A regional focus is key to economic development in the Verde Valley, said newly-elected Verde Valley Regional Economic Organization Chairman William Jump.
The developer said the next year will be focused on promoting a collective brand for the Verde Valley to bring in visitors, and generate private support for the effort to fund broadband.
Jump said he started coming to the Verde Valley about 15 years ago, and fell in love with it "as so many do," he said. The DEC Investment Group, Inc. president saw potential along the State Route 260 corridor, and his investment group began acquiring property there.
After selling 103 acres to the Out of Africa Wildpark 11 years ago and growing it into a tourist attraction, Jump said there are still 150 acres to develop.
"It's an opportunity to grow the park, bring in new attractions like we did with the zipline," he said.
Jump started volunteering on local chambers of commerce five years ago, and is in his fourth year at VVREO.
"It's really important for Out of Africa, as large as it is now, and as big as it's going to become, to provide a leadership role in economic development."
His goal is to further the organization's regional focus, a strategy for growth that has succeeded in the past. Jump pointed to the SR 260 expansion through the Arizona Department of Transportation, which he said took each community's cooperation to procure $66 million in funding.
VVREO has been working to bring providers together to invest in laying down a broadband infrastructure while those SR 260 improvements are taking place. Jump said this is one area where a regional focus is necessary.
"Any other infrastructure, like utilities, things that are basic for development, can be better approached through a regional plan," he said.
Broadband can mean speedier internet that attracts businesses that are heavy bandwidth users, and also has potential to increase educational opportunities at local schools. Clarkdale Economic Development Director and VVREO board member Jodie Filardo has a large role in that project, Jump said.
In additional to the private capital being sought to fund this expensive project, Jump said VVREO is seeking out grants and subsidies.
"Our ability with VVREO to bring these groups together and keep them functioning as a region creates the leverage that allows us to provide jobs, places for young people to work, an increased tax base, a better quality of life for everyone," he said. "It takes us past the point of just trying to sell a great climate."
Over the course of his yearlong chairmanship, Jump said he hopes VVREO will become "even more relevant than it is now" by not only procuring capital, but administering it.
For example, the group earned at $200,000 USDA grant and lent the funds to local small businesses.
"We can continue to do that, but that's going to require some staff," he said. "You can't expect a volunteer group to administer that kind of assistance"
"That's what I'm trying to change, is taking it from just a group that wants to do good deeds to a group that can do good deeds," he said.
One step toward that effort is the group's Feb. 19 event, "Creating Capital in the Verde Valley." Business owners and local economic development experts will learn about federal, state and local resources available.
The $25 event includes lunch, and is being held at Yavapai College, an institution that Jump said has the potential to add value to the entire Verde Valley.
"VVREO wants to make a concerted effort to collaborate with Yavapai College and other institutions that can provide that needed employment base as the Valley grows," he said.
Sedona, for example, has a constant need to people trained in hospitality, customer service and the food industry. The college is in the process of rolling out pilot programs this fall to fill that need.
The Walton Family, National Geographic and the Sedona Verde Valley Tourism Council are working with economic development leaders, including VVREO, to conduct a tourism study this year.
"We are going to utilize their expertise to help us brand the Sedona Verde Valley," he said.
Still early in the process, Jump said the groups have to agree on a unifying identifier that local businesses can use in advertising and online.
"The ability to create this brand is going to help everybody grow in a sustainable way," he said.