Scottsdale City Council candidates talk future of economic development

Scottsdale voters will elect three people to serve as members of Scottsdale City Council on Tuesday, Nov. 6. This election year features five candidates seeking three City Council seats.

The incumbents are: Kathy Littlefield, David Smith and Linda Milhaven; meanwhile, the challengers are Bill Crawford and Solange Whitehead.

In partnership, the Scottsdale Area Chamber of Commerce and the Scottsdale Independent are hosting a candidate debate from 6 to 7:30 p.m., Monday, Oct. 1 at City Hall, 3939 N. Drinkwater Blvd. This will be aired on local cable access.

The field is set, and the Independent offers its fifth installment of an eight-part, question-and-answer series, helping readers better understand the motivations and beliefs of the five candidates.

The Independent reached out to each candidate seeking their interpretation of how the municipality ought to encourage economic development within city limits and this is what they had to say:

Kathy Littlefield

Kathy Littlefield

•How would you like to see the city of Scottsdale encourage economic development within municipal boundaries?

Scottsdale is a worldwide and world-class destination. It is also the most successful tourist destination in the Phoenix metropolitan area. Our success is due to our unique and special character.

What makes Scottsdale special?

  • High standards for design, development and code enforcement;
  • Lots of open space;
  • Unobstructed views of the stunning natural landscape;
  • Low density; and
  • A unique Western character all our own.

One reason I oppose over-development is because it cheapens Scottsdale’s special character and makes our city less desirable as a tourist destination. This actually hurts our economy.

It also lowers the quality of life for the residents the City Council is supposed to be protecting. If we allow over-development to turn Scottsdale into just another bland suburb people will stop wanting to come here and our economy will suffer.  So, the first thing we should do to encourage economic development within municipal boundaries is to not kill the goose that lays our golden eggs by overdeveloping Scottsdale.

•If elected as a member of council, what role will you play to help encourage both economic development and diversification?

Like every city, we need economic growth and we also need economic diversification to protect our economy from the periodic downturns that occur in Arizona.

But, whatever we do it must not be at the expense of the things that make Scottsdale a great tourist destination, as well as a great place to live. One area, which fits into Scottsdale’s unique character, is medical tourism.
This is actually a “growth industry” with the increasing number of aging Baby Boomers and their subsequent increasing demand for medical services. In addition, this is an “industry” we can grow without compromising Scottsdale’s special character and high quality of life.

Scottsdale is uniquely suited to tap this market because of our tourism infrastructure and our proximity to top-notch health care facilities. During my first term in office, I have supported the growth of medical tourism in Scottsdale and will continue to do so if I am re-elected.

•Beyond tourism and the service industry how do you envision the municipality expanding its economic base?

I am open to new proposals for economic growth as long as they do not compromise Scottsdale’s special character and high quality of life.

Biotech and Infotech companies, for instance, are excellent fits for Scottsdale’s high quality of life and low cost of living compared to other high-tech hubs. I also support updating and expanding as needed our current tourism venues and event locations.

Examples of these are the Giants Stadium, the Museum of the West, and WestWorld. I support compatible construction in downtown to mesh with Old Town, the Arts District and the historic areas with the newer hotels and tourist venues that are being considered.

My major concern is that we do all of our approvals in light of what we want our city to become. As I visit with developers and their legal representatives regarding various projects, I ask these kinds of questions. I also listen to the nearby current residents to hear how they feel and what they would like to see.

Bill Crawford

Bill Crawford

•How would you like to see the city of Scottsdale encourage economic development within municipal boundaries?

Allow the private sector to thrive and be great. And that means keeping our taxes low and reducing constrictive, burdensome and obstructive rules and regulations that thwart the development of new business in Scottsdale.
When possible, we need to expedite the timelines that slow down business development and add significantly to the cost of developing and opening new businesses in Scottsdale. The path of least resistance should not be going to a competing municipality because Scottsdale is just too hard to do business in.

With a forward-thinking city government, low taxes and a business-friendly regulatory environment, we will continue to bring companies to Scottsdale that produce high-quality jobs and enrich our quality of life.

•If elected as a member of council, what role will you play to help encourage both economic development and diversification?

As a successful business owner/operator in downtown Scottsdale for more than 20 years, I will embrace a role as the council’s go-to person to showcase the great opportunities available here. I bring to the table 40-plus years of business development, management and consulting experience locally, nationally and internationally. I believe there is no substitute for my decades of practical experience.

I will introduce business owners and leaders to city staff, showcase potential locations and sites, and serve as the Scottsdale intermediary to further their interests in bringing business and jobs to our city.

