Glenn Hamer Reflects On 14 Years Of Arizona's Economy
MARK BRODIE: Arizona's economy and business climate were both considered to be among the healthiest in the country before the pandemic hit. There have been improvements and opportunities and results since the Great Recession of more than a decade ago, even as concerns about education and reliance on growth persists. Glenn Hamer, president and CEO of the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry, has seen the state's economic highs and lows. And after 14 years with the chamber, he's moving to Texas later this month to become president and CEO of the Texas Association of Business. Hamer spoke with my co-host, Steve Goldstein, and started by describing why the Texas position appealed to him.
GLENN HAMER: The thing about Texas is, is just the size, and the, the manufacturing and the exports of Texas are just staggering. But, but a lot of the issues are the same in terms of drivers of a very healthy economy — competitive taxes, light regulations, good infrastructure, a good overall business climate.
STEVE GOLDSTEIN: Texas, as you mentioned, the size is enormous. And whereas Arizona has one immense metro area and then a second that is pretty sizable, Texas has many more than two. How do you think that's going to play in? I mean, do different regions of Texas need different things? And how does that affect your position?
HAMER: Yeah, it's, it really — that's, that's, that's a very important point, is that Texas has the 10 largest cities in America. Texas has Houston, it has San Antonio, it has Dallas and it has Austin. So four out of the 10 are in Texas. The economy, you know, certainly has some, some things that Arizona doesn't have, such as, such as oil and gas. So, Steve, you know, for, for starters, I'm going to be putting a lot more miles on my car, that's, that's, that's for sure.
GOLDSTEIN: Glenn, let me go specifically into education, because that has been one, one of the things that is cited is that the state does need to improve its K-12 system, be even more competitive when it comes to that. And that's been an uphill climb for quite a while here. What's the Texas environment when it comes to that, whether K-12 or university?
HAMER: Texas has a massive university and community college system and it's very, very well regarded. And just like I have to be careful here when I talk about our state system — I like saying I have three daughters and each one is going to go to one of our, one of the Arizona great public universities — Texas has a lot of great public and private universities. The education system there in Texas is strong. And, Steve, I want to say it's, it's, it's strong and improving in Arizona. We have, in Arizona, made more progress than just about any other state over the last 10 years in terms of results. And results are an important component when we think about our education system. And as, as we are having this discussion, this is a fact. Arizona is at its highest per capita, adjusted for inflation point in student funding. Now, I'm including all sources — state, federal and local — in our state's history. That's an accomplishment. And that's in large part because of the business community supporting things like Proposition 100, Proposition 123, the 20% pay increase by 2020, additional assistance increases, results-based funding, funding for students who are getting college credit. So we've made dramatic progress in this, in this state in terms of resources and reforms and what has come out? Better results. Do we still have work to do in Arizona, as is, as is the case in the 49 other states? We sure do. But we've made, we've made a lot of progress as a state, and we should be proud of that.
GOLDSTEIN: Glenn, I want to ask you a couple of political questions. You have said some very nice things in recent months about Congressman [Greg] Stanton, about Sen. [Kyrsten] Sinema. But you're also closely tied to Gov. [Doug] Ducey. You also in a previous life, you were executive director of the state GOP. Is the chamber too tied to Republican causes in Arizona?
HAMER: I don't believe so, Steve. We're, the state chamber is the party of business, and we call them as we see it. So on some of the immigration reform efforts, it's been, you could say, center left, on — we played the leading role in Medicaid restoration, center left on, on, on championing the competitiveness package one and two, it's fair to say center right. Like, this state is very lucky to have Gov. Ducey at the helm. This is a business guy that understands it. And it is not an accident that Arizona is a top five state. It's not an accident that Maricopa County has been the fastest growing county for the last three or four years. It's not an accident that during the heart of [the] pandemic, the morning started with an announcement that hundreds of jobs were going to Arizona firms from Zoom. And then it was topped off by the biggest economic development deal in our state's history with the Taiwanese semiconductor company — 1,800 jobs and a $12 billion investment. The state's economic development ecosystem, led by Sandra Watson at the Arizona Commerce Authority, has never been stronger in this state.
GOLDSTEIN: Let's go back about a decade ago with SB 1070. It's certainly the perception was not necessarily good for Arizona for a while related to that. And that affected the business community, certainly. And there was some criticism that business leaders almost, you know, what's, what's the old phrase — about got involved after the barn door was already open. So was that a fair criticism at the time? Is that one you'd like to have back?
HAMER: It's a fair criticism. And, Steve, I ought to say this. I'm a big — I love all sports. To use a baseball, you know, we're not getting hit every time at the plate. I think what we learned from that is state's reputation is, is important as well. And, and regardless of what may be in a particular bill, you do have to think through those issues. But I'll say after that point in time, there is not a single immigration matter that caused any sort of reputational issues to Arizona that, that passed. That's a pretty good record for, for a decade. And we, and we know that there were a lot of tries to do so when Republicans had a supermajority and we played a role with other business groups to make sure that, that that didn't happen. So I'd say from that point forward, it's hard to point to a bill that was signed by a governor that caused a state, a reputational issue. So we learned from it. And unfortunately, you know, the fact is the United States Supreme Court issued a ruling in that case that put up guard rails. And my final point on this, we're still at the same point where Congress needs to do its job. It's important to remember, if we back up, that a big driver of this was because of the lack of congressional action.
GOLDSTEIN: How strong is the relationship right now between Arizona and Mexico? And though that's obviously a state to nation situation — obviously, Arizona very close to Sonora — is the perception going to help Arizona, regardless of, of Gov. Ducey doing his own thing, with President Trump out of office as it relates to Arizona and Mexico?
HAMER: I want to just say, Ambassador [Robert] Lighthizer, who I, who I've said, you know, deserves a Nobel Peace Prize, was the architect of the greatest bipartisan trading agreement in our country's history: The U.S-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA). President [Joe] Biden's tone and tenor are, are certainly welcome. And I'm fairly confident he's going to take that great agreement, and now that it's actually in effect and, and do great things and build that relationship without the threat of, of extraneous things like tariffs on our friends from Mexico or Canada. So I feel very bullish that the Biden administration is going to build on USMCA and it's going to benefit Arizona greatly for generations to come.
GOLDSTEIN: Glenn Hamer, the longtime head of the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry, leaving us for Texas. Glenn, thanks so much for the time and good luck.
HAMER: Thank you very much, Steve.