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July 16, 2012

Host: Ted Simons

Arizona Transportation Projects

  |   Video
  • Arizona Republic transportation reporter Sean Holstege discusses the latest transportation news including federal funding for a proposed I-11 corridor connecting Phoenix and Las Vegas.
  • Sean Holstege - Transportation Reporter, Arizona Republic
Category: Business/Economy   |   Keywords: transportation, arizona, project, federal, ,

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Ted Simons: There was a transportation bill signed by the President earlier this month. Here to talk about that and other transportation news is Sean Holstege, who covers transportation issues for the "Arizona Republic." Thanks for joining us.

Sean Holstege: Good to be here.

Ted Simons: Let's start with the train switch. Is this I-11 thing going to happen?

Sean Holstege: Depends on who you talk to. There are a lot of powerful people behind it in both states, Arizona and Nevada. They have the key landmark decision that gives them the opportunity and that's this presidential signature on the transportation bill. It doesn't happen very often. Last time was 2005. A new interstate is a very rare thing in the United States.

Ted Simons: Where would it start, where would it end?

Sean Holstege: It would happen in phases. Initially what most people consider I-11 is Las Vegas down U.S. 93 through Wickenburg somehow, down west of the White Sands, further south and east behind the Estrella Mountains.

Ted Simons: When you say around the Estrella Mountains, again, this gets to -- what about the south mountain freeway?

Sean Holstege: That's where the controversy -- we haven't heard a lot of controversy yet, but it hasn't been a real plan yet. The action this month put it on the map literally and figuratively. It's there to be planned and for the federal government to spend money on. It is a bypass for truck traffic, mixed traffic. It parallels the South Mountain Freeway. For those who don't like the idea of always building freeways to solve our problems or to move goods and people, they may see that as a redundancy. That process is now unfolding.

Ted Simons: Opponents are saying it's just another freeway. What are supporters saying?

Sean Holstege: Supporters are saying, first of all, that Phoenix and Las Vegas are the only two major cities of their size, a million or more, that close and that unconnected with a freeway. It's a gap in the national freeway system is one argument. The other argument is we need a way to get more commerce between the two cities and up from Mexico to Canada. The only option is I-5 on the west and all the way over to Texas, I-35. The mountain region, the fastest growing region in the country, there's no real direct route for all that truck traffic and tourism traffic up to the intermountain west.

Ted Simons: How much would this cost?

Sean Holstege: Beyond that, I can't tell you, it's a lot, a lot of money. We're talking about a couple hundred miles of freeway, widening 93, and we're talking billions. For that reason ADOT and mag and Las Vegas are talking about a toll road at least south of Wickenburg.

Ted Simons: Obviously it's going to be untold billions. Who will pay it for, and how will that be paid for?

Sean Holstege: It's a good news, bad news thing. The federal government now can spend money on it. Up until this point that was not possible. There's always more money in the federal interstate programs than all of the other programs the Transportation Department pays for. That's in the public purse. Put in context, the government spends $50 billion a year on all modes of transportation throughout the country. You start to talk $5 billion, $10 billion for a freeway, part one, that's the basis for the toll road. The other basis is we're not looking at anything realistic for at least 10 years or maybe 20.

Ted Simons: 10, 20 years?

Sean Holstege: Depending on how aggressive they are and to what extent ADOT can negotiate a deal with the landowners that want to donate the property for the roadway.

Ted Simons: Another big issue is this Union Pacific plan to build a switching yard down at Picacho Peak state park.

Sean Holstege: They break them up loads and reassemble them so they can be sent off to the different destinations. If there are car parts that need to go to Detroit, they will put all those on one train. If there are ag products to go somewhere else, they reassemble the trains. They need a large piece of property to do that. The property near Picacho Peak is six miles long, it would be 74 tracks wide.

Ted Simons: Where exactly would it be? Everyone knows where Picacho Peak State Park is. Where would this thing be in relation?

