This year’s Gilbert mayoral election pits current mayor John Lewis against former mayor Steve Berman again, in a rematch of the 2009
For both men, getting the economy and business to flourish in the town is a top priority.
“Currently, Gilbert has reached two-thirds residential build-out, but it’s only at one-third build-out for commercial development,” Lewis said.
He plans to emphasize commercial development, creating a more inviting environment for larger businesses, while still continuing to support small business, he said.
Commercial development is also important to Berman, who believes that rezoning commercial land for residential is something the town should not do.
“We can’t continue to lose our major employers,” Berman said, referring to Infusionsoft, which is moving to Chandler. “I will call on the businesses that have decided to leave Gilbert and try to reverse the decisions. I plan to hold a summit for our larger employers and reaffirm their commitment to stay in Gilbert. Next, we need to pursue new businesses and bring them in to Gilbert.”
However, Lewis said that the town has already worked extensively to keep Infusionsoft in Gilbert, but was unable to find a suitable location.
“We’ve had a very close relationship with Infusionsoft and met with them three times over the last year,” Lewis said. “We tried to find the right spot for them in Gilbert. They have 300 employees with plans for 1,000. We did not have the inventory to meet their need by their December 2012 deadline.”
Infusionsoft employees will still be able to live and shop in Gilbert, Lewis said. “They’re still in close proximity.”
Since the both men have been mayor, it’s important to look at the town’s distinctions, Berman said.
During his tenure, Gilbert was named by CNN the 28th best small city in the country to live, a distinction that it no longer can claim, Berman said.
Lewis countered, “Gilbert is the fastest growing city in Arizona. Gilbert is no longer in the top 100 because the 2010 census places the town over 200,000 in population and we are no longer considered a small community.”
The town continues to see one of the highest number of housing permits in the valley this year.
“In the last three years, there have been challenges during the economic crisis,” Lewis said. “The state had hundreds of thousands of jobs lost and that affected Gilbert. The challenges that Gilbert faced is that it didn’t have enough large businesses and it was easier to find a home somewhere else.”
Berman said, “The simple fact is that every city faced (the economic recession). The economy is a national issue, not a local issue. They faced it, they just didn’t face it well.”
Berman points to the reduction of library hours and a number of businesses that have or are planning to leave Gilbert.
But Lewis said Gilbert did not have a strategic plan for over 10 years. “We faced a $14 million dollar deficit in 2009,” he said. “In 2010, we started writing a strategic plan and now we’ve started to implement those plans.”
The plans focus on community livability, becoming a technology leader, creating a rolling five-year balanced financial plan, proactively addressing infrastructure needs and economic development with a focus on bio-medical sciences.
While the two familiar faces go head-to-head at the polls next month, it’s important to note that both agree on what makes Gilbert great.
“The best thing Gilbert has and always has had is its ambiance,” Berman said. “Small town feel — what does that mean? It’s the feeling that everyone is important.”
Lewis said, “Gilbert continues to have that wonderful small town feel with all the big city amenities.”
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