Pitching Phoenix: How Businesses Are Helping To Grow Downtown

Published: Tuesday, February 28, 2017 - 5:00am
Updated: Tuesday, February 28, 2017 - 4:03pm

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(Photo by Christina Estes - KJZZ)
Double Dutch chose downtown Phoenix to open its first remote office in the United States.

When it comes to attracting businesses to their downtowns, many city leaders like to promote “walkability." It means an area is pedestrian safe and welcoming. But, in Phoenix, the woman whose main job is to help create jobs, said “walkability" is nothing special. Instead, she thinks the nation’s 6th-largest city should focus more on its small-town feel.

When Chris Mackay tries to lure a new business to downtown Phoenix, here’s what’s not in her pitch: “To say that we’re walkable and connected. That just makes us one of many."

What makes Phoenix different, said Mackay, the city’s economic development director, is its authenticity.  

“It’s our connectivity to each other,” she said. “It’s how we have easy access to CEO of a leading software company or how we have easy access to our mayor and elected officials.”

Jackie Roberts can vouch for that. “So, I’m hearing that other mayors are not as accessible as our mayor,” Roberts said.

While the general manager of Double Dutch’s office downtown can’t speak for every mayor, Roberts can talk about Phoenix and its leaders.

Last year, the startup technology company picked Phoenix to open its first remote office in the U.S. for three key reasons: a strong talent pool thanks to several universities, a short flight from its San Francisco headquarters, and Double Dutch’s CEO likes the business culture — and the city’s unofficial chauffeur.  

“We wanted to host a basketball tournament for startups, and we mentioned it to the city and next thing you know they set up a meeting and got us into Talking Stick Resort Arena,” Roberts explained. “And then the city came in and helped to sponsor the event, and Mayor Stanton played in it and drove our CEO to the airport at the end of it. So, things like that, I feel like, just don’t happen in other cities.”

When Roberts hears other company executives are scouting locations, she said she always praises Phoenix.

So does JT Marino, co-founder of Tuft and Needle. The online mattress company even launched a campaign promoting their decision to build their company in Phoenix.

“People here care about their families, care about their community, care about their hobbies, and their interests and their health,” Marino said. “But, at the same time, they really care about where they work and they care about what that builds toward.” 

When Tuft and Needle opened a store in Scottsdale last month, its mattresses weren’t the only items on display.  

“When you start a company from scratch, the world is against you. It is so hard,” Marino said. ”And one of those things that you have to get through is just getting in front of people.” 

Tuft and Needle’s helping three local businesses get their products in front of people. Near the store’s entrance, a wall lined with shelves features candles from Standard Wax, tea jars from Teaspressa and sugar cubes from Ruze Cake House. 

“They’re brands that we think are really cool that our customers might like," Marino said.

Hearing that businesses support each other and have access to decision makers may be strong selling points, but Chris Mackay admits downtown Phoenix has a perception problem when it comes to parking.  

“As an economic development organization, if we can’t check the box on the parking that they think they need we don’t make the short list for them to take a good look,” she said. “Once they occupy their space they very quickly realize that the suburban parking that they would typically need, they don’t need in downtown.” 

Many downtown buildings were designed for law firms and banks with spacious reception areas, large corner offices and about two parking spaces per 1,000 square feet. Today’s companies, with their open floor plans and shared spaces, can demand four times more parking. 

“We probably have about two years left in the parking downtown if we continue the growth rate we’re seeing today,” Mackay said.

The solution, she thinks is to add a private parking garage until there’s more light-rail expansion and progress on autonomous vehicles. But for now, her team is exploring other options like vacant city-owned lots, metered parking and extra spaces in garages that companies aren’t using.  

Downtown Phoenix Inc., a non-profit focused on development, said 3,500 businesses call downtown home: from coffee shops to copper giant Freeport McMoRan.

While she’d love to land a corporate powerhouse, Mackay said smaller businesses are more realistic. And, she’s OK with that because the greatest percentage of new jobs comes from what she calls organic companies, like Motorola. 

“There was a very small company in the 1930s called Galvan Electronics and that company grew to be the largest employer in Arizona: 22,000 at its height,” she said. “And a lot of people will say well, you shouldn’t talk about Motorola, they’re not really here anymore. They had an 85-year run. I think any of us would call that an incredible success.”  

It’s why Mackay said her team will never turn away a company trying to gain a foothold — or parking space — downtown.

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