A new hand is navigating the Payson Regional Economic Development Corporation into the future.
Judy Miller became president of the PREDC earlier this month. It will be her task to lead the group in its mission to continue to build and expand the business community of the Rim country.
"We are planting seeds for future economic development by working hard toward creating a business friendly environment. We are working to enhance the economy of northern Gila County by developing jobs and increasing the tax base, which will improve the quality of life for everyone," Scott Flake, director of the PREDC said in an interview with the Roundup.
Miller and the other officers and board members were elected at the PREDC's annual meeting June 11. Elected were Phyllis Windle, vice president; John Schulz, secretary; Andy Kaiser, treasurer; Don Curtis and Bruce Whiting, board members. A third seat on the board will be filled at a later date by those elected June 11.
Miller has been a member of the PREDC board since 1994, but this is her first term as president. During the year she will have the reins of the board, Miller said they will continue to work with Flake to bring in new businesses that offer good paying jobs. This task is being tackled by marketing the community through the Internet and updating the PREDC website, Flake said.
"Business expansion and retention will be very important too. Our existing businesses are the backbone of the community," Miller said.
According to Flake, Arizona Public Service economic development specialists say up to 80 percent of a community's new jobs will come from existing businesses.
"If you take care of existing businesses, you create a healthy business environment," Flake said.
Additionally, Miller, the board and Flake will work to strengthen the tourism industry of the Rim country.
"Tourism is so important. We don't have enough people shopping in town, so we need to import dollars. Tourism does that without having a big impact on our infrastructure. Plus many of the businesses that have relocated are the result of the owners first being tourists here," Miller said.
She added the community has a retail leakage problem, with so many residents spending money in the Phoenix area rather than in Payson or the surrounding area.
"When you spend money in Mesa, you're paving Mesa's streets, supporting Mesa's fire department. You can buy most things here at either comparable prices or for less," Miller said.
In the short term, Miller and the board will have a strategic planning retreat to determine more specific goals. Due to the confidential nature of negotiations with relocating businesses, she said the retreat will not be open to the public.
She said the PREDC is working closely with the Focused Future II program to develop an updated economic development plan with a broad-based foundation which includes participants from the town, the Forest Service, the college, various businesses and the public at large.
The Focused Future II monthly meetings started in January and will continue for a year, Miller said.
Another ongoing project is work force development with Gila Community College to provide both existing and prospective new businesses with skilled employees.
Miller said the PREDC is always looking for financial support from area businesses, organizations and individuals. Currently, the PREDC has only about 50 "investors" -- those members of the community that have chosen to stand behind it by purchasing different levels of membership.
In addition to the election, the annual meeting featured an overview of work by the PREDC by Flake.
Flake said PREDC works on six focal points: business recruitment; business retention and expansion; tourism and recreation; partnerships (generating and maintaining relationships); creating a climate conducive to business; and internal operations.
- Business recruitment -- The PREDC has pursued new businesses for the area with a new billboard campaign in Rye; using a brochure and an updated website; attending trade shows and working directly with businesses interested in the area. This work includes such things as providing data and statistics on the area, information on available properties and even helping find employees.
"We participated in bringing several businesses to Main Street, and we worked with Schneider Rifle Barrel, BAK Engineering, Blockbuster Video and Doorstop. In the last two years we have worked with more than 50 prospective businesses, with 15 of those locating here -- one has since closed. They have brought in, or have committed to bring in, more than 100 new jobs," Flake said.
- Business retention and expansion -- The PREDC is working on a business resource directory and is available to provide technical assistance to area businesses, including help with marketing plans.
- Tourism and recreation -- "We worked very hard to keep the Tonto Natural Bridge open. We have even gone so far as to find a back-up operating plan for it if the state pulls out in the future," Flake said.
- Partnerships -- "We have good relationships with the town, the county, the historical society, chamber of commerce, Small Business Development Center, APS and the Arizona Department of Commerce. APS and the department of commerce have helped us attract leads in the high tech industry. APS even flew one of them up here in a corporate helicopter. In that one day, APS spent more on the Rim country's economic development than our total annual budget," Flake said.
- Creating a climate conducive to business -- Flake said this involves making the most of the area's assets. On the other side of the coin, it means working to minimize the challenges for businesses: the lack of large tracts of inexpensive land and limited water; transportation problems; buildings; support businesses; and the cost of doing business.
The PREDC has been working to enhance the economy of northern Gila County since 1987. Its goal: create jobs and increase the tax base. For more information call the PREDC at 468-6659.