Economic Growth: New WESTMARC CEO

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Michelle Rider, formally a Senior Vice President of the Greater Phoenix Economic Council, is the new President and CEO of WESTMARC, an organization that promotes growth and development in the west Valley. Rider will discuss the opportunities and challenges she faces in her new role.

Ted Simons: "Horizon's" continuing focus on economic growth looks tonight at western Maricopa County. WESTMARC is a coalition of west valley communities and businesses that promote the region and advocate on its behalf. On July 1st, former GPEC vice-president Michelle Rider began serving as WESTMARC's president and CEO. She replaces long time CEO Jack Lunsford who retired this year due to health issues. Joining me to talk about the challenges and opportunities she faces in her new role is WESTMARC President and CEO, Michelle Rider. Good to have you here.

Michelle Rider: Thank you. Glad to be here.

Ted Simons: What is WESTMARC?

Michelle Rider: WESTMARC is Maricopa coalition is what it stands for. As you said, it is a group of three groups, which is basically the 15 municipalities that are west of the I-17, and including Phoenix, that part sits west of I-17, also the private sector business interests and the education community, and really it was created as a convening point for those groups, get those groups together, talk about issues of the day, and see if they can come to a conclusion with one voice, therefore being a stronger voice.

Ted Simons: Compare to East Valley partnership, compare to GPEC. It seems like we're all in the same field.

Michelle Rider: We're in the same field, but we do very different things. GPEC is what I'm most familiar with. What WESTMARC's role is, we don't deal directly with the companies. That's a GPEC or Arizona Commerce Authority function. So what our role is to really make sure that the west valley is getting the best marketing to those groups so then they can go out and really communicate with the companies. So it's making sure we have our assets highlighted, that we are really having our best face forward.

Ted Simons: So you got branding. You are getting branding, I'm hearing branding going on.
Michelle Rider: Yeah. That's exactly what it is.
Ted Simons: You got cities, businesses, and you've got educators, and you've got a brand you've got to figure on. Are folks in the same book, if not on the same page?

Michelle Rider: They are. I'm in day 10, but, yeah, one of the things I've been really excited about the job is that people really are on the same page. And I don't think that gets highlighted much. I think more of the problems get highlighted, and the good things go away, but the bad things stay in the news. But I really think that the private sector interests and the public sector interests are on the same page. They just want the west valley to prosper. And that's what WESTMARC's job is, is to promote the west valley. That's really what our job is. Change the perception in the market, we need to enhance that, and really get those good news stories out there.

Ted Simons: What is the perception in the market? Cuz I can tell you I've spoken to people who are in a official capacity and not in official capacity, but I always get this sense there's an undercurrent of, the east side thinks we're this, and central Phoenix thinks we're that, and the big boys aren't taking us seriously yet. That seems to be an internal perception.

Michelle Rider: Yeah. I've heard undercurrents of that too. I think everybody is getting on the same page where we just have to change that. We're making it -- we're doing a self-fulfilling prophecy and saying we get treated poorly, or the east valley gets this or that, and we don't -- I think that's really changing. We realize we're growing up and we have to really get out there and put our best face forward, so that's -- having that feeling is interfering with that.

Ted Simons: How do you get the best foot forward, the best face board, the best branding forward when something like a West Gate happens, and folks go, it's -- they tried to do too much too soon and look what happens.

Michelle Rider: That's -- it stays in the news, and that's too bad. It's a function or product of the economy. We've got really strong leaders in the west valley that I think are doing everything they can to turn those things around. But really, what we don't hear about are all of those assets that are out there in the west valley. All of the things that are going really well. For example, the solar industry. We've had some really great recent ones in the solar industry in the west valley, especially surprise and Goodyear. Those communities have had some great manufacturing companies come out there. Those are great jobs, also headquarter operations. We need to be highlighting that, and also making sure that we're prepared to help capture some of that supply chain that will come after that. That's something that's really good that's happening there. We don't hear about that much in the market.

Ted Simons: You mentioned renewable products, solar energy, as being something going on right now. Is there an industry or are there industries that you think the west valley is really poised and should make a run for to give that region an identity? Because I think most folks don't see a cohesive identity out there.

Michelle Rider: Right. And that's an issue. Everything, the two strongest industries out there with the most potential are probably solar and health care. There's a huge health care need, health care services, there's health care assets upon up all over the place out there. All the time, Phoenix Children's Hospital is looking at preparing for an Avondale campus, that's just one of the things going out there. But it's really -- those are the two industries we have an opportunity to dominate. And that's because of the abundance of land, and also the need out there for the services.

Ted Simons: As far as dealing with the legislature, how much are you going to do that, and what are you going to tell them, and why haven't we seen -- again, it seems like there's a little disconnect going on. Is that a perception?

Michelle Rider: A disconnect with the legislature? Or…?

Ted Simons: Yes. With -- like getting things going out there and the legislature focusing on what's happening in the west valley.

Michelle Rider: Right. And that's what WESTMARC's role with the legislature really is. Making sure that the legislators, they're very busy, they have tons of things going on, we need to go to them and tell them, look, here's what's going on in your district, come join us, learn what we're doing out there, learn what's in your communities, and really be able to highlight them with us in the community and outside. That's the main role. And in terms of public policy, and getting involved there, it's not the main role of WESTMARC, the board pretty much takes those -- is getting involved in that seriously, and if there's opportunities for us to do that we can be helpful and it makes sense. We will move forward with approving something in that way.

Ted Simons: Last question, real quickly, it seems like the west valley is always poised to be an economic dynamo. We're always hearing it's just around the corner. Its just about to happen. How come it hasn't happened?
Michelle Rider: Well, I think -- I'm not sure why. But I know -- what I know right now is that we have an opportunity where we know that the west valley is going to be the growth corridor for the next 10 years. I think MAG estimated some of those communities will grow 500% in the next 10 years. So we have to make it work, because if we don't, and we don't get the jobs out there that the residents need, we're going to be all housing and we really can't have that. There will be no services for the residents. So we need to make it work to be successful.

Ted Simons: All right. Very good. Michelle, thank you for joining us.

Michelle Rider: Thank you. I really appreciate it. Thanks.

Michelle Rider: WESTMARC President & CEO;

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