Jobs creation and economic competitiveness: the two reasons Tucson businessman Alex Rod-riguez traveled across the country this week for a half-day discussion with government officials at the White House.
He was one of 15 business leaders from Arizona who represented the state at the half-day meeting with the White House Business Council.
Rodriguez, founder of the Tucson-based Client Attraction Strategy Group, did his homework in preparation for his Tuesday meeting with Michael Pyle, special assistant to President Obama, and others in the federal government.
"I talked to the Chamber of Commerce, the Hispanic Chamber, TREO (Tucson Regional Economic Opportunities), the executive director of the Santa Cruz County Port Authority and individual business leaders that I called to consult," he said. "I came to Washington with a strong portfolio of information to put our best foot forward. These opportunities don't come very often, and when they do we need to do it in the best manner possible."
In a phone interview from D.C., Rodriguez answered some questions after the meeting:
Q. What were your main points or issues at the meeting?
A. "There were a broad range of issues raised and discussed, and I provided input on almost all of them. The specific one I raised is the situation regarding the U.S.-Mexico border - immigration - and specifically I raised the issue that we need a better and more efficient flow of people, goods and services between Arizona and Mexico.
"Mexico is one of our top three trading partners for the state. It has an enormous economic impact to the state of Arizona, and as border security has been ramped up over the last few years, wait times along the border going in either direction have increased substantially. Now a four-hour wait is the norm at the Nogales Port of Entry. What we need are more U.S. Customs agents to help with a more efficient flow.
"Mexican nationals who reside in their country who normally come up to spend their money on consumer goods in the Tucson area, the Phoenix area, Scottsdale, all over the state, they are … less willing to make the trip because of the long wait times. They are discouraged to sit on the U.S.-Mexico border. It has decimated the economy in Nogales (Arizona)."
Q. Were there other issues you discussed?
A. "We talked about the role of the federal government when it comes to K-12 and education. The discussion was about workforce development, how to improve our long-term Arizona competitiveness and U.S. competitiveness based on a changing global economy. That means the workforce is going to be more knowledge-based and our K-12 system has to be able to reform so that our students are prepared for the global economy when they graduate.
"I'll give you one example: There's a company in Phoenix that has over 30 job openings for software engineers, and they are having a hard time filling those roles because there's a shortage of software engineers available. That's obviously a very knowledge-driven, skilled-job sector and, in fact, they (federal officials) are talking about possibly approving something called entrepreneurial visas to allow citizens from other countries that are studying in the U.S. to stay here on an entrepreneurial immigrant visa to fill the demand for that software engineer example."
Q. What did you take away from the meeting?
A. "From the business leaders' perspective, there was consensus around the desire for better communications coming out of the federal government that would help aid in economic development.
"This was not a one-time event. It's intended as an ongoing conversation with the White House Business Council. They're going to provide us with continued communications.
"It's great they are doing this. It's allowing business leaders to have direct access to the decision makers back in Washington, D.C."
DID YOU KNOW?
Tucson businessman Alex Rod-riguez is no stranger to the D.C. scene.
"As a Presidential Management Fellow under President Clinton's administration, I worked on White House liaison matters for the Pentagon," he said. The Presidential Management Fellow Program is a leadership training organization.
And as for Rodriguez's meeting this week at the White House, "For me it was something of a homecoming because right across from where we were meeting were the offices of the National Security Council where I was international policy adviser," he said.
Contact reporter Kimberly Matas at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 573-4191.