It must be a bummer being Mesa's economic development director in the time of cholera.
That was essentially my opening line when I sat down a few days ago with the city's economic development director, William Jabjiniak.My outlook and line of questioning was unquestionably gloomy.
And why not?
My 401(k) is in the dumps. I had just returned from a Christmas trip to Ohio where I had braved ice storms and a windchill of 40 degree below zero.
I had returned to a home that has likely lost more than 25 percent of its value and to state that is in the bull's-eye of a national recession and to a city that, according to an Arizona State University study, is more dependent on construction jobs than its neighboring cities.
Just try to find a construction job.
Now, I wasn't entirely negative.
Maybe the end of the good times is an opportunity to get more respect for diverse economic development efforts in a city that for years feasted off of a one-course meal of residential growth, I offered.
Jabjiniak didn't take the bait.
He was deliberate, thoughtful and craftsman-like in his response.
He began by pointing out that Banner Health will be reopening Banner Mesa Medical Center near Brown Road and Country Club Drive as a central technology and training center. That's 1,100 jobs right there.
He mentioned Waxie Sanitary Supply, which has turned dirt on a warehouse and office facility on Greenfield Road near Falcon Field. The company will employ 80 workers when it opens in the fourth quarter of this year.
The new Hawker Beechcraft and Cessna airplane service facilities at Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport will accept their first planes next week, he said.
And, oh yes, SolFocus of Mountain View, Calif., has opened a facility near Falcon Field. The company manufactures solar energy products and is testing them at the city's water treatment plant on Brown Road, Jabjiniak said.
He pointed to Toby Keith's "I Love This Bar & Grill" that will open this year in the Mesa Riverview shopping center. The music-themed bar, restaurant and concert venue will be big enough to seat 800 people. Mesa is the home of the fourth such Toby Keith entertainment center in the entire country.
Jabjiniak said CMC steel group is still on target to open a mill this year in southeast Mesa. The mill will recycle steel into rebar.
"I'm happy. I'm smiling," Jabjiniak said. "There are always ways we can do things better."
One thing he would like to do better is leverage the Boeing Co. Apache helicopter assembly plant on McDowell Road. He sees opportunity to bring more suppliers to sites near the plant, such as the 85,000-square-foot, $12 million manufacturing and technology center that the Ohio-based Timken Co. built.
Jabjiniak said that when he moved to Mesa from Richmond, Va., 15 months ago, he did not understand the role aerospace played in Mesa's economy.
He does now.
Bringing new companies to Mesa gets the press, but Jabjiniak said 90 percent of all jobs are created by existing businesses.
With that in mind, his department has so far charted 72 existing businesses. The message to them, Jabjiniak said, is a simple question:
How do we help you?
I like that. Whether justified or not, Mesa city government has had a reputation of being unfriendly toward business. That reputation can be turned around with a sincere offer to help and by doing so.
So what would help him do his job?
Jabjiniak is very much aligned with the Greater Phoenix Economic Council's efforts to put Arizona on equal footing with Oregon in attracting solar energy companies.
Oregon is not nearly as sunny as Arizona, but it is offering bottom-line sunshine with incentives that Arizona cannot now compete against. GPEC and Jabjiniak want the Legislature to level the playing field.
I'm still bummed about the economy.
But as I left Jabjiniak's office, I realized the cholera cloud over my head had broken up and I was feeling much about Mesa's job-growth future.
Postscript: This is my final column as the Tribune's executive editor. The Tribune is undergoing a transformation and the news operation in the future will be ably led by Chris Coppola, who has been my managing editor.
Until destiny presents a different direction, I hope to continue writing occasional columns for the Trib about the East Valley and its people. Perhaps in some small way, I can walk the path with those dedicated to the prosperity and livability of this place in the desert.
Readers can contact Jim Ripley at firstname.lastname@example.org.