Although we take on many initiatives with great effort, we only count it as a success if our region prospers or our quality of life is improved. If we somehow contribute to helping create a safe and economically vibrant community where we all enjoy working and living, we feel fortunate. If we can do this with every guarantee of excellence and recreation in a setting that preserves our unique environment, then we feel we have made strides on what matters. Leaders in every part of our region including nonprofits, government and citizens are critical to create change. We should all feel fortunate that our collective efforts continue to touch so many lives in meaningful ways.
SALC was a leader in creating the new Downtown Tucson Partnership, which focuses on revitalizing the core of the city. This action is an example of SALC working to pull together key leaders, focusing always on outcomes and ultimately making the city a better place.
SALC members led the effort to create a Regional Transportation Authority, virtually from inception to its passage by voters in a landmark victory. The issue included a half-cent sales tax to fund $2.1 billion in road improvements over 20 years. SALC founding member Si Schorr was on the first board and served as chair of the RTA.
SALC led the opposition against two attempts to restrict the use of Central Arizona Project. The propositions would have inhibited growth in our region. SALC was instrumental in creating the Tucson Regional Water Council, a coalition of 11 business organizations dedicated to effective management of the region’s water and wastewater resources. It helped bring about a broad-based effort for engaging the entire region in water issue discussions, a process City Council-woman Karin Uhlich described as “historic.”
Arizona’s Fiscal Crisis
SALC initiated a dialogue with the state Governor and the state legislature to create a strategic plan that would provide a context for annual financial decisions. Toward that end, SALC co-sponsored an analysis of state finances by McKinsey & Company. The analysis revealed the extent to which the deficit is structural, not cyclical. SALC strongly supported a one-percent sales tax increase for education. We insisted the fiscal crisis must be resolved in ways that preserve the state’s critical infrastructure and there be no “sacred cows” in solving the state budget shortfall. It will take a combination of spending reductions, spending deferrals, debt financing, revenue enhancements and other actions to get Arizona’s finances in order.
The key outcomes spawned six “Community Conversations” on water, literacy, land-use, arts and culture, early childhood education and public education. New organizations growing from these “conversations” include the Literacy for Life Coalition and Tucson Values Teachers.
SALC brought together 45 scientists, land managers and government leaders to discuss the growing threat of buffelgrass which is known as “the worst invasive grass in the world.” According to scientists, the non-native plant out of Africa is known for its ability to suck up moisture faster than native plants of the Sonoran Desert and to catch fire easily, thus being a serious threat to native plants, people and structures, not to mention the impact this type of destruction would have on the area’s lifestyle and tourism economy. This forum led to the creation of the Southern Arizona Buffelgrass Coordination Center. SALC board member Sarah Smallhouse is the founding chair of the center’s board of directors.
Tucson Values Teachers is one of SALC’s most ambitious education undertakings. It is a major initiative to ensure that the Tucson region attracts, retains and supports the highest-quality educators. As an indicator of how important this issue is to SALC and the community, an executive director was hired to oversee TVT’s major components. These include incentives for teachers, opportunities for professional development, teacher internships in businesses during the summer and an effort to provide classrooms with needed school supplies. Since its beginnings as an SALC initiative, Tucson Values Teachers has achieved new status as a freestanding nonprofit organization.
Science and Innovation
SALC has been the region’s driving force behind coordinating local bioscience efforts. Under the leadership of SALC members Leslie Tolbert and Chris Gleeson, the Bioscience Leadership Council of Southern Arizona was created to provide direction and development strategies. Additionally, SALC President Shoopman serves as co-chair of the statewide Bioscience Roadmap steering committee, which guides the state’s bioscience development. Since focusing on this initiative, bioscience growth in Arizona has increased 32% to a total of 90,219 jobs. That’s nearly three times the U.S. growth rate of 11% during the same time period.
SALC partnered with two similar organizations, Greater Phoenix Leadership and the Flagstaff Forty, to create the public-private nonprofit Science Foundation Arizona. The organization focuses on generating high-technology jobs through business expansion and new startups, as well as retaining and attracting top talent to Arizona. A total of $43.8 million, more than half the total of SFAz grants, has gone to Southern Arizona.
Health Information Exchange
The SALC Healthcare Taskforce was instrumental in creating the Hospital Council of Southern Arizona. The partnership between SALC and the HCSA is unique in the nation, making Southern Arizona one of the few places in the country to bring together business and healthcare. Its major work currently is in developing a health information exchange that will allow healthcare organizations instant access to a patient’s medical history when patients give consent. Such quick access is expected to positively impact care for those in our community and allows physicians to more accurately select treatment.
Partners for Progress
We are grateful to all of the organizations for their collaboration, dedication and continued commitment to make a difference in our community.