Part 1 of this article concluded on the rather bleak observation that the factors which make Wickenburg a “destination location” are comprised of weak and transient contributors to the economic health and future of our town. It also noted the threat to our scenic habitat and an absence of a community vision of the future.
Without a vision you have nothing to assess or debate. It means that you have nothing that can inspire people to work toward a common end because no one can see the big picture. Without that vision, what you are left with is a form of muddled political “body language” that reveals — but only after the fact – what the holders of power intend to do, or to allow others to do on their behalf. That puts everyone in the position of second guessing and even misinterpreting the actions and intentions of elected and appointed officials, to say nothing of developers.
This second installment begins to lay out a template of sorts for a vision of Wickenburg’s future and growth. It can be made actionable (concrete, measurable and achievable) only if people become engaged. You are welcome to disagree with any or all of the proposals; but if you do, then speak up — express your vision!
Factors That Contribute to Healthy Growth
Jobs: We have all seen the weathered sign along U.S. 60 south of town that encourages potential businesses to consider relocating to Wickenburg. Can you name the last business that was actually recruited to move here? If Wickenburg intends to generate healthy and sustainable growth, it must have more young families that have jobs inside the borders of our community and who are willing to make a “life investment”. Without local jobs we face the alternative of creating our own ugly version of other metro-Phoenix bedroom communities; where U.S. 60 is clogged with Wickenburg commuters who hate their two-plus hour drive to and from work. Our town needs to be more than a place to sleep and park your car overnight.
A healthier vision is to actively and continually attract small and mid-sized businesses that add ten — or even one hundred — jobs at a time to the local workforce. The more knowledge-based jobs there are, the more Wickenburg will benefit. Similarly, the “greener” these businesses are, the more likely we will be to preserve the clean air and scenic habitat that we enjoy. We don’t need business (industry) that pumps unsustainable volumes of water from the ground and leaves a degraded environment in its wake.
Housing Density: Achieving a satisfactory balance between high and low density housing developments (and a healthy balance between work force and retired populations) are two of the most contentious issues that Wickenburg residents will face in the next few years, but they must be dealt with. It will be impossible to attract a growing work force if families cannot afford to live here. Similarly, we cannot attract people who seek open space and solitude if we permit developers to flood the area with postage stamp lots in congested subdivisions or that may destroy or cut off access to open spaces.
Housing Supply: Dan Schwimmer reported in his article (Housing Panic Comes to Wickenburg!) there were 351 homes for sale in the Wickenburg market at the end of October, 2007. Although this is orders of magnitude smaller than metro-Phoenix (where there are more than 55,000 houses for sale) we are still affected by the same market forces. A friend in the real estate business told me that Wickenburg sells an average of 150 new and resale homes per year; so the current inventory represents roughly a twenty-eight month supply. Unmanaged growth in inventory (new construction) could serve to depress current home values in the community. I am distrustful that local developers are willing to exercise self restraint and refrain from enlarging our already bloated supply of housing.
Instead, Wickenburg needs a clearly articulated vision for future housing that will provide a well planned and balanced supply of high and low density home sites. I believe that prudent regulation of building permits is one of the keys to managing this issue and it will likely require coordination with Maricopa and Yavapai counties – where construction could occur outside of current town limits. It is equally vital that all future development preserve public access to open spaces — and particularly trails.
Education: Every graduating High School student in Wickenburg, Aguila, Congress and Morristown has to leave the area if they aspire to continue their education. Wickenburg should seize on this need and work with Maricopa County to develop a Junior College campus in town. This is an investment that will provide enormous and lasting value to the community — including quality, permanent jobs. We have enough land south of town along Vulture Mine Road and west along U.S. 60 to provide space for a campus – unless we wait until it has been converted into subdivisions. It will take years to achieve a goal such as this and it will not happen without forward thinking and the commitment of town leaders.
Retail Leakage: If you want to prevent the loss of retail revenue and sales tax in Wickenburg, then you have to provide better shopping options, including retail diversity, inside Wickenburg’s town limits. It’s really no more complicated than that. If you cannot purchase an item in Wickenburg that you need, then you will go somewhere else to obtain it. If the item you seek is far more expensive in town than elsewhere, then you will purchase it at a store outside of Wickenburg where it is less costly. That is pretty simple consumer economics. I do not subscribe to the notion of paying more or waiting longer for a product or service simply to satisfy a merchant who is indifferent to my needs.
As I stated in Part 1 of this article, shopping alternatives will move progressively closer to Wickenburg as Peoria, Surprise and Buckeye push their borders in our direction. Rather than sit on the sidelines and watch “retail leakage” increase, why not aggressively attract some of these businesses to open within the town limits of Wickenburg? This may border on heresy, but I would challenge you to name one local business that would be forced to close if a “dreaded” Wal-Mart opened inside the current (or future) town limits of Wickenburg. And what if a “Best Buy,” “Dillard’s,” “Michaels” or “Borders Books” were to open here? What are the benefits?
- More in-town jobs.
- Increased property and sales tax revenue.
- Shopping revenue and sales tax from Congress, Yarnell, Peeples Valley, Aguila and Morristown shoppers that presently flows toward metro-Phoenix or Prescott. Even residents as far away as Wenden and Salome would benefit from expanded shopping availability in Wickenburg.
- The creation of other ancillary businesses that will be attracted to these new year-round shopping destinations.
What are the risks?
I am sorely tempted to say “none,” but the truth is probably better served by saying that some Wickenburg businesses will have to become more competitive in their pricing, product availability and services.
If Wickenburg can demonstrate a coherent growth plan to commercial developers, we stand a good chance of attracting more retail options than presently exist in town. Otherwise, these businesses will locate outside our town limits where they see greater opportunity and less risk. That makes Wickenburg the looser.
Part 3 of this article will offer vision statement proposals dealing with the downtown area of Wickenburg. Part 4 will address conservation and preservation issues, critical infrastructure and non-retail business diversity. The more I think about the need for a clear vision, the more issues and needs emerge. Your suggestions and criticisms are most welcome!
Last 5 posts by Allan Hall
- Wickenburg Hospitality Comes in Many Forms - December 15th, 2010
- Calliandra Eriophylla is Native to the Wickenburg Area - December 9th, 2010
- Goodbye, Old Bridge - November 29th, 2010
- Abandoned Mines Part III: Preserving the "Whispering Ranch" Mine - March 25th, 2010
- Abandoned Mines Part II: Protective Closures - March 10th, 2010