Wiest & Sheldon

2011 WESTMARC 2011 Chairwoman Candace Wiest congratulates 2012 Chairman Bill Sheldon.

WESTMARC (Western Maricopa Coalition) hosted its Annual Meeting and Economic Forecast Breakfast Feb. 3 at Arizona State University's West Campus.

WESTMARC hosts the breakfast each year to discuss the state's and nation's economy and what to expect in the near future. Glendale Mayor Elaine Scruggs, Peoria Councilmember Joan Evans, and Executive Director of Leadership West and Peoria Unified School District Board Member Kathy Knecht were in attendance.

Guest speakers included Dennis Hoffman, professor of economics at Arizona State University, and Michael D. Bennett, Senior Associate for Strategic Consulting Jones Lang La Salle.

Hoffman is touted as one of the state's premier economists. He has been a long-time advisor to Arizona policy makers. He provided an economic forecast at the state and national levels.

Bennett is a former economic development director for the City of Glendale, where he held that position for four years. He now is a senior national site-selection consultant in Chicago, assisting companies evaluating markets for relocations and expansion projects. Bennett discussed the economy, the West Valley and the area's competitive position.

Hoffman discussed the economy and current market for Phoenix, saying analysts conclude that the recession is over, but the signs of progression won't be seen immediately. Hoffman said the labor market is "on the up-tick" with careers in the health care and construction industries growing in the state. He said in 2010, Arizona was ranked 49th in the nation for job creation; now it is ranked 10th. Hoffman projected that in 2012, economic growth and employment rates will grow from last year by more than 2 percent.

He provided positive words, saying, "When this state gets going, it really goes."

Hoffman noted that while retail sales show people are spending more money, consumers are still cautious and will remain so for another year or two.

He closed his presentation with an economic outlook. He said the turnaround and noticeable change in the economy will be slow. Growth will be modest, but will show steady and rising improvement in the near future.

Bennett said when he first started working for the City of Glendale approximately 12 years ago; he used to ride his bicycle around the area where the Loop 101 freeway now is.

"When I come back out here and I see what has been developed and built, I literally can't believe it," he said. "It also really impresses me that local governments took the initiative with constructing the Loop 303 before there was a need for it. The problem was addressed before it was even an issue."

When someone asked Bennett how he viewed the West Valley's ability to compete with other prime business locations around the country, he answered, "We don't give ourselves enough credit."

Bennett discussed the West Valley's local labor dynamics as recovering by recognizing our strengths and using them to attract big business.

Bennett said he sees the most business and employment growth in the realms of technology and energy. These businesses which were once reserved solely for Silicon Valley, Bennett said are now seeking to do business in Arizona.

He said a current problem in the state can be used to our benefit. Today, 20 to 30 percent of office buildings are vacant.

"Although it doesn't sound like it, that's great news because existing markets and buildings are currently preferred to greenfield sites," he said. "Companies are looking for ways to house businesses and employees where there are already facilities."

Bennett said the state will see the vacancy rates decline in the next couple years, as more companies rent out the current vacant office buildings. As a result, Bennett predicts construction for new building sites will rise as the vacancy rates drop.

For more information on WESTMARC, visit www.westmarc.org, or call 623-435-0431.