•Beyond tourism and the service industry how do you envision the municipality expanding its economic base?

Scottsdale’s tourism and service industries are pillars of our city’s economic base, but we must always look for ways to expand and improve our economy.

Here are some ways to expand our economic base:

  1. We have our own world-class airport with a commercial community around it. This has huge potential for national and international business development.
  2. We have a major investment by the health care industry including our “Cure Corridor” (Scottsdale’s high concentration of health care research and treatment facilities) which has the potential to be a world leader and destination for medical research and lifesaving procedures.
  3. In our downtown area, we can build first class AAA office space, attracting the top companies and their employees.
  4. Our shopping options downtown and along Scottsdale Road bring consumers from around the world to shop in the best stores available anywhere in a clean, safe environment.

These are strengths and attributes Scottsdale owns that have been developed over decades and we can continue to build on them.

As someone who has owned and operated businesses for more than 40 years, I know how to get things done. I have strong working relationships with our city’s business and community leaders. Together, we’ve developed the mantra, “Don’t put off until tomorrow what you can do right now.”

Solange Whitehead

Solange Whitehead

•How would you like to see the city of Scottsdale encourage economic development within municipal boundaries?

Scottsdale is well positioned to attract new high wage employers so long as we realign priorities in areas that make Scottsdale valuable: our quality of life, open space, and low taxes.

Scottsdale is the perfect mix of rugged and elegant. We are affordable and luxurious and we have an international ‘brand’ with a provincial feel and very low crime. From retirees to young professionals, people chose Scottsdale because of the McDowell Sonoran Preserve and the City’s thriving dining, culture, and arts scene.

Data shows that these attributes, not corporate tax breaks, attract high wage employers in technology, health care, and green energy industries among other industries.

Today, Scottsdale is at a crossroads.

City Hall’s priorities are not aligned with community priorities draining critical tax dollars away from infrastructure maintenance, public safety investments, and our most valuable asset – the McDowell Sonoran Preserve – is under threat of development. To keep taxes low and quality of life high, the first priority is to get Scottsdale back on track financially.

Community benefit must be a requirement for tax dollar expenditure and funding of non-essential or special interest projects — both big and small — must end immediately. Development fees need to cover the development costs as done in other Valley cities and competitive bidding for City contracts a requirement. Incentivizing staff to implement costs saving measures has been successful in Phoenix and should be done in Scottsdale. These changes at City Hall will restore our City’s infrastructure and public trust and draw in new companies.

•If elected as a member of council, what role will you play to help encourage both economic development and diversification?

I am an electrical engineer and my husband is the chief technology officer for a Scottsdale-based technology company. We chose to raise our three kids here in Scottsdale because of the open space, low crime, and resort-like community amenities.

Scottsdale has what high-wage workforce demands in a community. To maintain that edge, we must make policy changes at City Hall as described above. Then prioritize infrastructure maintenance, public safety, quality of life investments, and protect our McDowell Sonoran Preserve.

I will work to restore Scottsdale’s leadership in green building, sustainability, and walkability as these fields create jobs, reduce living costs, and are increasingly important quality of life considerations for employers and employees.

I will strengthen Scottsdale’s culture of innovation by bringing together technology leaders to facilitate the creation (or strengthening) of a technology incubator center to provide support and synergy to attract new companies while assisting local fledgling companies off the ground.

I will work with staff to invite venture capital firms to tour Scottsdale as an affordable and educated location that can increase the success rate for companies within their portfolios.

I will protect the services used by our retired residents. Our top-notch hospitals, doctors, and research centers play a role in bringing retirees to Scottsdale. In turn, Scottsdale’s large retirement community serve as a draw for new health care related companies.

•Beyond tourism and the service industry how do you envision the municipality expanding its economic base?

Protect Scottsdale’s unique character, conservatively invest in progress that makes sense, regain our leadership in sustainability, and make open space, culture, and arts programming priorities.

David Smith

David Smith

•How would you like to see the city of Scottsdale encourage economic development within municipal boundaries?

I encourage economic development that serves the interests of citizens by enhancing the prosperity of those who now call Scottsdale home.

In February 2015, Council adopted an Economic Development Strategic Plan with strategies promising enhanced prosperity of citizens. It targeted industries, key markets for business attraction opportunities, and top strategies aimed at addressing business needs.

The strategic plan is implemented through our Economic Development Department whose work is overseen by the three-member Economic Development Subcommittee of the Council. I have been a member of this subcommittee since my election to Council in 2015.

Among our tangible business recruitment products, the city produces several business guides to facilitate business location decision-makers. These guides promote Scottsdale’s unique desirability as a place to live, learn, do business, work, recreate and visit.