Sean Holstege: If you can visualize the ostrich farm, it's down and across, south and east from the park and from the historic marker.

Ted Simons: And this is state trust land.

Sean Holstege: Correct.

Ted Simons: Which brings in a whole different dynamic. Talk about the process needed for the State to sell this land.

Sean Holstege: And again, the State doesn't have to sell this land. They are trying to get the best bang for the buck.

Ted Simons: Are critics saying this is the best bang for the buck?

Sean Holstege: Critics will have a chance to weigh in on it in a couple of weeks. The State Department is at the tail end of reviewing the application that Union Pacific put in to acquire the land. Everyone who wants to buy state lands has to apply for the right to do so. They are getting the best value for the trust for the State that it can. Sometimes it means selling now, sometimes waiting for a better deal to come along.

Ted Simons: This process and this project have actually changed the way state land is sort of thinking about the way it conducts business. Historically, we think of desert ridge when we think of state land. What's the highest best use of a parcel near an interstate? Maybe it's development but do we really think anything can be developed there? They have to decide whether a rail yard is the best applicant. That's what they are in the middle of doing right now. and not only that, it strikes me that there are other parcels of state land in the vicinity. If you sell to Union Pacific for a rail switching yard, what does that dod to the valve neighboring state lands?

Sean Holstege: Absolutely. That's the analysis they are going through right now at state lands. They own most everything to the east of that yard. Think of a railyard as a six mile long wall. You can't bridge it or go across it, you have to go around. State land is evaluating what that barrier does to the value of the lands east. If you deny access or make it more difficult to get access to their other land, that is on balance a bad deal for the State? That's what they are trying to do right now.

Ted Simons: The concerns regarding Picacho Peak state park, what do you think? Are people visiting there going to see trains coming and going?

Sean Holstege: Six miles long, it's going to be visible. It may be noisy, too. Union Pacific says they have remedies for that. It's not directly across from the park, it's sort of at an angle. Will it like the park? There are mixed opinions about that.

Ted Simons: What kind of timetable as far as building from Union Pacific?

Sean Holstege: End of the month from when they finish their evaluation, because of the process to apply and do the paperwork and the public noticing, people say it won't be until early next year that it could be made available for sale. After that, Union Pacific says they can build these very quickly.

Ted Simons: Excellent stuff. Good to have you here, Sean.

Sean Holstege: Thank you.

Arizona Travel and Tourism Statistics

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  • Arizona Office of Tourism Director Sherry Henry talks about the latest economic impact and visitation statistics for Arizona’s tourism industry.
  • Sherry Henry - Director, Arizona Office of Tourism
Category: Business/Economy   |   Keywords: travel, tourism, statistics, economic, ,

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Ted Simons: More than 37 million tourists contributed over $18 billion to Arizona's economy during 2011. Those statistics were released last week at the Governor's Conference on Tourism. Here with us is Sherry Henry with the Office of Tourism. Good to see you again.

Sherry Henry: Good to see you, Ted.

Ted Simons: $18 billion, that sounds good compared to years past.

Sherry Henry: Yes, it is, it's up. Everything is up, 5.5% up from the year before. As visitors are up just under 3% from 2010, we're pretty excited about that. All the needles are moving in the right direction.

Ted Simons: What about prerecession levels?

Sherry Henry: Not quite there, but sure creeping close. 2007, probably the ultimate, ultimate, ultimate, and it was about $18.9 in visitor spending.

Ted Simons: What are they spending their money on?

Sherry Henry: It's so interesting. Arizona is such a wonderful diversified state. They are really spending on everything. We were talking earlier about the Mexico market alone and what they do when they are here. You can do everything in Arizona. Golf, ski, hike, go to Flagstaff and take the extreme adventure, something kind of new and fun. There isn't anything you cannot do in Arizona. They are spending money everywhere, resort hotels and transportation and bringing them here and traveling around the state.

Ted Simons: Nothing changed, no trends going up or tailing off, as far as what we have seen in the past?

