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4:19 PM Sat, Sept. 22nd

Group airs goals for PV's economy

PRESCOTT VALLEY – Quality jobs with better wages, affordable health care, and a properly trained work force are three things the Prescott Valley Economic Development Foundation (PVEDF) says are critical to boost and preserve the quality of life in the area.

The items were part of the PVEDF board and Director Gary Marks' strategic plan presentation to the Prescott Valley Town Council in a special session Thursday night. Because the town provides part of the PVEDF budget, the two entities meet annually to discuss the goals and desires of each.

Marks said one of the most important things the town can do now to attract good businesses is provide an "enterprise zone." Businesses that locate in an enterprise zone can receive special government grants and training for their employees, and incentives that the town and PVEDF provide.

Marks said PVEDF won't tell a business it can't come to Prescott Valley, but it won't pursue those that don't meet wage and benefits criteria, because raising the standard of living is the goal.

"You can add a large number of service jobs at $6.50 per hour, and it will dry up your economy to where it will wilt," he said. "We want people to be able to buy homes. They'll buy them if they can afford them."

Marks said a Yavapai College study concluded that the median wage in Yavapai County is $8.36 per hour. The jobs Prescott Valley tries to attract must pay that wage or more and provide a good benefits package, he said.

"We do a disservice to people if we don't do this," he said. "Some employers here don't like it when I say things like that, but it's the truth."

Marks said he is working on a draft incentives plan that he will take to his board, and then to the town, for approval.

"If it's clear, it makes everyone's job simpler. If we have guidelines, we can say "thanks, but no thanks" to businesses that don't meet the town's criteria, he said.

Town Manager Anthony Mortillaro said the town and PVEDF will gear the incentives toward the companies that will improve the economic well-being of the community.

"We won't entice some employers. If they want to come that's fine, but we need to somehow raise the bar so people can afford to buy homes and shop," he said.

Another college study has found in preliminary figures that 25 percent to 30 percent of Yavapai County workers are underemployed, Marks said.

"People want to live here, and they've accepted a position for less than they would get in other places," he said.

While human resources people who come to scout out Prescott Valley are highly impressed with the skills and quality of the workers here, the low unemployment rate (2.9 percent) makes them worry about attracting enough employees, Marks said.

However, he added that the right wages and benefits might attract the workers new companies are looking for.

In a recent job fair, a prospective company interviewed possible employees to see if they could attract a work force here. Some people applied even though they would make less money per hour than in their current jobs.

The deciding factor? Benefits, said Marks, who estimates that less than half of workers in the tri-city area who earn the median wage have health benefits.

"We must look at the medical care situation and what it is doing to premiums. People can't afford to provide health care for their employees," he said.

Marks said he was concerned about "coffee shop" rumors circulating that companies come into town willing to pay a certain wage, but PVEDF tells them they can pay less.

"That's a blank lie," he said. "Our encouragement is to raise the wages."

Mayor Rick Killingsworth said Prescott Valley must send a message that it's doing things differently now.

"We must get across to those people coming in that we won't stand for the old way of doing business. Our people deserve quality of life," he said.

If the town can attract good companies, it must also work to provide a constant supply of good workers, Marks said.

"Workforce development starts in kindergarten through 12th grade. There's work to be done in the technical area to make this a wired community, and I can tell you that work is not getting done. It's a big job," he said.

Marks said he is working to set up a task force to help schools bring their computer abilities up to par.

Marks said another important thing for the town to consider when wooing new industry is what kind of impact the company will have on the community's environment and existing infrastructure – roads, water, sewer and power.

Mortillaro said there is software available that will "model" a company and analyze its impact. Marks said every company should undergo such scrutiny before the town invites it to locate here.

"We're pretty locked in to quality," Marks said. "There are many other issues besides pay. We want them to be a good corporate citizen to us in PV."

PVEDF asked the council for a clear defi-nition of its duties in relation to the Prescott Valley Chamber of Commerce, so the two don't run over each other on the way to the same goal. The town and PVEDF agreed that PVEDF's focus is on expansion and retention of non-retail companies, while the chamber looks to expand and retain retail and service businesses.

Councilman Mike Flannery said those lines are intentionally a bit fuzzy, and that the two organizations, along with the town, must communicate when there is a question of crossover.

"Neither is better, higher or lower," Marks said. "They are just different. The two (organizations) are like night and day in what they feel the issues are."

Other concerns the council and PVEDF discussed included finance and marketing, expansion of the existing board, and its strategies to attract and retain new industry in 2001.

Killingsworth said he is happy to see the hard work of PVEDF start to come to fruition in the town.

"You've worked hard to get us on the same page, and that's happened now. We're going in the direction we need. Everyone rolled up their sleeves and came up with a good product," he said.

PVEDF Board Chairman Jim Bricker said the foundation looks forward to some tangible evidence of its hard work.

"This (strategic plan) document underscores the effort the last couple of years to bring those outside dollars into the community in jobs and businesses. It's an incredibly long process. Now we're getting there and we're anticipating some successes very soon," he said.