Todd Sanders, President and CEO of the Greater Phoenix Chamber of Commerce talks about what the Chamber is doing to help its members make it through this tough economy, and he shares his perspective on the state budget.
Ted Simons: The business community is watching the budget process closely to see how it will affect Arizona's business climate. Earlier I spoke with Todd Sanders, president and C.E.O. of the greater Phoenix Chamber of Commerce, the state's largest and oldest chamber with over 3,000 members. And Todd, thanks for joining us on Horizon.
Todd Sanders: It's my pleasure, thanks for having me.
Ted Simons: Let's talk about your membership. The members of the greater Phoenix Chamber of Commerce who are they?
Todd Sanders: Well, we're the largest chamber in the state of Arizona, about 3400 members, really just a really broad diverse cross-section of our state. And so you can see on any given day you could see a plumber, you could see the sign printing folks, the large community leaders of our state like S.R.P. and A.P.S., it really is just about everything you can imagine in the state of Arizona.
Ted Simons: The benefits of a regional chamber of commerce as opposed to individual smaller units.
Todd Sanders: Well, I think for us having that large membership is really important because we can provide, you know, that value proposition, what's important to the folks across our region, in a very effective way. The other place where I think that's really important is the fact that when we're supporting our members at the state legislature, that voice in government, having the voice of such a broad cross-section of our state is really important.
Ted Simons: Let's talk about that voice. What is that voice calling for at the capitol?
Todd Sanders: Well, you know, we're looking at a wide range of issues this year. Clearly I think the 900-pound elephant in the room is the state budget and that is important. There's no question. But on a yearly basis there are some issues that are big for our members, one example is healthcare, healthcare costs are going up every year and the fact that there are more and more folks that are uninsured is a big issue for us, so lowering the numbers of uninsured folks in the state of Arizona is a big priority for us. Workers comp is another one, everyone has to have it, you have to have workers comp insurance but the rates have been creeping up so that's another area where our members ask us to engage for them.
Ted Simons: It's a big area of engagement for everyone it seems at the capitol right now, as you mentioned, it is the budget. But the concept of taxes, whether a one cent sales tax as the governor calls, no tax increase at all, as republican leadership calls for, where does the chamber stand on this? And how do you play that dynamic between taxes obviously, you want to keep them as low as possible for business and members, yet you want services and education to be up to snuff?
Todd Sanders: Right. And you don't see it, Chamber of Commerce jumping up and down to increase taxes, right. That is, you have to strike that balance and we're still grappling with that. We're looking at what the governor has proposed, the state legislature, I think for us some of the important parts of the budget have to include the recognition we're spending more than what's coming in. Cuts have to be meaningful but smart. We can't jeopardize the federal funds that are really a lifeline for us right now and I think you need to plan for the long term. You can't just look at this says a one off solution where we get by year by year. And finally the issue of sort of this photo-radar tech solution we saw last year, expecting 120 million to come in and scored it that way and it never came in. So we need to be careful and practical about what kind of revenue enhancement solutions we're thinking of doing.
Ted Simons: As it stands right now the budget passed by the legislature not yet presented to the governor, but passed by the legislature, is it the kind of thing your membership wants to see?
Todd Sanders: Parts of it, they do, absolutely. With regard to the spending as expects of it there's no question, again, that we're spending more than we're bringing in, so the fact that there are some deep cuts in there and a recognition of that is important to us. There is -- there are some tax policies in there very important to us in terms of business property taxes. There are certain parts important to us and we believe in, as well as the governor's budget.
Ted Simons: Another aspect of tax policy, getting the once over twice at least in areas around the legislature, tax incentives, and we've seen a big case with City North and these things, where does the chamber come down on that?
Todd Sanders: I think done properly and I think it's easy to look at one or two examples that maybe are looked at in the media and maybe don't really represent what those incentives can really do. I think if you do it smart, I was down at the state legislature as a research analyst for seven years and I've seen where you can apply incentives in a good way that will stimulate the economy, bring good jobs, and at the end of the day will be a net benefit in terms of the general fund.
Ted Simons: Some of your members say it's not fair, they're getting a break, I'm not?
Todd Sanders: Yeah, there is that and there is some legislation going through right now I think that's going to deal with that and that's going to have to be something that if we actually see bills get up to the governor and really move back and forth between the house and senate that we're looking at.
Ted Simons: Brings to mind the question of taking care of a variety of interests within the membership. How much of a challenge is that?
Todd Sanders: Well, it's tough. Right now if you just look at stepping away from the political a little bit, given the fact we do have 3400 members, we're looking at ways we can really provide the tools for them to not just survive right now but really succeed. So we looked at sort of a back-to-basics value package that make our businesses succeed like marketing, like sales, like accounting, and we've had every one we've done, every symposium has been sold out and members are asking for more, so it is back to the basic premise, what makes the economy run.
Ted Simons: Is that the key right now? It's sufficient a tough economy and everyone is struggling, is back to basics the goal here? Or there are other dynamics at play, when things are so bad and so many folks out there within your membership are saying we need some help.
Todd Sanders: No, no question that there's a lot more we can do. That's one of those things, but yeah, the basics of what makes the economy run are really important to recognize. We've also heard from our members and reacted to the fact that they want to be able to have more of those business-to-business opportunities, as a matter of fact on the 26th of June we're doing a day expo at the Kierland in North Phoenix where you'll have an opportunity to see 150 businesses out there doing the business-to-business contact, making new contacts and getting new clients so there's some of that as well.
Ted Simons: So there is some hope among membership in these relatively dark economic times.
Todd Sanders: There is, I've been going out to see hour members and it's amazing I'll go see one and they'll say business is great, and I think we're going to see that more and more and we're hopeful for the state of Arizona. I'm really bullish on our state.
Ted Simons: Very good, Todd, thanks for joining us. We appreciate it.
Todd Sanders: Thank you.
Todd Sanders:President and CEO, Greater Phoenix Chamber of Commerce;