Sometimes, you can’t wait for them to ring the doorbell.
You gotta go out there and get them.
That’s the tack Payson is now taking when it comes to luring employers to town.
And town leaders hope to keep their economic development tag team together, even after Mike Vogel leaves the town council in about a month.
For nearly a year, Vogel, Payson Mayor Kenny Evans and Town Manager Debra Galbraith have been actively recruiting new businesses — and then escorting would-be applicants through the approval process.
The approach has so far yielded only one new firm — an ammunition manufacturer that recently set up shop in an empty industrial building near the Payson Airport and which will bring about 30 jobs to town initially.
However, the group remains in active conversation with eight to 12 other firms in hopes they’ll provide a flush of jobs and new construction as the economy revives.
Unseated by former town manager Fred Carpenter a month ago, Vogel says he wants to continue working recruiting new businesses to town even after he leaves the council.
Evans says they need him — if the council approves. “He’s said he’ll do what he’s done all along — serve as the ombudsman for the town,” said Evans.
Evans says he might ask the council to approve a part-time economic development position for Vogel once he leaves the council, to maintain the contacts with businesses considering relocation to Payson — including several hotel and restaurant chains, manufacturing firms and several other businesses.
“We have some very special needs” for economic development, said Evans. “But if you just sit back and say ‘we want you all to come ring our doorbell,’ you don’t get your bell rung very often.”
Vogel said, “I plan to keep doing the stuff I’m doing — it’s not just bringing new businesses to town, it’s retaining the ones we have. We can’t wait for the state, federal or even county governments to help us — we can sell our own town better than anyone.”
Payson has in the past year drawn away from the efforts of the county-funded Northern Gila County Economic Development Corporation, charged with encouraging economic development for the whole county. At one time, the town provided free office space and other subsidies to the county agency, which is federally funded. However, the town pulled back from that partnership out of dissatisfaction with the recruitment efforts, said Evans.
The emphasis on actively recruiting new businesses — especially light manufacturing firms — represents a big shift in town policies.
Previously, concerns about a water shortage and a red-hot housing market dominated town policies, prompting Payson to develop a tough growth control policy and to view the onslaught of development with a wary eye.
That shifted two years ago, when Evans and councilors Richard Croy and Michael Hughes all ran on pro-growth platforms. At almost the same moment, the housing market collapsed and the town secured rights to Blue Ridge water — which eliminated a key constraint on future growth.
The aggressive approach to luring new businesses was showcased by the successful effort to convince Advanced Tactical Armament Concepts (ATAC), now manufacturing some 30 million cartridges a year for sale to police departments nationwide.
After business owner Jim Antich and his partners contacted the town, Vogel and Evans promised to herd the application through the approval process.
One or the other accompanied the manufacturer to meetings with planning and fire department officials to iron out any potential problems. The discussions included sometimes hard bargaining about the application of town and state fire codes to the proposed operations.
Later, the manufacturers said that they would never have finished the process and probably would have taken their operation to Nevada without the help in getting through the process. Antich said business associates had initially warned him to avoid Payson due to the anti-growth attitude.
Evans said only about 3 percent of the companies that express an initial interest end up pursuing a deal seriously.
“We’ve worked through dozens and dozens and dozens of prospective firms,” said Evans.
Vogel said that as soon as the town identifies a prospect, they send the backers over to the Small Business Development program at Gila Community College, to begin working out the fit and the possibilities.
“Then we connect with them,” said Vogel. “We tell them not to go into community development unless I, or Kenny or Debra are present. Every time they walk through that door, one of us is with them. We can’t waive codes, we can’t waive fees, we can’t give refunds as incentives — but what we can offer that other towns don’t: personal service.”
Vogel said he planned to continue working to recruit businesses so long as the council is willing to back him.
“All my life, I’ve tried to create jobs. So for me, it’s a natural fit. Besides, I don’t have any other hobbies except hunting and my family — and neither one is being sacrificed.”
Evans said the key lies in patient, consistent effort to retain existing businesses and lure the right mix of new employers to town. That includes businesses attracted by the idea of a four-year college campus, a convention hotel and businesses that need the flexibility to go higher in the right locations. The goal in the long run is to bring to town a mix of employers, so that the town’s economy doesn’t crash in the next recession.
“Everyone wants everything to happen tomorrow, but there’s a timeline — and it has to be the right timeline,” said Evans.