Michael Peel

The Local First Arizona Foundation focuses on economic and environmental sustainability throughout Arizona. The foundation’s mission is centered around building an Arizona economy that is sustainable and resilient while celebrating diverse cultures. 

To achieve this mission, Local First focuses on a wide range of strategic initiatives that target systems of inequity and build prosperity for all Arizonans. After two years of creating and expanding the foundation’s programs for Southern Arizona through a cross-sector set of collaborations, the goal is to pursue strategic integration of the current programs to create a larger menu of services and solutions to some of the region’s most pressing challenges. 

Local First’s SCALE UP (Sustainable Communities Accessing Lending and Expertise Upon Performance) is an award-winning program designed for local businesses, nonprofits and residents to save energy and money by implementing sustainable practices. This program is a comprehensive and integrated platform emphasizing local energy, water, waste and transportation conservation, with trainings to apply concepts and practices of benchmarking, evaluation, and the implementation of upgrades to facilities. The trainings are coupled with financial and other incentives so that participants who complete the program may then finance new projects through the program’s community conservation revolving loan fund, in partnership with the Community Investment Corporation. Improving building performance offers key positive impacts, including reducing carbon emissions and utility costs, while creating cleaner air and healthier communities.  A new goal is to expand the program model to more communities to directly address and better prepare for climate change related events.

LFAF’s Fuerza Local Business Accelerator is the first entrepreneurial training program in the country to create a pathway into mainstream banking for Hispanic business owners by developing credit history among members of this largely underserved population using traditional money pool practices to strengthen their businesses. Over the past six years, nearly 700 micro-enterprises have graduated from the six-month program, creating 500 new jobs, and reducing average interest rates paid from 48 percent to 6 percent. The program expansion in Southern Arizona is in partnership with Vib’n. A new goal is to combine the SCALE UP and Fuerza Local program models to be a more comprehensive program model for underserved communities. 

One significant policy tool for creating greater educational and financial mechanisms is the landmark accomplishment in partnership with the Historic Fourth Avenue Coalition including adjacent neighborhood associations and many local businesses in the form of Arizona’s first-ever Community Benefits Agreement. A CBA is an agreement between developers and coalitions of community stakeholders that address a broad range of community needs, serving as a safeguard to ensure that affected residents are able to influence and share in the benefits of major developments. A CBA gives community stakeholders a voice in shaping projects to press for community benefits tailored to their particular needs to enforce developers’ promises and to provide support for the impacted communities. The CBA has been a proven policy tool in other cities such as Austin and New York in supporting the needs of various community stakeholders and is now an established solution in Tucson due to the efforts of many stakeholders on Fourth Avenue.  A new goal with utilizing the CBA policy tool is to develop trainings on the process to share with other communities to address climate change, health, and equity issues. Larger community-wide issues addressed in successful CBAs in other cities include living wage programs, environmental issues, and affordable housing among many other critical community issues.

Over time, more community-based sustainability projects can be developed by meeting our new goals and can address larger issues such as gaps in access to capital, green jobs, and other priorities identified by stakeholders in underserved communities. The Local First Arizona team in Tucson is excited to work with existing and new partners to meet these new goals to create a better community for all. 

There is also a new Southern Arizona page for Local First Arizona and the Local First Arizona Foundation for keeping updated on all of the key areas of our work at localfirstaz.com/tucson.

Contact Michael Peel, Southern Arizona Director, at mike@localfirstaz.com, or 975-0145.  

This is a regular series of columns from Local First Arizona on local sustainable economy issues. Get involved as a member or volunteer of LFA by signing up at www.localfirstaz.com.