Economic development begins with promoting Scottsdale to businesses and talent as a top location of choice for living, recreating, and growing an exceptional career or even starting a small business. Everything else builds on this cachet of our city’s livability.

•If elected as a member of council, what role will you play to help encourage both economic development and diversification?

The first challenge of economic development is to hold onto what you already have. To be effective, business retention and both require “speaking the language” of business decision-makers, understanding the financial and operational factors that drive their business decision-making.

My 40-year professional experience in private sector senior management positions give me an insight into the business location decision-making process. I have the credibility to hold discussions with companies who might be tempted to move from Scottsdale.

I can support efforts that enable Scottsdale’s present and future employers to cultivate, retain and attract the talent that they need. Economic development and job creation is something I’ve done!

As a small business owner of Scottsdale Airpark News for many years, I have also engaged with Scottsdale business executives, founders and other small business owners. I can effectively represent small business interests in the design of policies and programs that impact them. I can assist existing and new businesses to address challenges that may impede the retention and expansion of their business operations.

If reappointed to the Council’s Economic Development Subcommittee, I will now have years of relevant experience helping guide the city’s economic development activities. In the years to come, we can work to build a Scottsdale business location brand on a par with Scottsdale’s tourism brand.

•Beyond tourism and the service industry how do you envision the municipality expanding its economic base?

Scottsdale should always be a targeted recruiter, meaning we should always strive to attract the cream of available jobs and industries.

Several target industries were identified in the 2010 Economic Development Strategic Plan, each promising higher than average salaries for our community. These included health care and social assistant, professional, scientific & technical and finance and insurance.

Scottsdale already enjoys a significant position in each of these sectors and should continue to target these sectors for diversification in the future. To repeat the opening caveat, though, the key to economic development is to continually enhance the livability of the city, making it attractive for employers to locate here and for their workers to live and work here.

The entire city is our “front yard” and it matters to residents and businesses what happens throughout our city. We cannot afford to jeopardize our cachet by neglecting the need to reinvest in our city’s infrastructure.

Linda Milhaven

Linda Milhaven

•How would you like to see the city of Scottsdale encourage economic development within municipal boundaries?

We enjoy some of the lowest sales and property tax rates in the region thanks to our strong business community. In addition to generating tax revenues that support the quality of our community, our strong business community creates quality jobs.

Increasingly, we are seeing more and more people who want to live in a walkable neighborhood. Increasingly, businesses choose to expand and locate in areas that are attractive to their work force. We must support mixed use projects in south Scottsdale and the Airpark area that provide quality office space and housing options in close proximity to each other.

•If elected as a member of council, what role will you play to help encourage both economic development and diversification?

It has been my pleasure to serve on the City Council Economic Development Subcommittee. We have worked to maintain and enhance the quality of our community so we that we attract talent and businesses with high quality jobs. We must continue this course.

We must also be flexible and look to the future. As other cities are watching their shopping malls go dark, I worked closely with the owners of the Fashion Square to take a long term look at the future of the mall property. We negotiated a re-zoning that will give them the flexibility to add office and residential uses as needed to respond to future market changes.

I also worked closely with neighbors in the condominiums to the north and the south of the mall to understand their concerns. By working closely with all parties, I negotiated concessions from the mall owners to address concerns of the neighbors. Among the many concessions, the mall owners agreed to limit building heights, create significant public open spaces and construct road improvements to better handle traffic.

We must continue to negotiate projects that are attractive to the business community and are sensitive to the neighbors.

•Beyond tourism and the service industry how do you envision the municipality expanding its economic base?

Traditionally, our economy has had a strong reliance on tourism, related service businesses, like restaurants, and real estate. All of these industries are highly sensitive to economic swings. Diversifying our economy will help to stabilize our economy and make us less vulnerable to boom and bust cycles. We must work closely with the business community to approve projects that balance the needs of the business community with broader community interests.

The Nationwide Insurance project is a good example. We negotiated with Nationwide to build a regional headquarters on land they recently acquired from the State Land Department at Hayden and the 101. At build out, the mixed use project will attract other high quality businesses, support 5,500 quality jobs and have a total economic impact of over $9 billion dollars.

As part of the agreement, Nationwide agreed to reduce building heights closer to neighborhoods in exchange for height along the freeway; they also agreed to build $33 million in infrastructure up front, some of which includes infrastructure that the City would otherwise have to build.

As a result, we will have a high quality corporate citizen that strengthens our local economy and benefits our community.

Northeast Valley Managing Editor Terrance Thornton can be contacted at tthornton@newszap.com

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