OPINION: State and local leaders from across the nation shine spotlight on Phoenix’s vitality

By Debbie Cox Bultan

April 16, 2024

Four years ago, Phoenix and the nation faced a global pandemic that we had not seen in generations. In addition to the tragic loss of life, small businesses struggled to stay afloat while millions of Americans lost their jobs. Additionally, the pandemic highlighted longstanding inequities around access to affordable housing, broadband access, and much more.

Today, Phoenix is becoming more vital than ever and a leader in rebounding from the pandemic, including a boom in high-tech manufacturing, more public transportation, more housing, and innovative solutions to issues like broadband access.

What has Phoenix done right, and how can other cities and states learn from Phoenix’s experience?

Phoenix: a model for success

Earlier this month, the NewDEAL Forum — a group that works on state and local policies to expand economic opportunity — headed to Phoenix to examine these questions and more. With dozens of city council members, mayors, state legislators, and other elected officials from more than 20 states, we discussed bodily autonomy, reproductive rights, housing, infrastructure, education, health care, the climate crisis, and preserving our democracy.

We chose Phoenix to explore three key elements of progress: economic expansion, broad infrastructure investments, and growth that benefits all residents.

Mayor Kate Gallego has been determined to be on the economic cutting edge as the world grows and changes. According to a recent analysis by global real estate firm the Newmark Group, Maricopa County is the best market for manufacturing growth. The report highlighted more than $100 million in manufacturing investments in the region over the past few years, which will lead to more than 15,000 new jobs.

What’s next

Looking to the future, Phoenix is quickly becoming a national and global hub for manufacturing the semiconductors used in everything from clean energy technology to cars to phones to artificial intelligence.

Thanks to assistance from federal programs, companies are investing tens of billions of dollars in this area, which brings both high-paying construction jobs and great tech jobs for generations to come. It’s no wonder more people moved to Maricopa County than any other county in the nation for two straight years. Over the next five years, employment is expected to increase by more than ten percent.

With more growth comes additional investments in the city’s infrastructure.

Investing in transportation

In late March, the city secured $36 million to help renovate Sky Harbor Airport. These funds, originating from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, will upgrade the terminals so the airport will be a modern, welcoming place to greet travelers.

The city is also expanding its metro light rail service to serve all residents better. More than seven miles of new track will be added in the coming years, with some already completed ahead of schedule. These expansions support the Phoenix Transportation 2050 plan to better connect the whole city, including historically underserved neighborhoods.

Finally, Phoenix can share lessons about how leaders use policy and innovation to expand access to necessary services for all residents. Housing is a significant national issue, and city leaders are on the edge of finding and implementing solutions.

Keeping Phoenix affordable

The Gallego administration has cut red tape to address this need so that houses, exceptionally affordable units, can be built more quickly. Through policy changes, builders can shave roughly a month off of project approval wait times. But officials are not waiting around—the city already broke ground on numerous affordable housing developments opening in the coming years.

City officials are also addressing the homelessness crisis with compassion and innovation. Last year, Phoenix partnered with Steel + Spark to create solar-powered homeless shelters from used shipping containers that become energy-independent through solar panels and batteries. Community group partners provide wrap-around services to help residents transition from unhoused to housed.

Learning from pandemic-era policies

Meanwhile, access to high-speed internet is a necessity, not a luxury, in our modern world. From school work to virtual doctor visits, broadband will expand access to better jobs and a more connected community.

Phoenix is expanding on a pandemic-era program to bring free wi-fi access to public and affordable housing communities. Through funds from the American Rescue Plan, leaders connect nearly 5,000 low-income households with quality internet. In addition to broadband, the program provides individuals with digital skill training and helps the city expand its broadband infrastructure.

All of this progress has yet to happen by chance. It took intentional thought and planning.

There are lessons that leaders from across the nation can learn from how Phoenix recovered from the pandemic and laid the foundation for a more prosperous future. I’m excited to bring elected officials and policy experts here to dig in and share the lessons from Phoenix’s success.

Author

  • Debbie Cox Bultan

    Debbie Cox Bultan is CEO of the NewDEAL Forum and the NewDEAL. The Forum is a non-profit organization that identifies and promotes innovative, future-oriented state and local pro-growth progressive policies that can improve the lives of all Americans. The NewDEAL is a national network of 200 state and local elected policymakers chosen for their forward-thinking, results-oriented approach to governing.

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