Julie Rees Sintra Hoffman

Julie Rees received the President’s Choice Award from Sintra Hoffman, president and CEO of WESTMARC.

While business leaders were socializing before WESTMARC’s Best of the West awards show and dinner Thursday, Nov. 7, the Lee Perreira Trio played a slow version of Bob Marley’s “Stir It Up.”

Fitting, as WESTMARC —the Western Maricopa Coalition— has stirred up the West Valley business and leadership scene for 27 years. Equal parts cheerleader, coach and matchmaker,  WESTMARC is “a public-private partnership of the 15 communities, the business community and the educational sector in the West Valley.” 

The organization, according to its mission statement, “is committed to our members’ success and to our mission of enhancing economic development and promoting quality of life in the West Valley.”

At State Farm Stadium, on the covered field where the presenting sponsor Arizona Cardinals play, the preshow dinner delighted those in attendence. After dinner, WESTMARC signaled “touchdown” for organizations dubbed the West Valley’s best in various categories.

“This is our opportunity to recognize all the great work that’s been going on in the West Valley,” said Sintra Hoffman, president and CEO of WESTMARC. “Clearly, this is a high-quality place to live.”

The good times continue rolling west: Hoffman noted Goodyear recently made Money magazine’s “Best Places to Live” list. She listed the big businesses flocking to the West Valley, including Nike, Microsoft and Red Bull.

Those are the only companies stoking the job market, as the awards show.

Hoffman and others made references to the Academy Awards - the WESTMARC awards might be considered “business and community Oscars.”

Finalists in the Economic Engine category were a couple of heavyweights: Glendale’s Desert Diamond West Valley Casino, which is expanding and hiring more than 1,000, and Avondale’s Coldwater Depot Logistics Center.

The Coldwater hub has 65 businesses employing 1,200 and is “creating a vast economic benefit for the West Valley by bringing its residents home to work,” said the city of Avondale, which nominated Coldwater. King Koil mattresses and the Vitamin Shoppe are two of the biggest employers at Coldwater.

Desert Diamond Casino was described as “a game-changer for economic development in the West Valley.” Indeed, Desert Diamond hired 700, over halfway to its 1,300 goal.

The economic engine award went to … Desert Diamond Casino. 

Desert Diamond Casino is an enterprise of the Tohono O’odham Nation; members of the tribe accepted the award.

“Thank you for honoring us with this award,” said Ned Norris Jr., chairman of the Tohono O’odham Nation. “Desert Diamond Casino has made efforts to build good, strong relationships with many of you in this room. We look forward to continuing to create a strong economy for the West Valley.”

The grand opening of the sprawling Glendale casino is scheduled for early 2020.

Erika Wilson, who invited the crowd to see her in “A Christmas Carol” by Peoria’s TheaterWorks, presented the big award to Desert Diamond Casino

In the Excellence in Innovation category, the finalists were a pair of forward-thinkers: The city of Peoria’s Business Concierge and Arizona State University’s  Cybersecurity Education Consortium (CEC).

The Peoria program was created “to strengthen the city’s business partnership, build rapport, connect businesses with services and community support programs, navigate planning, zoning, signage, code enforcement and other areas within the city.”

Peoria business owners, in a video presentation, attested to the ease of use and efficiency of the Concierge program. 

ASU’s CEC “is actively working to empower students at any age to be the next generation of cybersecurity professionals and leaders.”

And the winner is...City of Peoria Business Concierge.

“We are so proud,” Peoria Mayor Cathy Carlat exclaimed, holding the award at la Sally Field. She thanked her economic development Staff “who push all the buttons.”

WESTMARC’s quality of life enhancement in the community finalists were the West Valley Arts Council, locating in Surprise and featuring members around the West Valley, and Maryvale Revitalization Corporation’s HERO U Program, which aims to promote positive thinking for eighth- and  ninth-grade students

The West Valley Arts Council took the award home.

The Quality of Life Enhancement in education finalists were a pair of powerful youth shapers: Speak Up, Stand Up, Save a Life, an annual conference aiming to reduce bullying and suicides; and Waddell’s Canyon View High School, which recently won the prestigious James MacConnell Award “for curiosity, creativity and imagination in education.”

The winner is…Speak Up, Stand Up, Save a Life.

Dedicated “to all those we have lost to suicide,” the next Speak Up, Stand Up conference will be Jan. 21, at Grand Canyon University.

The West Valley Scholarship Fund named another winner, Mariah Washington, who won a scholarship. The Glendale Community College student said she will use it to pursue a nursing degree.

In addition to the four annual awards, the WESTMARC board of directors also presented the inspiration in leadership award to Littleton School District Superintendent Roger Freeman and the regional advancement award to Mike and Cindy Watts of the ASU Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions. Mike and Cindy Watts, founders of Sunstate Equipment, donated $30 million to ASU.

Hoffman gave the president’s choice award to Julie Rees of Triadvocates.

The Inspiration in Leadership award went to Dr. Roger Freeman, superintendent of the Littleton Elementary School District. 

“It remains my stubborn hope you’ll continue to be inspired, for the greater good of our whole community,” Freeman said.