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Economic Development Committee Work
Economic Development Committee

SUMMARY STATEMENT OF FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATIONS
Strategic Discussions about Revitalization and Well-being of Willcox
Economic Development Committee with Multiple Focus Groups and Advisors
Nov 2016 to Present

Willcox is worth fighting for.
If you want local, you have to fight for local.
EVERYONE is involved in economic development.  Everyone needs to be an ambassador.
We need jobs – our decisions as a community need to communicate the message:  WE WANT JOBS.

Process:  Members of the Willcox community began gathering in November 2016 to have strategic conversation about what could be done to increase the well-being and promote the revitalization of the greater Willcox community.  Over the course of these meetings, the group assembled and held Focus Groups in four areas:  1) Agricultural / Ag Industry, 2) Small Business, 3) Tourism, and 4) Social Fabric (churches, schools, hospital, etc.).   The Economic Development group listened deeply to content shared via the focus group and added their own expertise and insight.  This Summary Statement and the recommendations it continues was assembled from months of discussions.
Geographic Boundaries:  As a rural area that is distanced from the communities of the county, the discussion on geographical boundaries asked the question of emphasis on the City of Willcox proper vs the greater Willcox region.  There are multiple ways to speak of the greater region including hospital and/or school district, behavioral usage (e.g. who makes primary use of Willcox services), and by defining the communities of the Sulpher Springs Valley.  If a circle were drawn approximately 40 miles from the center of Willcox, this would include the greater region that Willcox serves.  This circle includes:  Dragoon, Sunsites, Sunizona, Pearce, Dos Cabezas, Bowie, San Simon, Fort Grant, Bonita, Winchester, Stewart District, Kansas Settlement, and Turkey Creek.  In addition, there was a perception that geographic boundaries included three concentric circles.  The first being the city proper; the second being those that are within the school/fire/hospital district(s); the third being those who use Willcox as source for services (i.e. gas, groceries, etc.)
In a variety of ways, community leaders drew attention to the fact that Willcox is a much larger geographic area than the city limits.   There was discussion about voter base (i.e. for City Council) vs. market base (i.e. greater region) in determining policy and change.  People’s perceptions of Willcox might be based upon the 3,800 living in the city limits, rather than those living in the surrounding areas, which count for the majority of people who actually access Willcox services. Discussion of expanding city limits was raised – some in favor, others not.  Requires money for additional infrastructure but annexing increases tax base and population of community.  Investigating representation issue for greater region not being involved with City Council may be a potential action item.


 

ASSETS:
Characteristics of People

  • Small town feeling
  • Community minded
  • Industriousness
  • Loyalty to family and community
  • Friendly
  • Supportive when others experience life tragedies
  • Generous in money and time
  • Giving
  • Caring
  • Aware of need to support local.

Social Environment

  • Arts community:  Studio 128, Movie Theater, other arts organizations
  • WASA (Willcox Against Substance Abuse) plans various activities for youth.
  • Various organized youth sports leagues including Little League, soccer, boxing ring, Elks swim meet, hoop shoot, City football, Bobby Sox.
  • Various youth and/or social organizations including Quarterback Club, FFA, 4H, Junior Rodeo.
  • Various small scholarship programs to support ongoing education of graduates
  • Active engagement with CHIP (Community Health Initiative Plan)
  • Have a senior center
  • Have active library including reading programs for kids
  • Have rich local history, kept alive in West Fest and Cowboy Hall of Fame
  • Schools are good (however, many in community have a negative perception.)  Currently active engagement in school issues due to budget cuts related to override not passing.
  • Rich faith community with 20 churches+ in the geographic region.
  • Wine Associations of local wine growers, bringing new industry to region.

Physical Environment

  • Wings Over Willcox (an annual event celebrating local birding)
  • Have multiple venues and facilities for events that are able to be accessed (includes Rodeo Arena, Community Center)
  • W Mountain is an iconic landmark
  • Have historic downtown area with unique and interesting buildings
  • Have strong access to transportation including access to Interstate 10 and a train spur
  • Have rich agricultural opportunities with climate and land including nuts, grapes, cattle and more
  • Some agri-tourism has developed (Apple Annie’s, other u-pick farms, tasting rooms & vineyards.)
  • Have a small airport in the region.
  • Have unique dry lake beds in immediate vicinity
  • In proximity to a Chiricahua National Monument
  • Seven different ecosystems in region
  • In proximity to Mt Graham
  • Many local places of history and/or beauty: Dos Cabezas, Fort Bowie, Texas Canyon
  • Community has multiple areas set aside for recreation.

