Economic development by the state of Arizona is about undergo a welcome shake-up, as Gov. Janet Napolitano moves to put many of the main players in the same room to craft a common strategy for attracting new businesses and for boosting wages and salaries.
Napolitano announced last week the state will create a new nonprofit group called the Arizona Economic Resource Organization. The intent is to unite under the same umbrella the various state agencies and quasi-private organizations that receive tax dollars for business recruitment, marketing and promoting homegrown entrepreneurship, the governor said.
“We’ve taken what heretofore have been a very kind of disparate, disorganized quite frankly, economic development strategy for the state…into one strategy that’s going to drive all of our marketing efforts,” Napolitano said at a news conference. “We’ve never before done that.”
Napolitano also said AERO will invite major employers, through both brain power and private dollars, to join the collaboration. But to be a true melding of public and private interests, rather than just a repackaging of what the state already does, AERO should lift some responsibilities off taxpayers.
At the very least, AERO should take the lead on business recruitment research and contacts now handled by the state Department of Commerce. Napolitano wants AERO to have more influence than a typical advisory council, which means it should be charged with carrying out the policies it creates rather than deferring those tasks back to the state.
Such a bold change isn’t likely on Napolitano’s watch, as the Commerce Department has been a reliable patronage outlet for loyal supporters. The current agency director, Jan Lesher, was a longtime Democratic activist in Tucson before she joined Napolitano’s administration in 2003. The current agency spokeswoman, Pati Urias, has been a Napolitano press aide for more than a decade.
Lesher told us the Commerce Department will be getting bigger, not smaller, in the near future. Statistics researchers from the Department of Economic Security will be moving in and a new office for smart growth planning will be created.
We hope AERO will bring together state agencies and other interests to effectively promote Arizona. But the Legislature, perhaps under Napolitano’s successor in 2011, should seize this opportunity to shrink the size of government while operating smarter.