‘Decade from hell’ not all bad for E.V. - East Valley Tribune: News

‘Decade from hell’ not all bad for E.V.

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Posted: Sunday, December 27, 2009 3:38 pm | Updated: 1:31 am, Sat Oct 8, 2011.

The one-week period between Christmas and New Year’s Day traditionally is a time for news organizations to “look back” at the major events of the past year — usually referred to as the “year in review.”

This year, there is that added bonus of taking a look back at the decade in review as well. More than a few national commentators have taken to bidding good riddance to the ’00s, as it were.

Time magazine even offered a cover piece casting off the “decade from hell.” In fact, the piece makes the argument that the decade was one of the worst ever for this country (I’m guessing folks who lived during the Great Depression, World War II and the Civil War, if they were alive, might have something to say about that).

Still, it didn’t take much work, really, when viewing things on a national and global scale, to see what they meant. The decade started with us climbing out of a national economic downturn caused by the dot-com bubble bursting, only to be aggravated by the worst attack on U.S. soil ever. And indeed, the 9/11 tragedy redefined our national thought. We’ve been mired in two wars most of the decade.

We’ve seen failure after failure of corporate and political leadership, the further rise of the culture of celebrity. And, as a bonus, we ended the decade with one of the worst national recessions in modern American history and questions about whether China now has replaced us as the world’s premier economic power.

Here in Arizona and the East Valley, some of those things certainly trickled down and have impacted life here.

On the local front, I’m sure if I could line up 10 random East Valley residents who remember the decade well and asked them to name the top local news stories of the past 10 years, I’d get a few identical answers, but more that didn’t match up. It was a busy decade, to say the least.

For my money, I think the biggest story to impact us locally is the fundamental change that has occurred in what had been the biggest ongoing story here for a long, long time. That is, the screeching halt to growth as we’ve known it. For so long — several decades, really — so much of what was helping to drive life here locally was based on population growth. It has been, in many ways, our leading “industry.”

For years, I attended events where local economists reminded us that this was the case and, unless we made some serious efforts to diversify our economy, we were in effect walking on a high wire without a net. Granted, some diversification has happened, but when the housing bubble burst a few years ago, we saw what it was like when the net’s not there — and we still are seeing the impact.

This said, I’m not convinced the ’00s were all bad for us locally. The progress made in developing our freeway system and introducing light rail in the East Valley, along with ongoing improvements at Gateway and Falcon Field airports in Mesa, and Chandler’s municipal airport, will pay major dividends for this region down the road. History has proven that an efficient transportation system is a major key for any area’s economic health.

We’ve also seen an explosion of new hospitals and medical facilities and expansion of higher educational facilities — all the types of things that add to quality of life and prove attractive to new industries looking to set up shop with varied, and well-paying, jobs.

Other things seem to be pointing in a good direction.

It took a while, but Mesa’s vision of how the area surrounding the Gateway Airport might blossom seems to be coming into focus. It doesn’t hurt when your major partner is DMB, one of the region’s most successful major development firms. Mayor Scott Smith does not talk about the future there without emphasizing new employment centers that feature aerospace industries and other businesses. At the same time, though, the city knows it can’t turn its back on the west end of town. That’s why its commitment to resurrecting the Fiesta Mall district is encouraging.

Chandler, meanwhile, has been intent on not getting knocked off track as the economy has soured. All signs suggest that its downtown is not far away from blooming into one of the Valley’s more interesting destination spots. The decade also saw the city solidify itself as a major player for high-tech industries and financial services firms.

Gilbert is forging an interesting path, as many of the new health care facilities have found their way to the town, adding a dimension that goes beyond simply houses and strip malls. There is something to build on.  

The Queen Creek area was hit awfully hard by the bursting housing bubble, but the town should be commended for working to keep new commercial developments from overtaking older, more rural areas. How that continues once the economy bounces back will be a major challenge, though, especially with important traffic congestion issues still unresolved.

The progress Tempe made was beyond impressive, though the downturn has caused problems, as evidenced by the still stalled Centerpoint towers. Still, the East Valley should be glad Town Lake and its related events are nearby, and the progress Arizona State University has made in forging a reputation as a serious research institution with a presence throughout the Valley cannot be overstated.

Looking ahead to 2010, the way these trends unfold will be important to watch, even as each community’s government continues to struggle with budget deficits aggravated by the recession. And, it cannot be overstated that the state’s ability — or inability — to seriously address its budget situation, which is way beyond crisis level, will impact each community’s situation as well, possibly for several years to come.

But overall, there is reason to be encouraged that when the local economy does recover fully, the East Valley will be well-positioned to begin moving forward quickly, thanks to some of the steps that began in that “decade from hell.”

(Chris Coppola is editor of the Tribune. E-mail: ccoppola@evtrib.com)

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