A Small Town Doing Big Things for the Global Economy
Our latest Urban Tour visit to Flagstaff, Arizona proves that good ideas and smart planning come in all sizes and models.
We believe that through regional collaboration we can bridge the urban-rural divide. We can invest in urban centers in a way that will benefit suburbs, exurbs, and rural communities, and vice versa. It does not have to, and can no longer be, a zero-sum game. Our fates are inextricably linked. As the Urban Tour (aka, the National Conversation on the Future of Cities and Metros) has continually demonstrated, smart regional plans succeed when there are strong public-private partnerships and everyone is brought to the table.
Our latest visit to Flagstaff, Arizona builds on this theme and also proves that good ideas and smart planning come in all sizes and models. "Economic gardening" – as Mayor Sara Presler calls it – creates an environment for local businesses to grow and flourish even in a town with less than 70,000 people that’s perched at 7,000 feet above sea level.
Flagstaff has woven together public and private resources to incubate emerging technology businesses in Northern Arizona, from wind, to biotech, life sciences to solar power industries. Mayor Presler says it best, "we may be a small town in America, but we are doing big things for the global economy."
Our day in Flagstaff began with a tour and in-depth discussion with policy leaders, researchers, and business experts at Northern Arizona Center for Emerging Technologies (NACET). NACET is a business incubator that was funded in part by a $2.5 million Department of Commerce/Economic Development Administration grant that was matched (and surpassed) by the City of Flagstaff. The funding helped to leverage over $30 million in private funds. Within just 10 months, NACET incubated 11 companies and created 80 high-wage jobs with an average salary of $92,000 a year.
NACET is also home to Southwest Windpower, a company that is central to the Flagstaff success story. We, along with Megan McCluer of the Department of Energy, toured Southwest Windpower’s facilities and learned about wind energy technology. Southwest Windpower is a pioneer in the development of small wind technology. The company has produced over 160,000 wind generators which have been installed in 80 countries around the world, and has developed a new generation of low cost wind turbine that connects homes to electricity grids. This is particularly important to the region because Flagstaff is seated in a Congressional District in which one-third of the Navajo Nation has no electricity or water.
We held a community forum later that day at Northern Arizona University, in a LEED Silver certified building, where 259 Flagstaff residents were eager to engage the Administration about the future of their community. We discussed best practices and ways in which the federal government can be a better partner in promoting innovative solutions. Megan McCluer emphasized that "[the federal government] needs to be broader in our thinking in deploying clean energy."
The regional collaboration taking place in Flagstaff is a model for the country. It was a long flight but a meaningful moment for a small city that represents much of what this Administration is trying to achieve: a stronger economy, environmental stewardship, and a concept fundamental to the American story – E Pluribus Unum: "Out of many, one."
Adolfo Carrión, Jr. is the Director of the White House Office of Urban Affairs and Deputy Assistant to the President