Joe Snell, president and chief executive officer of Tucson Regional Economic Opportunities, told the crowd at last Thursday’s TREO annual meeting that he has “the solution” to economic hard times.

It’s an Easy button.

“All we have to do is push it, and everything is solved,” Snell told the Hilton El Conquistador audience.

Easy buttons “don’t work,” Snell said, so the region must “help ourselves” and “control our own destiny,” particularly when the country is “potentially facing an economic crisis not felt in decades. There is little doubt Arizona, and our region, will be impacted by this recession.

“We are heading into very uncertain times,” Snell said. “We do, however, have the assets and the drive to meet any challenge.”

Tucson’s process regarding economic development has attracted attention from beyond. Two individuals attended the TREO meeting from the Missoula Area Economic Development Corp., which wants to emulate the Tucson example in drafting an “economic blueprint” to grow the economy in that northwest Montana community.

TREO launched its economic blueprint in 2007. The study identified five strategic focus areas — the growth of high-paying jobs, educational excellence, putting Tucson on the world map for livability, collaboration among governments, and urban renaissance.

The 2008 report card is “not a report card on TREO, or frankly any one organization in this region,” said Dr. Robert Shelton, president of the University of Arizona. “We are looking at longer term gaps and strengths” to ascertain progress toward goals, and to assess Tucson’s competitiveness with 10 other southwestern U.S. cities also seeking economic prosperity.

Among the many report card findings:

• Greater Tucson has favorable rankings in taxes per capita, average ACT scores, high school graduation rates, the per capita sum of people with degrees in natural sciences and engineering, energy use per capita, recycling and collaborative activities.

• Greater Tucson compares unfavorably in export volumes, wages, personal income per capita, the percentage of people with graduate degrees, math and science proficiency rankings for fourth- and eighth-grade students, and housing affordability.

“We have gold stars in some areas, and we have serious red flags in others,” Shelton said.

“Many fail in economic development … because they try to do everything at one time,” said TREO board member Daisy Jenkins of Raytheon Missile Systems. “Our mission is not to boil the ocean. The data tell us where the gaps are.”

TREO sees itself as “one organization working to solve one element of a bigger goal,” Snell said. Its focus is on companies “that create wealth” through high-paying primary jobs, those which produce “goods and services in excess of what can be consumed by the local market.

“In our quest for greatness, we must not train as a sprinter,” Snell said. “We must train as a marathoner.”

TREO claims that $1 invested in TREO yields $76 into the community. For 2007-08, TREO had total economic impact of $241 million, Snell said. TREO has a staff of 15 people.

Sharon Bronson, Pima County supervisor and co-chair of the TREO board, acknowledged representatives of government in attendance, among them Marana Mayor Ed Honea and council members Herb Kai and Carol McGorray. Last month, the Marana Town Council opted not to commit $50,000 toward TREO operations.

“We are a community on the brink, the brink of success or failure,” with options of coming together or moving apart, of transforming Tucson or seeing it diminish, Jenkins said.

TREO Volunteer of the Year awards are going to Jenkins, of Raytheon, and Mike Jameson of Tucson Newspapers Inc.

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