Chuck Huckelberry

Chuck Huckelberry

Jobs figures released by the state in August showed Pima County employers had added nearly 15,000 jobs between August 2015 and July 2016. That’s more job growth than our county has seen since before the Great Recession.

As is usual with early numbers like these, they may get revised down as economists continue crunching their data, but at their June economic forecast, the University of Arizona’s Economic and Business Research Center economists said all signs point to continued strong economic growth for our region through at least 2018.

It has taken a lot of hard work and tough decisions to get here. The Great Recession hammered our state and our county, costing us tens of thousands of jobs. While other parts of the country recovered in a few years, it has taken us until this year to fully recover, or nearly so, all of the jobs lost. 

The federal government is a big part of our economy and post-recession fiscal austerity took its toll on us. Home building also was one of our major growth engines and it may be a few more years before it recovers to what we used to consider “normal” in the pre-bubble years. 

These latest rosy jobs numbers are not tied to federal spending or home building but a concerted effort by the county, state, local jurisdictions and the private sector to work together to chart a new economic path for Pima County, diversifying our economy and focusing on high-wage employment.

The jobs added to our economy over the past year were primarily in financial services, manufacturing and health care. Take particular note of the manufacturing job gains. The county has worked vigorously to help increase these generally well-paying, high-skilled jobs. 

Big incentive packages given to big employers tend to attract most of the economic development attention from the press and public, but it’s the day-to-day, behind-the-scenes work that really moves the economic needle. 

For instance, the county’s Community Services, Employment and Training Department works with secondary and post-secondary vocational educators, and local manufacturers to train new workers who will be badly needed over the next decade to replace an aging manufacturing workforce. We also work with Pima Community College and others to retrain adult workers for jobs in the skilled trades. 

Manufacturers who can’t find the skilled workforce they need will have difficulty growing their companies here. Likewise, manufacturers considering relocating to Tucson will cross us off their list if they don’t think they can hire the workers they need. 

In the four years since we released our Economic Development Plan there has been a lot of behind the scenes work doing the hundreds of little things necessary to prime the economic pump. Our plan has strategies for keeping and growing existing employers, increasing foreign employer investment here, growing our tourism, logistics, mining, aerospace and tech industries, supporting our universities and more. 

Those efforts have begun to pay off. Not only are new employers like Caterpillar and Comcast expanding here, but our existing employers also are growing. In fact, most of the job growth in the report released last month is from established companies adding staff than it is new companies like the HomeGoods distribution center coming to town. 

Besides gains in jobs, we’re seeing increases in wages, increasing per capita personal income and rising property values. All of that is having an effect on the public’s perception of our local economy. According to the Rocky Mountain Poll’s Behavior Research Center’s quarterly poll, consumer confidence in the County has shot up from 65.1 percent last summer to 89.4 percent in June. That is the highest consumer confidence has been here since before the recession.

We are on the right path. We still have a long way to go and a lot of work to do but your county staff will continue to do all the little things needed to keep our economy growing.

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