Sherry Henry: No, same old, same old. Thank goodness.

Ted Simons: Canada, Mexico, U.K., top three.

Sherry Henry: Correct. And Canadians probably are getting the greatest traction, they love Arizona and we love our Canadian visitors. But Mexico is still our number one international market and will continue to be. They are our closest neighbor. But Canada has continued to grow. They grew by 16.5% in 2010, up by another almost 8% in 2011. It has a lot to do with new air service.

Ted Simons: It sounds, as far as Arizona's share of foreign visitors as a whole, it's not exactly what it could be. What can be done to fix that?

Sherry Henry: Well, more advertising, more exposure for Arizona. We have representation in the five international markets. Mexico, Canada, U.K., Britain, Germany and France. We're just under, about 13% of our overall visitation is actually from the international market. As a result of that, when the Governor was kind enough to recommend additional funding to the Arizona Office of Tourism, one segment was actually earmarked to pursue the emerging international markets. Brazil and China kind of in harmony with what's happening at the international level. That being said, we would never, never walk away from our mature markets. Consumer advertising in both Canada and Mexico.

Ted Simons: When we mention Mexico in particular, and tourism in general, gotta mention SB-1070. The study was done by Pollock and Companies, jobs lost, $86 million in wages. There's a lag in tourism, bookings are up but there is a lag. The general impact of SB 1070, tell us the truth now, the impact. And if that clears -- we just had the Supreme Court bringing up the issue again.

Sherry Henry: I know that. The good news is Arizona is such an amazing place to visit. The tourism industry, which I've been in for 30 some odd years now, has continued to be impacted by outside activity. Take the AIG effect, swine flu. Think of the things that impact this industry on a regular basis. We are fortunate in that Arizona is such a fabulous place to visit, we just keep focused on the ball. That is remind people about what an amazing place it is to come. I don't think we'll ever know for sure the true impact the 1070. You had so many in favor of it, and then the people against it. You're never going to change either opinion. That's why we just keep focused on reminding everybody what a welcoming environment we have.

Ted Simons: In terms of plans, procedures, ways to advertise with the new money in the budget, nothing is skewed to kind of take that into effect?

Sherry Henry: No, it's all about reminding people what an amazing destination Arizona is.

Ted Simons: You were cautiously optimistic about the future. Explain me.

Sherry Henry: Yes. I think the economy, the thing that's probably impacted the tourism industry not just in Arizona but worldwide is the economy. As long as the economy continues to creep up, you will see the tourism destinations get more of that travel dollar. We're finding in some of our recent advertising that we do there is a sort of pent-up demand for Arizona, because we just put our toes in the water on some very light international marketing, which we haven't been able to do. The numbers just shot up because there is this pent-up need to want to take a vacation. I think now that the economy is improving somewhat, a lot of the travelers are saying, okay, we've held back for a couple of years and they are seeing a little bit about Arizona. Let's take that Arizona trip.

Ted Simons: We'll check back with you later to see if the numbers come through. Good to see you.

Sherry Henry: Always a pleasure, thank you.

Giving and Leading: Arizona Rural Development Council

  |   Video
  • Eddie Browning, Executive Director of the Arizona Rural Development Council (AZRDC)explains how his statewide non-profit organization is building partnerships with the public and private sectors for the benefit of rural Arizona.
  • Eddie Browning - Executive Director, Arizona Rural Development Council (AZRDC)
Category: Business/Economy   |   Keywords: giving, leading, arizona, rural, development, council, nonprofit, organization, ,

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Ted Simons: The Arizona Rural Development Council is a nonprofit organization trying to improve the quality of life in the state's rural community. Here to tell us more is the council's executive director Eddie Browning. Thank you for joining us.

Eddie Browning: Thank you for having me.

Ted Simons: So tell us, what are you all about?

