Tucson needs to change attitude and attract foreign investment - Inside Tucson Business: Guest Opinion

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Tucson needs to change attitude and attract foreign investment


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Posted: Friday, October 29, 2010 12:00 am

Forget about the pros and cons of the proposed copper mine project southeast of Tucson, a real issue for our region is whether we are going to welcome foreign investment here or not? 

And by “foreign,” I mean anyone from outside Pima County.

To survive and prosper this region needs to attract “foreign” investment.

If someone is trying to invest a billion dollars here, we ought to at least talk to them to see if we can’t create a win-win scenario, instead of vilifying the goal of someone trying to make some money here.

If I didn’t know Pima County Supervisor Ray Carroll was a Republican, I’d have thought he was a Raúl Grijalva Democrat the way he attacks those greedy foreigners wanting to make a buck digging a hole in the Santa Rita Mountains.

Another broader issue exemplified by the mine fight is the use of fear to make public policy.

The politics of the region has, for a long time, been driven by fear of change. Every new development or project is going to destroy that last remaining habitat of some squirrel, or a frog, or a weed.

People who propose to use land to generate jobs and taxes are painted as money-grubbing evildoers. Thou shalt not touch the undisturbed lands around the existing urban area for any purpose.

There is a disassociation that doesn’t connect homes and people and their jobs with the resources to have good public schools, money to maintain roads or pay for fire protection and law enforcement services.

Every new project, whether it is a mine or a master-planned community development, is seen as a blight on the landscape and a threat with all sorts of imagined negative consequences.

For almost 60 years, the people of Tucson and Pima County have worked hard to drive away companies like Motorola, General Instruments — and the list goes on — out of fear something bad might happen.

There has been a constant battle zone around Tucson’s urban area by people determined to “stop sprawl,” even as growth pushed the urban area out even farther. I’ve lived in the Tucson region long enough to remember when the battle lines of growth were at River Road on the north and Wilmot Road on the east. Now the urban area reaches northward into Pinal County and there are developments stretching eastward beyond Houghton Road.

I remember when my grandfather started a development “way out in the middle of nowhere.” It was at First Avenue and Ina Road.

The last major round of the fight was down south in Santa Cruz County where anti-growth folks attacked two master-planned communities being proposed there. They won the first round of the fight but it is inevitable that the urban area will spread farther and farther away from Tucson’s downtown.

Instead of fighting growth, why isn’t anyone fighting for a high-speed rail system in the region?

Why any business even tries to locate a new project in this region escapes me. No matter what it is, they can expect a fight. Tucson’s economy has developed in spite of this attitude but nowhere near the potential that it could have been.

Rather than really plan to accommodate growth and development and make it work best for existing residents and newcomers, there has been a consistent effort to draw lines and say no. Obviously, just looking at what has evolved in the region over the last 50 years, the “no” crowd has failed to stop growth.

What they did accomplish, however, was diverting a lot of time, money and energy into the “no” fight and away from the “how to” issues.

Maybe it is time to accept that Tucson is growing and will continue to grow, but we can do a better job of it.

Today, the fact is Tucson is a low-wage market, because the political leadership has been dominated by NIMBY forces who are frightened of the future.

Contact Hugh Holub, an attorney who works in real estate development, public utility, water and environmental law, at HughHolub@msn.com.

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