Other

  • Some small farms still exist
  • Have rich Western history that is still alive in active ranchers and farmers
  • Have high speed internet available throughout significant portion of region
  • Have 4 RV parks and a golf course
  • Have a hospital
  • Have largest greenhouse, dairy, grape growing, and livestock auction in Willcox.
  • Have low property tax.

CHALLENGES: Children / Family / Community

  • Few opportunities other than sports for youth activities, especially outside of school.
  • High poverty rate.
  • While we have some medical services (very grateful!), many might find them difficult to access. For increased care levels, must go travel for services.
  • Perception that youth have to move away in order to be successful.
  • High number of teen pregnancies.
  • Low levels of parental involvement due to challenges related to single parenting, the need for both parents to work, and/or poor parenting.
  • Issues related to being border community (i.e. seasonal labor, language barriers or challenges)
  • Limited employment opportunities that offer a living wage, especially for youth or for families
  • The school Migrant or ELL ratio is very high.
  • Perception of declining population and recessed economy (although the group was aware the agricultural economy is strong.)
  • High levels of drug and alcohol abuse.  Perception that drugs were extremely available in the community.
  • Perception of Willcox as a “truck stop” or “ghost town,” especially in light of a specific website that surfaces in Google searches.
  • Limited public transportation.
  • Lack of good website to promote community activities.  Top level sites about Willcox don’t present the best first impression.
  • Many old or empty businesses
  • Economic challenges that are county-wide
  • The region includes many disjointed communities.
  • Negativity on the part of some portion of community is extremely vocal on social media and in other communication forums.  Group discussed whether that was a small vocal number or more widespread.
  • Seem to be a high number of youth-related accidents and/or risky behaviors for a small community.

As the group discussed themes or priorities, the general consensus was that both children and the community would have increased well-being by basic economic development.  Those strategies were grouped in four main themes.


 

  •  We need to continue to improve first impressions and physical appearances.

Problem Statement:  There remains a need to improve the appearance of our community.  This is related to building an internal culture of pride and ownership as well as related to making our town more attractive to visitors. The community needs to seem less vacant but also look like what it is – a historical town, a Western community. Land and property prices seem overvalued, hence reason sitting empty.  Perhaps this is due to out of town ownership or purchases made at height of value.
Positive Things Happening in this Area:  The community is VERY grateful for the recent work that was down in taking down some buildings.  Community members also celebrated the efforts related to “biggest change” and “best yard” award.
The “Paint W Mountain” taken on by the Agricultural Focus Group was a mighty example of meeting a need in this area!  We are so proud that the Agricultural leaders identified and met this need!  78 people participated in this act of service as a boost to moral and a showing of Willcox pride!
Priority Action Items Recommended:

  • Renew Willcox Cares or other beautification group.  Have group do a physical assessment of what the community looks like, especially to “new” eyes.  Focus on coordination to engage community in project.
  • Develop an incentive program to use empty buildings. Research what other small communities have done in this area.
  • From above assessment, identify 5- 10 buildings in order to dress up the empty store fronts. Maybe art and youth could create murals and art for windows. Maybe businesses could “merchandise” windows to entice people into their stores.  Maybe a grant project to fund.  Create a working group (i.e. art community, business community, realtors, etc.)

 

Additional Action Items To Consider:

  • Need to improve the Welcome sign from the East.  (Teri Rowden reports something underway with this suggestion perhaps with a solar light.)  Maybe make getting new signs a long-term goal.
  • Participate in Town Clean-Up Day in April (Currently organized by Chamber of Commerce and City of Willcox.) planned in association with Earth Day.  Coordinate efforts with free dump day for good of entire community.
  • A garbage issue in area near TA was noted.
  • County regulations (related to building codes) are extremely difficult to work with.  Upheld with inconsistency among inspectors.  Taken from Phx code without understanding the rationale.  The county regulates but the contractor carries the liability.  General feeling that the City of Willcox building codes were better than county but that costs of building permits at city-level were really high.
  • More Planters (while dealing with ADOT realities)
  • Figure out a way to get people outside of their house (on the porch, kids playing, working in the yard)
  • Adopt a Street program. 
  • Have City commit to some “design” elements, recognizing that small things (lamp posts, benches, planters, signs) communicate a message.  Embrace places with iconic architecture.
  • Create a fund or organize a group (i.e. Boy Scouts) that will help with clean-up projects if requested.

