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Regional Economic Forum Spurs Discussion of Region’s Future

Regional Economic Forum Spurs Discussion of Region’s Future
May 18
14:14 2017

What comes next? That is the question many across Northern Arizona are asking as it becomes a near certainty that the Navajo Generating Station will shut its doors by 2019.

The loss of NGS will have a dramatic impact on the region, the loss of high paying jobs at the plant and Kayenta mine will drastically shape the economic landscape of the region. Instead of dwelling on the negative, the region needs to look ahead and plan for those next steps.

That’s exactly what the Economic Collaborative of Northern Arizona (ECoNA) establish, a road map for the region so the area can prosper.

Talking about their Strategic Economic Development Plan at the 2nd Annual Regional Economic Forum sponsored by the Page Chamber of Commerce, John Stigman with ECoNA laid out what the region’s strengths, weaknesses, and ECoNA’s recommendations for what comes next.

What became clear is that Page is an area of limits. Limited industry, limited connectivity, and limited logistics all contribute to the area’s struggles to grow economically. Housing is also limited and out of date.

Limited housing, as many local business owners know, makes it incredibly hard to bring in new employees. The area has three times the national average of hospitality workers; however with most of the hospitality workforce transient, it means that during peak season it is near impossible to find housing.

The cultural diversity also presents challenges for employers in the area. ECoNA’s findings found that many people see subtle racism and racial tolerance as a problem facing the area. Workplace training and education about Navajo and non-Navajo cultures would greatly help the unique demands of employers in the area.

Taking a positive spin on the high unemployment that exists on the Navajo Nation, ECoNA said it can be a positive for the area. There is an available workforce. It will take an effort to train that workforce, but that there are people in the area in need of work can be a valuable resource for a region trying to grow economically.

Another strength of the area is the natural beauty. Stigman pointed out in his talk that many companies have set up shop in a community for the sole purpose of recreation. The biggest example was the head of Motorola setting up a campus in Phoenix all because he liked to golf. Companies up and down the Rockies, from Montana to Flagstaff, have seen this phenomenon. While some of the problems that come with isolation may prevent a Fortune 500 company from setting up shop in Page, by improving infrastructure and building an indentify Page could have the opportunity to lure in more businesses.

Building an indentify, or a greater understanding of itself as a community, was another recommendation ECoNA made of Page. A focus needs to be made on the downtown area. The way the town is designed people drive around downtown instead of getting an opportunity to experience it. A focus on rehabilitating the downtown will help foster a sense of community and in turn help turn visitors into residents.

ECoNA also sent some recommendations to Window Rock for the Navajo Nation to consider. While the results of the study didn’t specifically lay out plans, they did show that, like the rest of the area, housing needs improvement. The Navajo Nation also needs to indentify new businesses that can serve the community. Stigman realized that is easier said than done, but he encouraged Navajo leaders to see if they can stream line the bureaucratic process to make it easier for entrepreneurs on the Navajo Nation.

Finally, Stigman pointed out that a revitalization of agriculture could be a boon for the Navajo Nation. There is an abundance of land available for grazing and by building up an agricultural industry; the Navajo Nation could create an export business that will be an economic driver.

While ECoNA didn’t lay out any specific policy or implementation plans, there were plenty of industry and community leaders in attendance that will hopefully take the results of ECoNA’s findings and turn them into action.

At the end of the day, Page and the rest of the region will look drastically different economically with the closure of NGS. ECoNA laid out strengths, weaknesses, and recommendations for the area but it will take action from all those in attendance to the Regional Economic Forum to keep Page prosperous into the future.

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