When you have been mayor of a city for more than 10 years and step away, what more is there to do for your city?
According to former mayor Christian Price, plenty.
Price was named president and CEO of Maricopa Economic Development Alliance this year, taking the reins of the public-private partnership on July 1. He will provide some stability at an agency that has seen significant turnover at the top in the past two years.
RELATED: Mayor Price resigns – InMaricopa
But why would he resign his post as mayor to take a position that had become a revolving door?
“When the position was offered to me, I asked myself how I could continue to serve Maricopa,” he said. “I knew I wasn’t going to run for re-election again, so I asked myself if my time as mayor was running out anyway, if making a jump to this new situation was a way to utilize the relationships that I had built over 10 years in office.”
After more than a decade as mayor, Price has cultivated relationships with business, political and civic leaders in every corner of Arizona.
“Economic development is the ultimate team game, and I wanted to bring all the elements and people that I’ve worked with over the years to move the needle forward and help the city,” he said.
Councilmember Bob Marsh believes Price is the ideal person for the job.
“The benefits to MEDA are obvious,” Marsh said. “MEDA gets a charismatic, proven leader who gets things done. The benefits to the City of Maricopa include getting a key vendor/partner marketing program armed with focused, capable, informed, smart leadership.”
Price said the new job combines many of the aspects he enjoyed as mayor, including transportation issues, which are key to economic development, and policy development, which he will now influence rather than make.
But he said the biggest reason he wants to succeed is the most obvious.
“Ultimately, I live here in the city,” he said. “I want to see more businesses and headquarters and manufacturing and industry here, and when that opportunity presented itself, I couldn’t say no.”
It is no small task.
Even as Maricopa’s population has swelled to about 65,000, the city has struggled to attract major employers. One of the primary public perceptions is transportation —primarily State Route 347 congestion and lack of direct access to Interstate 10 — is holding the city back. But Price said those factors are not really impediments.
“People think that’s the biggest hurdle, but it’s really not,” he said. “I’m not going to say it doesn’t affect it. I’m a big proponent that great transportation corridors lead to fantastic economic development. When you see a new freeway go in, inevitably development follows it.”
He said Maricopa has transportation corridors, and they are going to get better over time. While businesses may search for the perfect location for their headquarters, “those don’t exist,” Price said. “They’re unicorns. They’re not real. And no matter what location they choose, there are going to be some problems.”
Price pointed out that business owners looking to relocate to Maricopa think years ahead, especially when they are building a facility.
“Every day in the companies we’re working with they are looking three years out,” Price said. “So, if we’re talking to them today, the earliest time, if everything was perfect, they would be here is two, three years.”
Selling the city is something Councilmember Amber Liermann said Price can do like no one else.
“One of the things I admire about Price is his ability to communicate his vision for the future and success of Maricopa,” she said. “He has a contagious passion I know will continue and possibly even grow in his new position.”
Price said one of the primary traits of a good economic development official is tenacity; he uses the city’s overpass across the Union Pacific railroad tracks as an example.
“I can’t tell you how many people told me when I was mayor, ‘We’ve been working on that thing for a long time, you’re never going to get it, it will never happen.’ The pessimism is easy. The hard thing is to say, what if we’d stopped at year 14; we got it in year 15.”
Price describes MEDA’s role in the city’s economic development efforts as “the tip of the spear.”
“We don’t do the whole process, but we do most of the process,” he explained. “We fill that pipeline. We work very, very closely with the City of Maricopa. They help us close the deals. Our job is to prep everything and bring the pieces together.”
Searching for a ‘Golden Goose’
Price said MEDA would like to attract companies that supply elements to two major semiconductor producers in the Valley — Intel and Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company. He said there will be ample opportunities for cities to work with companies providing hundreds of other elements of the chip-making process, either from a material or service standpoint. Those companies all need to have proximity to the manufacturers.
One huge advantage Maricopa has is large pieces of land, Price noted. For example, Chandler only has 6% of its land mass available before the city is completely built out. Maricopa, in comparison, has a lot of land that’s unspoken for.
“We are primed and ready. We just need to bring the areas we are weak in, such as shovel-ready sites, and get those ready,” he said. “Because these companies are coming.”
Two other industries that show growth potential are agri-tech and electrical vehicles. With University of Arizona’s Maricopa Agricultural Center, Volkswagen and Nissan test tracks, and Apex Motor Club already in town, he said the city already has a solid foothold in those areas. And EV manufacturers Nicola and Lucid are nearby, in Coolidge and Casa Grande, respectively.
He said the “golden goose” for the city would be something in the semiconductor, aerospace or automotive industries because of their high-paying engineering and technical jobs.
“We’re talking jobs with salaries well over $100,000 a year,” he said. “Who wouldn’t want to quit their job in Chandler, Phoenix or Tempe for (a job) five minutes from where they live so they don’t have to commute on the 347 anymore? Those are the types of things I see — aerospace and automotive, those are the golden goose for us.”
The City of Maricopa is committed to MEDA’s success. Although MEDA is a public-private partnership, the city has allocated $700,000 to the agency in the current budget. The balance of MEDA’s total $825,000 budget comes from contributions of local companies, including Electrical District No. 3, Orbitel Communications, Southwest Gas and Global Water. Price said the alliance has valuable partnerships in the education sector including the Maricopa Unified School District and Central Arizona College.
A good fit
City spokesman Quinn Konold said Price will be invaluable in his new role.
“Former mayor Price’s contributions in establishing Maricopa as a premier city in Arizona cannot be overstated,” Konold said. “Those who know him know he worked tirelessly to meet the needs of the community and promote the city on a local, region, state and even federal level.
“The City and MEDA share a common goal of attracting and supporting businesses in Maricopa. We are thrilled that the experience and knowledge Christian accrued over his many years of public service will continue to benefit the residents of Maricopa.”
Councilmember Bob Marsh said the MEDA role emphasizes Price’s greatest strength — working with others and building consensus.
“I think that the MEDA leadership position enables him to focus on one of the city’s top priority issues — business development in our city,” Marsh said. “He has set the direction and velocity for the city over his past decade as mayor, and I believe the City Council and the new mayor will be able to continue in that direction and at that velocity.”
Liermann is bullish on what Price will deliver in his new role.
“I can’t wait to see the results of his hard work and focus on attracting large businesses, corporations, manufacturing, technology and industry to Maricopa on a full-time basis,” she said. “Price’s legacy will only continue to grow in this new position.”
This content was first published in the September edition of InMaricopa magazine.
I am excited to see what comes next as many do for Maricopa. A new approach is needed though.
Recuiting companies for jobs is important but to date the focus on expanding retail has been poor. Because of our location, we need retail in order to compete with other cities and attract the high paying workforce that Maricopa County is benefiting from. We need to give people a reason to move to Maricopa other than the cheaper housing. So many people have moved
in and in less than 3 years moved out because the cheaper housing is just not enough. 347 is a dealbreaker when you have a poor retail presence.
I have traveled our country on business for the past 20 years (while living in Maricopa for 17 of those years) and I repeatedly see communities with half our population have 3X the amount of retail with more affordable cost of living (not 9.2% tax rate).
Just look at Show Low/Pinetop area in Northern AZ, the population is only 16,000 people (4X smaller than Maricopa) and they have well more than 3X the retail as Maricopa. They are also located even further away from a major city than Maricopa is.
If they can do it, we can do it.