Tucson – Positivity

May 31, 2015

I left you yesterday with a promise of positivity. I also assured you that there are no easy answers or quick fixes. Our hole is deep and old, and it won’t get filled easily or quickly.

So, what? We need to start this endeavor by recognizing our situation. The late Reverend Forrest Church, quoted by MRW before, said “Want what you have; do what you can; be who you are.”

Who are we, Tucson? We’re a very large second tier city, with lots of problems. But we’re also an old city with a strong sense of self, and we have an amazingly generous spirit. From my fund development days, I recall Tucson outperforming much larger cities—think of one just up the road a bit—not per capita, but in absolute dollars. I also know we have a volunteer spirit that will match and trump any large city. We show up!

With respect for Rev. Church, we can’t want what we have. We simply must do better. But, we should not aspire to major metro area status. It’s not what we are, and we won’t become a top-30 city. We lack water and a reason to have another one million plus people in our valley.

So what does “better” look like? The best second tier city in America!

What can we do to be America’s best second tier city? First, we need to buy into the fact that we’re talking about a decades-long project. Deep holes don’t develop overnight, and filling them takes a long, long time. Miracles happen, for sure, but not often, and we can’t plan for them.

This issue matters greatly. Too often with big problems, people look for quick solutions, and when Quick Fix No. 1 fails, they look for QF2. We must do the right things, but we must also accept the fact that we won’t see what we want for a long time.

Second, we need to educate our children. In a state which puts children far down on its priority list, that’s no small task. Still, children represent our future, and every child who leaves our school system without a quality education represents more digging and less filling. (By the way, my business clients—many of whom are hardly fans of taxes—are universally more concerned about our schools than they are about tax breaks.)

On education, schools will always be primary. But, they need help. Here’s what you can do:

Support school district foundations with your dollars and in-kind gifts. (I can’t list all of them and I don’t want to play favorites. Contact me if you need a link.) They make a real difference!

Literacy Connects and Make Way for Books provide literacy programs for pre-schoolers and children in school—LC also provides adult literacy for English and non-English speakers—and both groups are great. They can use volunteers and dollars.

Be an advocate for public education and sufficient funding. Support candidates who think an educated population matters.

Third, we must invest in our infrastructure. Bonds will be on the ballot in Pima County on November 3. The money will be spent on roads, parks, tourism, economic development, etc. The sum is large—$815,760,000—but we can’t expect to have a 21st century community with 1960s style infrastructure. We’ve been waiting for too long to step up our game. Not investing in infrastructure represents, again, more digging and less filling. Vote yes on all seven propositions!

Finally, we need to look forward. Money got spent poorly through Rio Nuevo (our TIF, or tax increment financing district), but we did end up with much improved city center. Still, people bitch and moan. We put a baseball stadium in the wrong place 17 years ago and … there’s bitching and moaning, still. So guess what? We’re human, we make mistakes, and maybe we make more than our share. Stop digging; start filling!

Note, finally, that I did not mention being the solar or optics capital, or the Mexico hub thing, or a non-stop flight to somewhere, or anything else which fits into the category of solutions I hear often. Investors and business owners will tell us who we will be when they grow internally or move here from elsewhere. The rest of us need to stay focused on what we can do. Educate. Invest. Look forward.

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