FLORENCE — Pinal County’s economic development progress has continued apace through the pandemic, but the county can’t stay closed indefinitely without harm, the Pinal County Board of Supervisors was told.
“For every two weeks this lasts, the percentage of (business) failures goes higher and higher. … We need to get this economy back on the road as quick as we can,” Pinal County Economic Development Manager Tim Kanavel told the board Wednesday.
Supervisors Chairman Anthony Smith, R-Maricopa, asked top county officials in public health, emergency management and economic development to provide updates on how the county might accelerate economic recovery while following public health guidance. Smith said Pinal County cannot get ahead of the rest of the state in relaxing its protections.
Supervisor Todd House, R-Apache Junction, said he hears from four or five “mom & pop” businesses a week who say they’re finished, and the county should try to help them as much as possible. Supervisor Mike Goodman, R-San Tan Valley, asked if there were an ombudsman to help businesses who don’t know where to begin looking for the help they need.
Joel Millman, director of Pinal County Workforce Development, said the board is working on starting an assistance center, through which businesses can be connected to volunteer experts in accounting, legal, human resources or other areas they may need help with. “It shouldn’t take that long to implement,” Millman said.
Aaron Moon, deputy director of Pinal County Workforce Development, said a new county webpage, Pinal Works, is a resource library for businesses and citizens experiencing economic hardship at https://www.pinalcountyaz.gov/pinal-works/Pages/home.aspx. Google Analytics determined just under 300 people had gone to the site and stayed there an average of three minutes.
Smith asked county staff to think of ideas to send to the governor, who is seeking input on how the state should reopen.
Millman said his recommendation to the governor is to “keep pushing innovation.” The system for helping unemployed people is “old and tired” and is forcing staff to do things that would’ve taken years to happen if they ever happened, “and we have to do them now.”
But Kanavel said economic development hasn’t missed a beat.
“Part of our recovery plan is simply doing what we’ve been doing: aggressively marketing the county and doing the projects we already had. None of them stopped,” Kanavel said. He said Lucid Motors is still building its plant, and “we’re still building a lot of houses.”
Some parts of the economy are down “because a lot of it is hospitality-based, and we knew that was going to take somewhat of a hit,” Kanavel said. “But the foundation of our county, our manufacturing, that’s still in place. That’s going forward.”
He said Hexcel laid off some people, but that was a nationwide situation for the company. County unemployment is perhaps 7%, up from 4.7% before the outbreak. Kanavel said his guess is that many who filed for unemployment here actually lost their jobs in other counties.
Pinal County Emergency Management Director Chuck Kmet told the supervisors government can influence recovery but can’t determine whether a community recovers. Through leadership, government can influence recovery by working to restore community confidence.
Kmet recommended the supervisors convene a task force or commission to ensure their decisions and objectives in recovery are carried out. These can be people already working in county government.
Kanavel said Pinal County going to be in a good position as the country recovers from the pandemic.
“We’re going to have a fairly skilled and available workforce when this is all over.” Some who now go to Phoenix to work will be able to find good jobs in Pinal County, and “we’re going to be able to keep some of those folks now. “That’s going to help us with retail leakage and some of the other things we deal with because these people leave the county every day.”
Kanavel and Millman talked about the need for a data analyst. Millman said it could be paid for by a federal grant and was a need even before the coronavirus outbreak. Kanavel explained, “We get dump truck-loads of information all the time. Just exactly where are we?” He said the county needs a better explanation of what all the data means so officials know where best to invest the county’s time and resources.