Tempe community forum to focus on city, state economy

The city of Tempe will conduct an economic forum for its citizens Tuesday night, encouraging community members to contribute their own suggestions to aid the city’s slumping economy.

The forum, taking place from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. at the Tempe Transportation Center on 200 E. Fifth St., is being organized by city councilmember Onnie Shekerjian, who said she believes great ideas come from the collaboration of community members.

“The city doesn’t have a monopoly on all the good ideas on how to spur our economy, to make it a better economy,” Shekerjian said, “but we have a great deal of talent in our community with lots of great ideas.”

Stephen Happel, an economics professor at the W. P. School of Business will be a key speaker at the event, discussing the issues currently plaguing Tempe’s economy and possible solutions.

“The state of Arizona is one of the worst in the country right now in terms of creating jobs,” Happel said. “I think Arizona will go the way of the national economy. So right now, it looks like there’s kind of a recovery taking place. We’re going to be lagging in it, though.”

Shekerjian said this is a great opportunity for Tempe residents to hear from a knowledgeable expert on the topic.

“He is such an incredible instructor,” Shekerjian said. “He takes very complex issues and he makes them very simple.”

Happel said he believes Arizona is facing “rough times,” but hopes the Tempe residents will work together to contribute ideas to stimulate their economy.

“You don’t want people working across purposes. We have to sign on a general game plan,” Happel said, “but you want everyone to be on the same wavelength. Let’s slug this out and … present a united front.”

Topics set to be addressed at the forum include the national and state economies, local industries, neighborhood mom-and-pop-shops, shopping centers, tourism and Mill Avenue.

“We get a lot of questions about Mill Avenue, but [that’s] only one small portion of our city,” Shekerjian said. “I want to get other people thinking about the other areas.”

Shekerjian encouraged ASU students to get involved, not only because of their stake in the community, but also because of their ability to “see the forest for the trees.”

“Students have a completely different perspective, and I think in past generations we have not always valued that — now, we don’t have a choice,” Shekerjian said. “Their generation knows much more about technology than my generation. It’s a first, where a younger generation has more knowledge about an issue than an older generation.”

Shekerjian, who also serves as chair of the Technology, Economic and Community Development Council for the city, said her team decided to invite the public to tell them what they believe should be done to stimulate Tempe’s economy.

Councilmember Corey Woods and Economic Development Manager Sheri Wakefield-Saenz will also be in attendance at the forum, encouraging brainstorming and provide an overview of programs that benefit businesses.

Happel encouraged residents to be a part of the changes that could affect their city for the better and to make a positive impact in their government.

“I think you’re better off trying to talk this thing out in a public forum,” Happel said. “You certainly don’t want city officials operating behind closed doors. … I’m all in favor of openness and transparency.”

Shekerjian said the best way for people to have an impact on government is to get involved at the city-level, which she hopes this forum will accomplish.

“City government affects your day-to-day living. Having an impact on city government is the best place to be,” Shekerjian said. “It’s improving the quality of life for your neighborhood.”

Reach the reporter at joseph.schmidt@asu.edu