Gilbert official aims to lure more businesses - East Valley Tribune: News

Gilbert official aims to lure more businesses

Font Size:
Default font size
Larger font size

Posted: Wednesday, July 23, 2008 10:10 pm | Updated: 9:06 pm, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

It's Dan Henderson's job to bring more jobs to Gilbert, a community of more than 200,000 whose top employer by far is the school district.

The local and national economy are not working in his favor right now, so he needs to find silver linings wherever he can. Henderson, the town's business development manager, pointed to a 25 percent vacancy rate in available office space for financial, legal and other business services.

"Some of my colleagues in Scottsdale would love to have that figure," rather than have to struggle to find room for new employers.

At the same time, he has successes within the town, as well, including at the town's tallest structure, the five-story Rome Towers near Val Vista Drive and Pecos Road. Eighty-five percent of that space has either been leased or has a letter of intent attached to it.

The site is close to the Mercy Gilbert Medical Center, but Henderson said the project had its doubters at its inception.

"People were asking, 'what is that premium office building doing out there?' That was a huge risk for the community three years ago," Henderson said.

Some are concerned about the rate of the town's business growth.

The Town Council's yearlong effort to revamp and streamline its advisory boards was prompted in part by Mayor Steve Berman's fear that the Economic Development Advisory Board isn't as effective as it needs to be.

Berman floated the idea of an economic development think tank to augment the economic advisory board at a special council meeting last month - a group of well-connected insiders able to point the town toward expanding companies that the advisory board didn't seem to be finding.

Berman did not respond to phone messages seeking an interview for this story.

Vice Mayor Joan Krueger, the council liaison to the economic development board, said this week that while she agrees with Berman that more aggressive business recruitment is needed, she's not sure if an additional think tank is necessary.

"We do need well-connected people involved in the process and I'm saying these people should be on the economic development board," she said.

She also doesn't want to have those who serve on the boards as volunteers duplicating the functions served by the town's business development staff.

Many success stories can be traced to the town staff, rather than the advisory board. Big League Dreams came to Gilbert through a former staff member, as well as the Lockheed Martin maintenance center that opened in Gilbert this month.

"That was more from members of our staff, which I think lends credence to my opinion that the people we have certainly know what they're doing," Krueger said.

Those in the Gilbert economic development trenches say they are making some progress but at the same time must be realistic about what they can accomplish in uncertain economic times.

Henderson said he is projecting Gilbert's jobs-to-residents ratio will improve, but just slightly, during the coming year, from 3.18 residents per job within the town limits to 3.02 residents per job.

"This year is just not going to be a banner year for business, when you look at (gross domestic product) output nationally, that's the reality," he said.

Henderson, who took over leadership of Gilbert's five-person business development team almost a year ago, has a 27-slide presentation for relocating or expanding businesses scouting out Gilbert's available office space and employees, constantly updated and tailored to whoever is coming in.

He had to cut his budget by 10 percent at the end of 2007 to accommodate falling town revenue, but by the time the fiscal year ended in June, he could report some success, along with the struggle.

Henderson's goal was to attract 18 new businesses.

"Last year we didn't have 18 companies come to town, but our goal for capital investment was $54 million and we brought in over $100 million," he said, with new and existing businesses expanding or upgrading property.

Henderson said dollars are being spent all over town at various businesses, not just at sites such as the SanTan Village shopping complex.

Krueger might be happy to hear that, since she's looking for "sustainable" jobs which involve more than working behind a cash register.

"I don't look at retail as employment," she said.

Gilbert Chamber of Commerce president and CEO Kathy Langdon said she's glad to see the town focusing on broadening the town's tax base. But the exponential growth in retail choices has been crucial to the town's success as well, she said.

"If you look at the way the town is funded, without that revenue coming in from sales tax money, we wouldn't be able to do a lot of the things we're doing," she said.

One of those things is a joint project between the chamber and the town to develop a "preferred company environment," which in all likelihood will build on the momentum Gilbert has already developed with the health care industry, Langdon and Henderson said.

In the meantime, the chamber, which has more than doubled in size since Langdon came on board 12 years ago, has lost about 50 members in the past year as businesses either drop their membership or close their doors.

"We're down a bit, but I think that's the economic times," Langdon said.

  • Discuss

Facebook on Facebook

Twitter on Twitter

Google+ on Google+


Subscribe to via RSS

RSS Feeds

Your Az Jobs