The Arizona Republic
The state Arizonans want
What jumps out as Ducey works on state’s branding
It’s easy to make fun of the governor for spending $250,000 to “re-brand” Arizona. After all, Nevada would pay four times that amount to own our “Grand Canyon State” slogan. But resist the urge to go for the easy punchlines. Gov. Doug Ducey doesn’t deserve the ribbing he’s been getting about the contract with branding consultant Kathy Heasley to come up with a catchy campaign to attract tourism and business.
Besides, says Ducey spokesman Daniel Scarpinato, this was “never about developing a new slogan.” It was about a “comprehensive marketing campaign.”
OK. As it turns out, it is also about what Arizona’s government can do to serve the people living here.
After a year’s work, the draft report on what’s right about Arizona makes very interesting reading.
Conspicuous by its absence is the demand for lower taxes, less regulation and a business-friendly atmosphere. Ducey has made this troika the key to his agenda. But maybe that job is done. There was a general consensus among those quoted in the report that Arizona is pretty darn business friendly now, with opportunities, space to grow and openness to new ideas. “They don’t block you,” as one respondent put it.
What jumped out from the report is an appreciation of the Arizona lifestyle.
It is worth noting similar public values were identified in 2009 by former Arizona State University President Lattie Coor’s “The Arizona We Want” project through the Center for the Future of Arizona. It was all about quality of life then. And that’s what people still care about, according to the draft branding report.
People mentioned a lifestyle that’s nurtured by the great outdoors, the remarkable weather, the natural beauty, the relatively low cost of living and a diversity of people and cultures.
Together that adds up to a strong sense of place.
Let’s start with an environment that ranges from saguaro forests to aspen groves.
Even the Chicagoan who said Arizonans must be brave to live among scorpions and other desert creatures understood the importance of our great outdoors in shaping who we are.
But what is Arizona doing to keep our outdoors great?
Republican lawmakers delight in grousing about the federal land holdings in Arizona, without acknowledging the incredible job the federal officials do to operate national parks — like the Grand Canyon. National forests and monuments are assets to Arizona — as are the Native American lands, which are culturally rich and, like the federal land, provide habitat for the state’s abundant wildlife.
Meanwhile, Arizona State Parks, which contain world-class natural, archaeological and historic treasures, suffered big funding cuts during the recession, including the loss of about $8 million a year in general-fund money and $10 million a year in heritage-fund money that voters previously earmarked for their beloved parks.
Ducey’s branding report is a reminder of the shortsightedness of not maintaining state parks, which had $80 million in unmet capital needs in 2014.
Restoring parks funding would demonstrate a commitment to the Arizona lifestyle people treasure.
Then there is the value of the great indoors. Quality of life is also defined by the nature of a state’s education system.
Arizona’s public universities were put on a starvation diet as tuition rose above what many middle-class families can afford. Yet vibrant, accessible universities contribute to the communities in which they are located in ways that benefit even those who will never enter a classroom.
Arizona’s public K-12 schools also remain underfunded, even after voters approved an infusion of cash from the state land trust. Better funding is essential to help schools educate the diverse population that helps give our state its unique sense of place.
Ducey’s office says the draft branding report will be turned into a marketing campaign by the end of summer or early fall. It could be helpful to have a plan for effectively promoting Arizona as a great place to visit, live and make a living.
But the lessons of this report should also inform Arizona’s policy choices. Arizonans have spoken up before about what they value.
Elected officials need to honor those expressed desires.