Eddie Browning: We are a federally recognized nonprofit. Our goal is to link rural communities to resources to improve their quality of life, and improve their economic climate. We've kind of settled on a few programs we try to do that with. One of them is our forum that we have coming up in August. What's interesting about that is that world communities need resources, aka money. We've set up an event where we bring in Grand grant-makers that have the desire to fund in rural communities, and bring them to an event. We set them up in a roundtable speed-dating operation. Then we invite nonprofit organizations from around the state to come. It's a two-day event. The first day we work on capacity building and teaching them better ways to be a more successful nonprofit. But the real highlight is this grant-maker roundtable. A grant-maker may host a single individual table.

Ted Simons: That could be government, corporations, the whole nine yards?

Eddie Browning: Uh-huh. We will have 20 tables and APS will be there, the Arizona Commerce Authority will be there, the Arizona Community Foundation, Tuscon Electric Power, Delta Dental, just some of those that will be there. The nonprofits get to come in. They have two minutes to make a presentation to that grant-maker. We're not asking the grant-maker to make a decision at that moment. We're basically saying this meets our priorities, our needs. When our grant cycle comes around, make sure that you get in an application. The whole idea is that a lot of grant-making organizations, most of them are located in Phoenix or the Tucson area. They would like a bigger rural presence, but it's difficult to get out and travel. You travel, you put in seven hours on the road for a two-hour meeting. This way I'm expecting somewhere between 150 and 175 nonprofits to come in and have one-on-one meetings with the grant-makers.

Ted Simons: What are nonprofits looking for help with? Give us scope of the landscape.

Eddie Browning: Well, I would say it's money, resources, and manpower. What usually happens in rural is that your economies of scale kick in. There's not as many people, not as many people with dollars given to these nonprofits. They are always chasing dollars. Especially if you look at the municipalities. When I say manpower, usually it's a city manager, he could be the city manager, the economic development person, and the airport authority all at the same time. That's one of the huge challenges that they have.

Ted Simons: As far as grant-making ability and just granting services and money and whatever you need in these rural communities, has it affected these foundations, and government corporations, they just look above and don't see what's down there? What's going on there?

Eddie Browning: I think you get into your circle and cubicle, and there's so much need in so many different areas. I'm not blaming them, but it's just easier -- they have easier contact with the nonprofits say in a closer vicinity here. It's harder to get out and find out what the needs are. The needs here are exactly the same as the needs in rural, it's just different percentages.

Ted Simons: And one of the needs in rural Arizona is doctors, people in the health care industry. You had an event called the AZ Mash project.

Eddie Browning: It's multiple avenues for successful health care. This is the second year of my pilot project for this. We're trying to find high school students, link them up with a local hospital, and give them a two-week session of behind-the-scenes, what's going on in a hospital. And that there's more to the rural health care field than just doctors and nurses. The theory behind it is if you find somebody that grew up in rural, they want to go off and get their education, this is an opportunity to invite them home, and that there's a job for you when they come back home, rather than trying to find somebody that maybe grew up in Scottsdale and went to school here, then convince them they should go to a small rural community where the shopping is a little bit different. So it's sort of really a grass roots workforce development project.

Ted Simons: I notice these kids visited dentist offices, rehab facilities, hospitals, hospices, pharmacists, nursing homes. They did CPR, they performed EKGs, watched animal surgeries. You really say, listen, this is out there for you, just don’t forget about home when you decide to go down that trail.

Eddie Browning: You know how it is, when you grow up in a rural community, every high school senior probably when they graduate, what's the first thing they say they want to do? I want to get out of Dodge, I'm ready to go anywhere except here. As you get a little bit older and you're looking for a job and then you get married and decide to have kids, these rural communities are a great place to raise families. It's not uncommon for them to begin to come back home. We're trying to park that interest as an earlier age, so they can go, get your education and sow your wild oats but you're always welcome back home.

Ted Simons: Where is the meet and greet and when?

Eddie Browning: August 9 and 10 here in Phoenix at the Black Canyon Conference Center.

Ted Simons: Eddie, great work, thanks for joining us here.

Eddie Browning: I appreciate it, thank you.