 

  • There IS economic strength and opportunity in Willcox.

Problem Statement:  When new businesses were coming to town, there were no incentives / discounts / etc.   ADOT was very difficult to work with. Many Willcox residents are probably not aware of how important agriculture is to the Willcox economy.

Positive Things Happening in this Area:  Willcox is an ag-driven economy.  Growth opportunities are likely related to ag industry and/or have to tap into ag economy either directly or indirectly.  Businesses with agriculture as a strong component of income are thriving. 
Potential Business Ideas:

  • Spa opportunities for Indy race track spouses.
  • Event based mobile vendors (i.e. food trucks)
  • Charter services to/from town to airport.
  • Local tours.  Jeep Tours (maybe in motion already?)
  • Chamber of Commerce to rent space to other communities and tourism entities. (There is no Arizona Visitor’s Center coming from New Mexico.)
  • More diverse options in restaurants, especially something open on Sundays.
  • Farmer’s Market (something underway?)
  • More Bed & Breakfast Lodging Opportunities
  • Services for people over 50 years old.
  • Cheese Factory
  • Slaughter House
  • Processed Beans
  • Cultured Marble Factory
  • Distribution Centers

Priority Action Items Recommended

  • Rally county-level leaders (i.e. Mayors and Manager group, Cochise County Chambers) to make recommendations and advocate for changes to county regulations and tax structure that are de-incentivizing business opportunities. Better understand existing efforts and opportunities that exist for business growth.
  • Can our community make better use of the airport (i.e. antique fly-in, links with Cochise College.)  Does privatization make sense?  Does it have a courtesy vehicle?  Do conversation from recent years need to be revisited?

Potential Action Items:

  • Support and promote the change from a National Monument to a National Park (Senator McCain needs convincing.)
  • Encourage development of ongoing activities for kids (i.e. high ropes course, deer farm, shoot out, horseback rides)
  • Encourage shopping locations to have items that appeal to visitors.
  • Successful businesses in surrounding communities should be solicited and incentivized to come to Willcox with a branch store.
  • Promote SBDA (Cochise College) as a resource for small business development
  • City needs to approach regulations with an “opportunity mindset” – e.g. how can we make this work?
  • Facilitate wine internships with state colleges
  • Investigate the incentive packages that other rural communities have for existing or new businesses.
  • We need to strengthen the internal culture of Willcox to emphasize positives.

This includes:

  • Changing the negative perception of our schools and supporting them as a community.
  • Communicating about the positive elements in our community.
  • Promoting the variety of things to do.
  • Building a deeper spirit of Willcox pride and sense of community.

Problem Statement:  There is a sense that some of our “front line” community members (i.e. waitresses, hotel staff, tourism industry) may not be versed at promoting the strengths of Willcox. There is a perception that Willcox is “just a truck stop” or a “ghost town.”    There is a lack of ethnic integration within our community, both socioeconomic and cultural. Language differences may be causing division. It isn’t clear how people learn about things (i.e. communication strategies.)  Many of people working locally do not live in Willcox. 
Positive Things Happening in this Area: 
There are 15 active churches in our community.
Baseball, soccer, and Rex Allen Days seem to be areas of success for cultural integration of our community.
The painting of W Mountain is also a great example of this!
School is creating a centralized website to update regularly with information.
Priority Action Items:
HIGH

  • Community needs to rally around the override for the school.  The community needs to understand how it’s being used.  Community discussions will begin in Aug.
  • Hold a meeting with key social media administrators to communicate about findings from this group and encourage engagement in these goals.
  • Hold a meeting with local journalists to discuss this initiative and goals.  (Bill is willing to reach out to WICK Communications.)
  • The real estate website is the source of low rating for schools.  How can we have updated / changed / re-evaluated?  The State of Arizona rating for WUSD is “B” (not what website shows.)  Kevin Davis will research.

MEDIUM

  • Determine long term solution for Willcox to have a better social media and online presence.  Whose job is social media?   (One brainstorm is to create a social media training program, offering job training in communications.  Perhaps Library could facilitate?  Perhaps Cenpatico would consider funding?  Another brainstorm is to utilize AmeriCorps or other intern as a short-term solution.)  Make use of #willcox
  • Have more public discussion on opportunities to engage in Willcox.  Perhaps ask paper to include a “Way to Get Involved” corner.  Perhaps ask social media leaders to promote a daily “Something to Do.”
  • Invest in hospitality or customer service training for “high touch” businesses –education on the importance of impressions, welcoming strangers, need for investors. Turn residents into Willcox. ambassadors—there is opportunity here and we have a lot going for us! Brainstorms: Investigate “Young Guns” program from past. What is the right delivery method so that people actually engage?  Is there a way to incentivize good customer service (i.e. tokens for great service that turn into gift cards.) Start a “Ambassador of the Month” program to feature people who promote Willcox.  Create materials to be available as part of New Hire packets.  Create an online course on the Great Things about Willcox.  This might be a good topic to take back to Business Focus group for additional conversation.

