While spending most of his professional career in the media realm, Thomas Kaleta, Rim Country Regional Chamber of Commerce CEO, began investigating the world of economic development. Now he is taking on new responsibility as the appointed chairman of the Government Alliance for Rural Arizona's economic development committee.
"I would like to bring an understanding of the reality of economic development, get and support legislation that is on a level playing field with the large metropolitan areas and establish a professional economy where people would consider working in a rural community," Kaleta said.
GAFRA Chairman Frank Thorwald said that Kaleta was obviously the best choice for the job.
Among other things, Kaleta is experienced and successful in the economic development arena, Thorwald said. During his last year as president of the Augusta Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce in Georgia Kaleta accumulated more than $2 billion in capital investment in his last year, he said.
"As chair of the committee, (Kaleta) will be the political arm for rural businesses working on and supporting legislation that supports rural Arizona," Thorwald said.
Payson and much of rural Arizona have tourism-based economies, Kaleta said, so he is looking for new ways to encourage tourists to spend a couple of days in Payson. Right now, he said, there are not many attractions besides beautiful scenery.
"Incentives are also a real part of economic development, and Arizona does not compete well," Kaleta said, "especially rural communities ..."
Metro Phoenix and Tucson areas have enjoyed more economic growth and the benefits that come with it higher wages, employment and benefit packages than rural areas have, he said.
"We need to create incentives that would help smaller companies relocate to the Payson area because we have not had an industrial company (relocate here) since 1990, and that's scary," Kaleta said. "We need to set up tools (incentives) and build relationships and get more small, industrial companies to relocate here."
As a GAFRA volunteer and the newly appointed chair of the Economic Development Committee, Kaleta will lobby for legislation to support rural Arizona.
A legislative initiative is in the works, Kaleta said, that would return all sales tax on purchases over $5,000 to the county or town where the customer resides. It's an initiative that Kaleta said he firmly backs.
"This would be a huge financial benefit for rural communities," Kaleta said, "because all would benefit."
Under the initiative, if a Payson resident bought a foreign car in Maricopa County, then Gila County or even the Town of Payson would receive the sales tax.
"I lobby for GAFRA; I lobby for Payson," Kaleta said, "and we need to look at the big picture in terms of economic development."