The candidates for mayor and Town Council continue to respond to questions posed by The Times staff this week.
The question for this edition is: Do you have a vision for how the Town of Fountain Hills can attract and retain businesses in the community? What would that look like?
Ginny Dickey: We’ve undertaken an Economic Development Program capitalizing on the growing reputation of our active lifestyle, health and wellness, while recruiting investment supporting our natural environment, parks, trails, safe neighborhoods, Dark Skies and views. Additionally, we promote appropriate development to increase housing, businesses, and recreational activities with partners like the Chamber, and identifying educational opportunities encouraging younger families to relocate.
The Fountain remains the iconic centerpiece, recently celebrating its 50th Anniversary. We’ve added EarthCam and have been featured in magazines, videos, social media and TV – great exposure under our community relations manager. We approved a comprehensive communication plan, improving our website. We’ve increased participation in regional and international economic councils. The desire of developments and businesses to open, renovate or expand indicates our efforts are effective.
Some recent examples include FH Medical Center / ER, AutoZone, Bachelor Pad, Rainbow, Delish, The Box, Sipps, Papaya’z, Zab, Veeta’s, Honor Health, Dutch Bros, Manny’s, Spacefit, Alexander’s, Pearl Nutrition and Mathnasium.
Over several Councils, we created or made zoning changes to accommodate development and decrease commercial vacancies. Council did not agree on every project, but the overall desire to follow the General and Downtown plans with mixed-usage and a variety of services is universal. Residential, tourism and business efforts depend on each other. Havenly, other communities and infill naturally help businesses, entertainment and hospitality. For example, the Adero Marriott Autograph Collection and Trailhead, the Dark Sky Discovery Center plan and enhanced events are all connected.
The Town continues to enjoy economic growth, with more coming. We’re embarking on a professional branding effort led by our new economic development director, emphasizing natural advantages including our unique desert lifestyle, outdoor exploration, resorts, and views. We’re also meeting with businesses to expand on a downtown vibe and upgrade the median AOTF. We’re making great progress with proven success.
Joe Arpaio: Unfortunately, the town is not pro-business, which I know from many small businesses confiding in me. I know this problem personally from owning several businesses and properties in town for the past 23 years including my residence where I have lived.
We must increase tourism and relations with the local casino (note the 2002 referendum that was submitted to the voters whether illegal gambling at casinos should be approved. I supported the referendum, which was approved by the voters by a 1% margin).
I’ve owned a travel and tour agency for 43 years. Tourism is important to the town and will help keep taxes low. I want a complete overhaul of the draconian sign laws, which personally interferes with business visibility and advertising. We should welcome smart development projects and ensure that construction does not interfere with quality-of-life issues. We should also consider increasing the town population, which will enhance the town’s financial situation.
Fountain Hills receives information and policy from strategic plans and zoning committees. These ideas and recommendations should not take the place of the mayor and city council making their own decisions and pass the buck to these type committees especially if the suspect matters are controversial. Public safety should be the top priority. The envision town officials explaining and publicizing the true public safety issues. (Note that I was the top law enforcement official as Sheriff for 24 years in charge of law enforcement in Fountain Hills).
Brenda Kalivianakis: Attracting and retaining businesses is not accidental, it is achieved by visionary leadership, an experienced business development team and by creating an inviting atmosphere to draw the attention of, and ultimately attract, new businesses. Planning is key to managed growth, failing to plan, simply put, means planning to fail. Towns like Fountain Hills, with travel, tourism and abundant recreational activities tend to attract a favorable business climate.
Financial incentives are a valuable tool to motivate businesses to locate into a community, particularly to make improvements to older existing businesses. We need to promote safety and solid law enforcement, high quality roads and infrastructure and a business-friendly town hall. Failing roads, poor infrastructure, high business vacancies and a reputation for being difficult to deal with are the death knell to economic prosperity.
An example of a town being difficult to work with can be illustrated by the Park Place development. Whether you are a proponent of Park Place or against it, the former mayor and town council approved this development. Thereafter, we suffered a terrible pandemic that shut down normal business operations for two years. Due to the pandemic and with numerous modifications to the Park Place agreement insisted upon by the town, the developer asked what seemed a reasonable request, a year’s extension on the agreement to secure bank financing on phases II and III. Shockingly, the mayor and town council voted down the extension.
Fountain Hills needs to regain a good reputation as a business-friendly town, make improvements to the issuing of licenses and permits, work with the Chamber of Commerce, the business community and strive for a robust and vibrant downtown as called for in the FH strategic plan.
Allen Skillicorn: I am always talking about lowering taxes and cutting spending. But actually changing the way we govern to stop the crushing burden of inflation and soaring energy prices yet continue to responsibly serve constituents, on the other hand, is not easy.
My vision for Fountain Hills is to protect and enhance our small-town charm. Fountain Hills is the bright, shining city on the hill and has a unique draw for tourism and visitors. I envision a vibrant downtown with fewer and fewer vacant storefronts. Avenue of the Fountains has undergone extensive renovation and is ready for a post pandemic splash of activity. Fairs, concerts, and regular community events geared toward families and residents alike will sweep visitors off their feet.
We must prioritize filling vacant and soon-to-be-blighted commercial space instead of new construction and disruptive projects. More collaborative efforts between the economic development department, the chamber of commerce and vacant store front owners should aid in this endeavor. More retail businesses mean additional visitors who bring a synergy of activity and sales tax revenue to fund our capital improvements, parks, and community resources.
Hannah Toth: As stated in my last response, creating a more business friendly Fountain Hills is a top priority of mine. First, we must repeal the town’s sign ordinance. Second, we need to build a stronger bridge between the Town and our Chamber of Commerce, which immediately connects to the interests of our local business owners. Lastly, the Town has a few acres of land on Shea Boulevard which may be a prime spot for a keystone business to enter, as was envisioned in our original founding. A keystone business is what keeps small communities such as our own in a healthy economic state.
The people of Fountain Hills do not want more big developments – so to maintain our beautiful, small-town atmosphere we need a business that keeps our engine running. This business would bring employees, who bring their families, who send kids to our schools, and bring life back into the cycle of our town’s economy.
In order to attract a keystone business, Fountain Hills has a lot of relationships to rebuild, namely with our current business owners and the Chamber of Commerce. Once we have the reputation of a business friendly community, we can place a stronger focus on effectively attracting new businesses.
Cindy Couture: Our Town has adopted the 2022 Strategic Plan that lays out strategic priorities for improvements. Among them is “Retain existing businesses and attract new ones” as well as “Develop and promote an effective brand image to prospective businesses and residents.” I support the call for a brand for our Town. What should the brand be?
Phoenix was recently named “Bioscience Capital of the US.” Fountain Hills needs to capitalize on our big city neighbor’s credentials. Our Economic Development Department should pursue mid-sized companies which support medical and wellness groups for locating in Fountain Hills. Why? Because we are already a health and wellness community. We need to establish our brand as such.
We have an abundance of healthy lifestyle options – to name a few: hiking and biking trails, town parks, McDowell Regional Park, the Sonoran Preserve, botanical and community gardens, sports for all ages. We also have terrific medical facilities, and Mayo Clinic is just around the corner. We have resorts, spas, gyms, and physical therapy businesses already. And look around you at our surroundings. We are unmatched in the Valley for our views, beauty, and small-town appeal.
We have a golden opportunity to attract more businesses to support our health and wellness environment. We need to grab that brand and run with it.