Potential Action Items:

  • Hold an ag-event similar to the Wine Festival to showcase impact of agriculture in the area
  • Assemble a “How Things Grow” tour.
  • Some sites note Willcox as the 5th highest crime rate in the State.  What is our community response to this preception?
  • Develop a List of Interesting Historical Moments.  Is there a way that this content could be shared / taught within the school system?
  • Have more information about agriculture in Visitor’s Center.
  • Have a field trip (i.e. for the Juniors) to understand the Willcox economy.  Visit key locations, talk to local business owners.  The Ag Dept is very strong but need to make sure message is getting to all students.
  • Consider integrating the schools into a top-notch immersion program where all students learn English and Spanish. 
  • Recognizing that we need multiple avenues, brainstorm how our community could be better at communicating.  One suggestion:  Divide into neighborhoods; have neighborhood captains who give and receive information to area residents.
  • Better promote things like Best Yard Program – builds pride and ownership
  • Research Main Street Program (especially the principles), National Trust for Preservation, and Az Commerce Authority as resources.
  • Do a grocery store comparison of costs for 20 items (to reduce hype about Safeway.)
  • Make use of advertising opportunity with Radio Station ($5 for 30 sec ad.)
  • Willcox has interesting attractions and we need to do a better job at external marketing. 

Problem Statement:  Willcox needs to make better use of technology to promote it’s strengths. If we are going to embrace tourism, need additional amenities from Friday to Sunday.
Positive Things Happening in this Area: 
Chamber of Commerce is under contract to provide tourism and economic development for the City of Willcox and the Community. Some of the tourism efforts are: Creating a new brochure, to create a Willcox area brochure and has several exposure items pending including Arizona Capitol Time, Destination America, American Airlines, and Fox Business Channel. The Chamber also sponsors Willcox Wine Country the marketing co-operative with the local wine industry that has provided marketing materials and commercial advertisements.
Many people expressed awareness of advertising success of wineries and Apple Annie’s – for many visitors, these are the two things they associate with Willcox. 
Chamber of Commerce has a tourism study with NAU underway.  Conduct surveys at Wine Festival or at Chamber to understand how visitors see our community.
Key Questions / Issues:
Do we need to highlight the region (i.e. the Sulpher Springs Valley) rather than the town?  See #3 Theme for additional related thoughts.
Willcox has multiple markets to attract based on different times of the year.  Do key players in Willcox understand the ebb and flow of different seasons and markets.  Different age groups except communication in different formats.
Priority Action Items:

  • Willcox needs a vibrant, interactive website.  This might mean improving existing website (e.g. Chamber of Commerce or City of Willcox) or outsourcing to a 3rd party. It should be easy to find all community events on the same webpage. (City of Tombstone might be an example.)
  • Use Focus Groups to go through an official branding process as a unifying effort.  Have a plan for a giant launch after key parties have bought in.  One suggestion:  Willcox:  West, Wine, & Wonder

 

 

Potential Action Items:

  • Chamber of Commerce needs a volunteer to work the Front Desk.
  • Create a monthly or quarter meeting for a Tourism Council.  Gather Willcox-minded folks who have a vested interest in tourism activity.
  • Need a more positive online presence for Willcox.
  • Generate some Yelp reviews.
  • Have great “Things to Do” marketing easily accessible.
  • Put all event based activities on a community website.
  • Get a list of everyplace that will do tours:  I.e. Aridus crushing facilities, Coronado farms, Bonita Ben Plant.
  • Create better ag-based marketing for the community.
  • Conduct a campaign on the great aspects of Willcox.  (Someone joked it could be “Where’s Willcox?” similar to Where’s Waldo.)
  • Create brief sound-bite videos about what Willcox has to offer.
  • Move the Visitor’s Center to downtown Willcox.
  • Help create tour content (that differs by different times of the year.)
  • The “Willcox is a ghost town” website comes up very high when you google “Willcox” --  Can we do something?  Address with owner?  Bump up other Willcox pages?