by Evelyn Casuga, Certified Economic Developer; 2nd VP, Pinal Alliance for Economic Growth;
formerly Access Arizona Senior Advisor; Community Relations, Central Arizona College

Beginning in 2016, the Access Arizona board of directors embarked on a new strategic direction. One of the objectives was to rebrand the organization to provide clarity as to who and where we are, as well as the organization’s role in the community.

The board is pleased to announce that our new brand embodies exactly what we set out to achieve. Effective immediately Access Arizona will become
Pinal Alliance for Economic Growth. 

Leadership in and by community

A few issues ago, in this space, Vitalyst Foundation discussed the Year of Healthy Communities and the 12 aspects that comprise healthy communities, from access to health care to economic development and food safety. To delve deeper along the same trajectory, communities that seek to improve the quality of life for current and future residents have leaders and citizens who share common values and traits that are easily identified and replicated. With nearly four decades of working in communities throughout Arizona and elsewhere, I’ve observed and worked in places where the threads of success are brightly colored and can be followed and woven into the unique tapestries that each of our communities represents. Here are a few of those common attributes:

Relentless selflessness

Above all else, the collective community outweighs individual gain in pursuit of community success. Choosing to invest and build a hospital, a college, expanding public schools or preserving open space benefit the greater community. The positive effects of these kinds of investments are felt community-wide. Notwithstanding, individual gains are certainly a secondary outcome that also feed into the positive economic cycle.

Guided by shared values and principles

Arizona is scattered with former “company” or extraction-based towns that did not survive beyond, for instance, the end of gold mining or logging. Without a collective sense of “community” that is articulated, lived by, celebrated and nurtured, whole populations migrate away for economic survival. We do see, however, communities reinventing themselves beyond their past economic downturns, as well as communities who have principles and values that may include recognizing the worth of each individual, protecting natural landscapes and resources and access to education and health care. With an agreed upon set of values, community choices are clearer given limited resources.

Working collaboratively is a norm and consensus is honored

Successful communities have learned, typically the hard way, that transparent processes and allowing input from community members leads to greater support and fewer negative surprises. As communities grow and hopefully thrive, changes are needed to meet new challenges (i.e. expansion of schools, roads and recreation programs). What may seem as tedious, time-consuming meetings and gathering of input inevitably leads to more favorable outcomes. Total agreement is seldom reached, however, the process of consensus allows for greater understanding among interested parties and allowance for negotiated positive agreement, leading to execution and implementation.

Facts and knowledge are used to make sound decisions

Research and data are required as part of decision-making, whether at the individual, family, community, regional level and greater. Analytics and analysis are necessary inputs to sound decisions. Best guesses can be fraught with error and wasted resources, which communities can little afford.

Decision-making is reasoned and thoughtful

Community leaders with character understand their roles, and when “the buck stops here,” these leaders will have sought and gleaned community input, hard data and analysis, and weighed present and future outcomes to make reasoned and thoughtful decisions for the benefit of the greater community.

There are several other attributes that successful communities share, which I may explore in a future article. These five today are food for thought as our region embraces 21st century opportunities and challenges.

Borrowing from authors David Darling and Gayla Randel in Kansas, I use their model to share here as an ideal:

Dimensions of a healthy community

It’s a place where:

  • Residents hold a common vision of their collective future which challenges, motivates and unites them;
  • Leaders identify and resolve issues;
  • Organizations and institutions anticipate and adapt to an ever-changing environment.