By Mila Besich-Lira
Copper Area News
Where do rural Arizona leaders go to learn about the latest trends in community and economic development? Where can these leaders go to network and find new resources to help their communities? There are plenty of conferences to attend, many with hefty price tags, many are a one size fits all approach to these important topics. Thanks to Local First Arizona, there is truly a conference for rural community leaders, “The Rural Policy Forum”.
Finally there is a conference that rural leaders can attend and bring back ideas that may not be too hard to implement in their communities. This year the Arizona Rural Policy Forum was hosted in the Copper Corridor at the Bullion Plaza Museum and Cultural Center in Miami. Many of our local governmental entities and non profit organizations from the Corridor were in attendance at the two day forum, last week.
This was the third time, I was able to attend the conference and it was one of the best! The topics were relevant, interesting and truly provided encouragement and new ideas. Each session left ample time to ask questions with fellow rural leaders and with the presenters. There were sessions that taught us how to develop sustainable partnerships, how to brand and promote your community. A few of the sessions talked about education and how we must not allow rural Arizona to get left behind in education. One session that I particularly enjoyed was one on customer service and how encouraging our local businesses to have great customer service is important for tourism development. Representatives from Yuma shared how they started a program called Yuma 101, the program teaches customer services skills and about local attractions and things to do, to front end workers such as cashiers, bank tellers and visitor center representatives.
With so many local leaders in attendance I took some time to ask each of them what they enjoyed most about the conference and what they most wanted to implement.
Gila County Supervisor Mike Pastor: “My take away was the importance of the need to form strong private/public partnerships. Too often organizations count on one private partner such as the mines or county government and we tend to forget all other sources of support including the individual businesses.”
Superior Chamber of Commerce President Sue Anderson commented, “Although most of the presenters didn’t have a professional consultant assisting them in their projects, the ones that were most successful did use one. In order to move efficiently through redevelopment of our town (Superior) we should hire a professional consultant who has an extensive background in rural development to guide us through the process. The Town, the businesses, the non-profits and all the residents should all participate in the planning and implementation.
Kearny Mayor Sam Hosler explained that he was most impressed with the key note speakers from Clinton County, Ohio. Their topic was called “Plugging the leaks and Growing Local Ownership in Economic Development”. Taylor Stuckert Co-Founder of Energize Clinton County and Christian Schock, chief planner and economic development representative for Clinton County, talked about ways they recovered their economy when DHL left their county. Hosler commented that as a short term goal he would like to deploy some of their methods to get people to shop local. “I would like to see our local businesses work with the Chambers of Commerce to promote specials, as a long term goal I would like for us (the Town of Kearny) to utilize grants from USDA to complete community projects. Local First Arizona, also provided many great ideas and statistics on the benefits of shopping local in our communities,” he said.
Another topic that was presented was the use of alternative energy in rural communities. One particular discussion was the installation of solar panels on tailings. Elizabeth Magallanez President of the Copper Corridor Economic Development Coalition (CCEDC) said, “I would like to see our municipalities begin to use solar energy to assist with utility costs for their operations” she explained. She would also like to begin working on partnerships and collaborations with the local businesses and local non-profit events to help encourage parents to shop local while they are attending hosted by non-profits on Main St.
The conference itself would not have been a success without the financial support of many local corporations that we are all familiar with. Freeport McMoran, APS, SRP and Resolution Copper. Resolution Copper provided registrations to members of the Superior Chamber of Commerce and the Copper Corridor Economic Development Coalition. Other sponsors for the annual conference included: AMIGOS, Alliance of Arizona Nonprofits, Arizona Community Foundation, UNS Energy Corporation, Marley Foundation, Delta Dental of Arizona Foundation, National Bank of Arizona and Arizona Commerce Authority.