With the COVID-19 pandemic spotlighting specific points of weakness and inequality in the regional economy, the Economic Policy Institute at Northern Arizona University’s W. A. Franke College of Business is taking the lead on a two-year project examining the resilience of the region’s economy and creating an economic recovery toolkit for communities, businesses and stakeholders.
The project is led by principal investigator and EPI research associate Diane Scherpereel along with co-PI and EPI director Joseph Guzman and Michael Giannetto, a research assistant at EPI; it is a strategic partnership with the Central Arizona Governments (CAG), with funding from the CARES Act earmarked to help communities recover from the pandemic. EPI will facilitate the strategic planning process, create specific strategies for economic development and resiliency, create and distribute a draft Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy (CEDS) document, solicit and incorporate stakeholder feedback and prepare the final CEDS for review and approval by the CAG Economic Development District Board.
EPI has two priorities in this analysis. The first is to contribute resiliency research and data to CAG’s five-year CEDS. This process included engaging with individuals, organizations, local governments, schools and industry to discuss what efforts would be most helpful for the region’s continued economic development.
Those meetings, which were completed by April, highlighted the economic challenges that stakeholders believe need to be addressed. Those include a lack of broadband access, particularly in rural Arizona; the workforce shortage, especially in the restaurant industry; and the sharp decrease of parents, especially mothers, in the workforce, which still has not recovered.
“It’s important for communities and businesses to consider the needed changes that were highlighted by the pandemic and ways they can address those,” Scherpereel said. “These issues, and many others, vary by community, industry and workplace, and our goal is to learn the specific issues faced by these different organizations and provide tools and support to aid in recovery and build a strong, resilient economy.”