In light of Mesa’s recent economic successes, Mesa’s mayor and city manager think the city can be choosier in the future about which projects get the welcome mat from the city.
City leaders were addressing local business leaders at the Economic Development Advisory Board meeting on earlier this month.
Everyone who spoke there agreed that Mesa has had an incredible economic run in recent years, attracting Fortune 500 and Fortune 50 companies to the city and seeing long-planned tech and manufacturing zones flourish.
The city exceeded all of its economic development goals for fiscal year 2022, and in some cases smashed them, attracting $2.8 billion in capital investment against a goal of $500 million.
“These achievements are just magnificently wonderful and beyond anything I thought we would ever see here,” said board President Rich Adams, CEO of Southwest Business Credit Services. “When I talk with people in other parts of the country, business connections and others through networking, Mesa is becoming known for what we’re doing here.”
Mayor John Giles agreed, saying that Mesa was becoming more of a household name across the country – and world.
“In Mesa, it seems to be our time,” Giles said.
One way in which Mesa’s development landscape is changing, Giles said, is that the city has fewer mega-parcels of undeveloped land available – plots hundreds of acres in size.
Now that so many companies are interested in Mesa, the city can be a little pickier, Giles said.
Giles and City Manager Chris Brady both expressed a desire to raise expectations for future developments and become more selective about which projects get the city’s support.
Brady told the board that prospective developers should bring more to the table for that support, including higher wages, more jobs per acre and a demonstrated commitment to the community, including local hiring.
“I think in the past maybe we’ve kind of gone after big quantities and big boxes, and I don’t think we need to do that,” Brady said, adding:
“I think that gave us some name recognition, but frankly, sometimes the ratio of jobs to footage is probably not what we want, and they can become big demands on some of our scarce resources.”
“I think we’re in a position now where we can say, ‘we want you to come, but your wages have to be better than average,” Brady continued. “If you want something from the city, you’re going to have to show that you’re hiring from Mesa, Arizona.”
It was a timely moment for the remarks as the city prepares to begin its next General Plan update, a document that guides future zoning and development.
The city manager is currently assembling staff and consultants to assist in the process. In August, the city announced the hiring of a new planning director to play a leading role in long-term planning.
Mary Kopaskie-Brown, currently the acting deputy director and city planner for Riverside, California will oversee long-range planning while Development Services Director Nana Appiah will focus on more immediate projects.
“I think we do need to put an emphasis on raising the bar and saying that, ‘thank you, we appreciate everyone’s interest in coming to Mesa, but we can afford now to be a little more selective in the things that we embrace, and the things that we that we bring our resources of government to,’” Giles said.
The mayor said in the next General Plan update, the city should try to “articulate that and put it on paper … and see how people feel about it.”
Another focus of the mayor’s vision for the city’s next phase is workforce development. He said many businesses in Mesa have told him how critical access to talent is for them and Giles wants to see the city’s education rates grow.
“Mesa is, you know, a very large city surrounded by some affluent, smaller cities and in comparison, our higher education attainment was not where we want it to be,” Giles said. “We want to be more of a college town. We want to produce more people going into post high school education programs.”
Consequently, a priority for the mayor is collaboration between the city and schools, from K-12 through the university level.
Giles is also high on the idea of “innovation districts,” and partnerships with universities is a key component of this idea.
The city has invested millions to try setting up an innovation district in downtown Mesa, spearheaded by its $90 million investment in the Media and Immersive Experience building, which the city is leasing to ASU to house the Mesa campus of its film school.
The building welcomed its first ASU film students last month.
Giles is also excited about expansion of ASU’s Polytechnic Campus next to Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport. ASU announced the launch of an Advanced Manufacturing Science and Technology Center at the campus this year, and Giles said this will support workforce development.
The city manager was in lock step with the mayor’s views.
Brady said he sees technology and “the collision of the academic and the technology (and) the private sector,” as the sweet spot for Mesa in the future.
“Technology related to electric vehicles and batteries, and as the mayor said, the semiconductors, we see those as the future of Mesa, because they’re already starting to show up in certain ways, and I think we can keep playing to that,” Brady said.