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U.S. mayors report forecasts slow recovery for Arizona metro areas

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WASHINGTON – Arizona’s metro areas are at least four years away from returning to pre-recession employment levels, according to a report issued Wednesday.

The economy in the Phoenix, Tucson and Flagstaff areas are not expected to recover until 2016 while the Yuma, Lake Havasu and Prescott areas are not predicted to return to pre-recession levels until after 2017, according to the report by the U.S. Conference of Mayors.

“The good thing is we’re not heading down anymore, but we’re heading up very, very slowly,” said Mesa Mayor Scott Smith, a vice president of the conference who was in Washington to help release the report Wednesday.

“It’s going to be a long and frustrating recovery,” Smith said.

But there are some signs of progress, although they are modest. All of Arizona’s metro areas are forecast to see job growth in 2012 – an improvement over 2011 when two of the six actually lost jobs – but only Phoenix will see an increase greater than 2 percent this year.

The forecast shows Phoenix is expected to gain 37,000 jobs in 2012, followed by Tucson, which is predicted to pick up 4,000 jobs. Lake Havasu and Prescott are expected to pick up about 900 jobs, followed by an estimated 800 jobs in Flagstaff and 600 in Yuma.

Smith and other mayors who were on hand for the release of the report said metro job growth around the country could be accelerated if Congress worked with cities to generate jobs.

“We’re not here to ask Congress to do something for us,” Smith said. “We want them to do things with us.”

Mayors at the release urged Congress to stop focusing on party politics and instead start investing in things like transportation and education, which they said will lead to more jobs.

That call for nonpartisan action was echoed by other Arizona mayors who were in Washington for the mayors’ convention.

Goodyear Mayor Georgia Lord said the key to creating more jobs is for members of Congress from both parties to start working with one another.

“They need to be more like cities are,” she said. “We address the problem and then the party.”

Tucson Mayor Jonathan Rothschild said he agreed, saying his office makes decisions based on facts, not parties.

“I don’t ask people their political party because it really shouldn’t be important,” Rothschild said. “If people go only by ideology, I don’t think you’re going to get the best results.”

Surprise Mayor Sharon Wolcott said Congress needs to invest in America’s road, rail and other transportation systems to create more jobs.

“The quickest way to get people back to work is to invest in our transportation infrastructure,” she said.

But cities cannot do it on their own, Smith said.

“We’re frustrated by the lack of action in Washington,” he said. “It’s holding back our ability to help our country recover, especially in Arizona which has been hurt so badly by the housing crisis.”

Despite the challenges, Rothschild said he remained optimistic the city can regain the jobs it lost during the recession earlier than 2016, as predicted in the mayors’ report.

“I just think were beginning to see signs,” he said. “It’s not going to be accomplished overnight, but I’m hopeful that we can do better.”