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Stanton says Phoenix’s innovations help make it a global competitor

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WASHINGTON – Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton told a Washington audience Wednesday that the recession forced the city to reinvent itself, sparking major improvements in higher education, transportation and other areas in its “innovation-based” economy.

“I am lucky enough to be the mayor at a time where we are reinventing ourselves,” Stanton said. “In Phoenix, Arizona, this is our moment, this is our time.”

He was one of several mayors from across the nation who gathered Wednesday at the “What Works” summit to discuss successes in their cities that have contributed to urban reinvention.

The event was sponsored by Politico Magazine and was the culmination of its yearlong project focusing on innovative cities – and which actually featured Mesa in its coverage.

The daylong meeting of mayors, policy experts and economists included panels on everything from technology to Washington’s role in the future of cities to the uproar in Ferguson after a white police officer shot an unarmed black teen.

Stanton was on a panel titled “Urban Engines” that included mayors of Gary, Indiana, and Madison, Wisconsin, a businessman from Detroit and a representative of United Way Worldwide. They talked about economic growth, immigration and the workforce, and they shared ideas on how their cities have worked to ensure economic development.

Stanton said Phoenix’s ability to contribute to today’s global economy has been hard-earned, as the city has had to take lessons learned from the past when it was “overly reliant” on growth.

“We got hammered during the recession,” Stanton said. “It forced leadership to really look in the mirror and say, ‘How are we going to reinvent ourselves so that we can compete in this global economy?’”

Stanton said that Phoenix has focused heavily on education in order for it to compete and grow economically. The city has partnered with Arizona State University and the University of Arizona, getting the schools to build downtown campus locations that help develop the educated workforce the region needs, he said.

“More than anything in economic development, it’s all about talent,” Stanton said. “In Phoenix, we are in a position where we’re trying to figure out what we want to be when we grow up, and we know the No. 1 thing we can offer is talent.”

While funding for higher education is typically a state government responsibility, Stanton said the city couldn’t wait.

“If you want to make it happen, you’ve got to make it happen yourselves and not rely on others to make it happen,” he said.

By shifting to an economy that is more “innovative” and “export-based,” he said the city is able to support everyone from working-class families to the wealthy.

Stanton also pointed to the city’s efforts to encourage businesses to go international, opening a trade office in Mexico City and investing heavily in the light rail system. Stanton said that it is up to the city itself to get things done and that Phoenix residents are “rolling up our sleeves.”

“If you’re relying on Washington, D.C., to become a great city, you’re going to be waiting a really long time,” he said. “You’ve got to really be much more self-sufficient if you want to be a leading city, and that’s what Phoenix is doing.”