Payson is courting 19 businesses that have expressed an interest in coming to town, former councilor Mike Vogel told the town council last week in his first report as the town’s new economic development coordinator.
He also reported that a California boycott of a newly launched Payson ammunition manufacturing firm has actually spawned new business for the company that makes bullets mostly for law enforcement agencies in a converted warehouse near the Payson Airport.
Vogel said the town still has a lot of work to do to change the impression that Payson is not business friendly.
“I met with a young man this morning who wants to start a business in this town and he said ‘I was scared to death to deal with town government.’ But by the time we got done taking him through the process, he said it was the best experience working with government he’s ever had — so what we’re doing is working.”
Vogel spent much of his last 18 months on the council as the point man for economic development, working with Town Manager Debra Galbraith and Payson Mayor Kenny Evans to help business owners and business prospects slide through the town’s permit and approvals processes.
One of those three attends any meetings that people seeking to bring new business to town have with town officials.
Vogel has also been working to contact and recruit targeted businesses.
The long, slow process has so far yielded only modest results — mostly the ammunition manufacturer, which now has eight employees. Los Angeles recently decided not to contract with the firm to buy bullets for its police department as a protest against Arizona’s passage of SB 1070, which directs local police to step up enforcement of federal immigration laws. Vogel said several Arizona police departments have since contacted the firm about placing orders after the Roundup’s story about the boycott circulated.
The town has suffered two awful years when it comes to jobs and business growth. Construction has all but stopped and even some projects approved just before the recession took hold have stalled — like a combination of luxury condos and a commercial building with the state’s tallest man-made waterfall approved a year ago just off Main Street.
The developer of that project has said she still has financing available, but doesn’t want to build the luxury condos until the market turns and she has a reasonable chance of selling them quickly.
Vogel said it takes about nine months of persistent effort to bring a new business to town, especially since Payson acquired a reputation for delays, high impact fees and regulations during the era when a shortage of water prompted the town to impose the state’s toughest growth restrictions.
The council repealed those growth controls after signing an agreement to double the town’s water supply with water from the Blue Ridge Reservoir.
The town has also worked to improve communications with local businesses, many of who have in the past complained about town bureaucracy —especially when it comes to things like getting permission to put up signs to lure shoppers off the highway.
After one recent meeting with business owners, the town came away with 140 e-mails and phone numbers to start some sort of business information newsletter or network.
“The number one complaint from the business people was they want as big a sign as possible with everything on it,” said Vogel of the feedback from those meetings.
“On the other hand, I had just as many people coming up to me afterwards saying, ‘that would look junky.’”
Vogel said he would not reveal the businesses currently investigating a move to Payson until they’d made a firm decision. However, town officials privately have said the potential projects include restaurants, motels and several small manufacturing firms.