city's economy while working with other East Valley communities to boost the entire region.
Job creation is at the core of the initiatives, which include plans to expand health care, the cultural economy, educational offerings, aerospace and business development.
He said Mesa will make it easier for businesses to expand or move into the city by embedding city employees with the Mesa Chamber of Commerce. A Start Up Mesa office and website will help businesses solve problems instead of getting tangled in red tape, he said.
"Around the East Valley, we want to make this area - especially Mesa - the most business-friendly place in America," Smith said. "Now, a lot of people say that. We want to do something that actually creates that."
Smith outlined his plans to a crowd of 500 at Thursday's annual state of the city address. He said the city's finances were still in free-fall a year ago but they're finally starting to emerge from the recession. Sales tax revenue was up 4 percent in the past year.
The previous year brought a $300 million First Solar plant, rapid expansion at Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport, federal funding for a 3.1-mile Metro light rail extension and the announcement of a Benedictine University campus downtown, among other things.
Still, he said the city is at a crossroads.
Mesa is growing because it's been investing in its future rather than relying on external events to improve, Smith said. He called for more of that.
"Simply surviving was not an option," he said. "We were not going to sit there and simply let the world control us. We were going to do whatever we could to thrive."
Additional plans for 2012 include marketing a medical corridor with Gilbert, continuing to recruit college campuses downtown and in the Fiesta District, expanding the number of airlines serving Gateway, starting construction of the Chicago Cubs spring training complex and holding a summit on downtown. Another summit will address the ailing Fiesta District, where Mesa plans to begin a $10 million streetscape project this year.
Smith's major initiative from last year will take shape soon. He's awaiting the final report from a citizen committee overseeing iMesa, an initiative to have residents suggest projects to improve the community.
He said the needs for some improvements is obvious, like the city's once-enviable park system becoming tired and old. Also, one-third of the city lacks bus service. Residents came up with other things that weren't on the radar of city officials, he said.
"What we found is that we as leaders sometimes underestimate or undervalue what our own citizens want," he said. "They think bigger than we do. They're not as afraid of the quote in the paper or the next election, and that's how it should be. In some ways, leaders should follow their constituents in a way that they don't now."
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