Tucson Mayor Bob Walkup told a group of about 40 students, faculty and staff on Feb. 17 that the city and the University of Arizona will work together on Tucson's most pressing issue, economic development.
His primary answer is to lure aerospace manufacturing jobs to properties near Tucson International Airport, which he says is key to local economic growth. That, and not mandating a city minimum wage, is the answer to Tucson's future economy, he said.
"The relationship between the university and the city has yet to come full force," Walkup said, in what sponsors described as the "First Annual Mayoral Forum." The mayor says he plans to work with other entities, such as the UA, to decide what a combined effort can do to stoke Tucson's economic engine.
Walkup recounted a number of statistics that show Tucson and Pima County in a comfortable growth pattern, such as a 7.4 percent growth in personal income, to $27,500, and a 7.1 percent growth in retail sales. Despite those promising numbers, Tucson's economy remains lethargic because only 9.6 percent of the area's 345,000 jobs are in the manufacturing sector. Walkup says that is "about 60 percent of where we want to be."
Thirty-two percent of the Tucson workforce is employed in service jobs, which he says generally pay a lower wage than manufacturing, and 22 percent of the wage earners in the area work for city, county, or state government.
But, Walkup said that in Arizona, "the poverty level is running at 20 percent." And comparing with other states, Walkup finds that Alabama is around 12 percent and Washington D.C. is even less. "We have got a large number of people who are working at a level that is below the poverty level," he said.
Walkup also compared Tucson with several other cities that he described as smaller than Tucson, but with more robust economies. "Tucson has a small city feel to it. We are a small city; there's just a lot of people living here, Walkup said, "we are
perceived as small because our economic engine is small. How do we change the economic engine of Tucson, Arizona?" Walkup asked.
"What we have to do is make the engine run twice as fast as it is," he said, rattling off a litany of bumpersticker-like goals: be competitive, get out there and hustle, make deals, bring in jobs and create opportunities for people."
Walkup said he has convened a group that meets each Friday to explore ways to be competitive with other cities that are also trying to attract businesses for similar reasons. "I have asked the group to give me plans on specific industries. We will target jobs with a well-thought-out plan that will result in more money for street lights, sidewalks, stopping poverty and hunger in our community.
The forum was sponsored by the UA College Republican Club, the UA Young Democrats, the UA Office of Community Relations and the Hillel Foundation. Planners intend to make the Mayoral Forum an annual event.