The state Ari­zo­nans want

What jumps out as Ducey works on state’s brand­ing

The Arizona Republic - - OPINIONS - MARK HENLE/THE REPUB­LIC

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.

A draft brand­ing re­port com­mis­sioned by the gov­er­nor high­lights Ari­zona's qual­ity of life.

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