There are several issues that future Casa Grande mayors and City Council members need to consider and act upon, Mayor Bob Jackson said during his final mayoral State of the City address in mid-March. These range from keeping up with infrastructure to accommodating the millennial workforce.
Because the city expanded and modernized the sewage treatment plant, Casa Grande was able to handle new industry.
“We need to be working on the next generation of infrastructure projects,” Jackson said, “because I think what’s helped us the last nine years is being ready. We need to be ready for the next go around.”
“We need to worry about the mall,” Jackson said. “We’ve seen two major tenants out there close in the last year – Target and now Sports Authority. Again, that goes back to this online shopping issue. We need to help figure out what we can do as a city to help that mall thrive.”
Online shopping will continue to be a problem for traditional brick-and-mortar merchants in the city, the mayor believes.
“I online shop, just like probably everybody here does,” he said. “But the fact of the matter is online shopping does not pay a local sales tax.”
He added, “I’ve talked to some of the small merchants here in town. They’ll get somebody to come and look at an expensive piece of equipment…then they’ll go buy it online so they avoid the sales tax. That same business owner is the guy who gets the call when Little League needs a sponsor or the Cesar Chavez dinner needs a sponsor for scholarships.”
He continued, “And I think moving forward, we need to get a handle on Internet sales. I don’t know the answer, but I think that’s something that future councils are going to have to work on.”
“We’ve got economic development always on our list,” Jackson said. “We have the only rail-served industrial area in Arizona – that area south of us where Tractor Supply is. We need to continue to market that.”
Part of economic development is workforce development, which is “always a problem,” he continued.
When economic developers come to the city, Jackson said, Casa Grande gets criticized for its workforce.
“Unfairly, I believe, so we need to make sure that we’re ever vigilant about making sure we have the best qualified workforce we can possibly have.”
City officials are already seeing how millennials view work, Jackson said.
“I think moving forward, one of the things that we are all going to have to look at is the millennial workforce,” he continued. “I know we’ve had this discussion many times in City Hall.”
Jackson added, “I’m a baby boomer. I’m sure they thought the same thing about me when I was 20-something years old…it’s a different work ethic, a different work mindset. We recently implemented a paid time-off plan instead of the traditional sick leave/vacation leave. (This is) very strongly-supported by millennials, not so much the baby boomers. But it’s one of those transitions that we all need to make.”
He continued, “I think going forward, the city of Casa Grande needs to get ahead of that, because if we don’t, we’ll have an aging workforce and we’ll find ourselves in a situation where we don’t have people to fill those jobs. And it’s not just us – everybody has the problem – so we have to make ourselves more attractive than our competition.”
“We’re seeing growing pressure to have a transit system here in town. I think that while we would all love to see that happen, they are very expensive and we need to make sure that we have proper revenue to be able to continue to operate that,” Jackson said.
“We need to work on widening I-10. While we’ve seen projects at the I-10/I-8 intersection moved up on the list, we’ve seen the Picacho area moved up on the list, there’s no activity on that stretch through the Indian community and we really need to work on that,” Jackson said.
“We need to work on the Kortsen Road interchange, because if we’re going to open up that east side of the freeway that’s what’s going to help us do that. We need to have sewer service over there,” Jackson said.
“There’s an environmental impact statement going on for the proposed I-11 corridor. We need to be very active in making sure that they bring I-11 through Casa Grande in the area that we want them to bring it,” Jackson said.
“We need to continue developing the trail system up on CG Mountain. There are thousands of acres up there; we need to make sure that we build it out to the best of our ability. We have a regional trails system here in town. We need to start working on implementing that, as well,” Jackson said.
Quality of life
As the city considers all of the above issues, Jackson said, “We really can’t lose site of the quality of life issues that Casa Grande has. Typically what happens in government is the thing that’s screaming the loudest…the quality of life things, are the last on the list. As we go out and prospect for economic development newcomers into the area, quality of life issues are one of the top things they look at, so we can’t really ignore that, as we move forward. But the pressure’s going to be there to spend that money someplace else.”
He added, “I’ve said this many times – Casa Grande is a great place to live. We need to maintain that sense of community here, and I think one way you do that is to be able to live, work and play in the same spot. I did my time commuting to another city. It was always really hard to decide whether I’m going to spend my leisure hours where I lived or where I worked.
We have a unique situation here where we have a fairly robust job market so we can live, work and play in one location.”