David Fitzsimmons: TREO on the job: Touting Tucson without collapsing into laughter

2012-06-16T00:00:00Z David Fitzsimmons: TREO on the job: Touting Tucson without collapsing into laughterDavid Fitzsimmons Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
June 16, 2012 12:00 am  • 

Since a group called TREO has been in the news more often than face-eating cannibals, I thought I'd explain its mission. TREO stands for Tucson Regional Economic Opportunities. (I always thought it stood for Tough Real Estate Offer.)

TREO's main task is to lure businesses to Tucson. This involves lying to corporate executives about what an exciting and dynamic boomtown this place is. TREO's big kahuna Joe Snell earns the big bucks because he can do it without collapsing into laughter.

That's a talent that does not come cheap.

City taxpayers gave TREO $400,000 this year to hawk the Old Pueblo to Fortune 500 rubes with the same straight face employed by O.J. Simpson's dream team. That is no easy assignment when you throw in the daunting chore of having to deny accounts of how the city embraces business the way an anaconda hugs a bunny until it stops breathing.

You try it. Repeat after me: "Tucson is a desert paradise for entrepreneurs, a lush oasis for companies thirsting for a free-enterprise haven that has it all!" See, you can't do it without snickering.

County taxpayers gleefully kick in a share of TREO's funds because the word "regional" is in there and county residents enjoy watching the city blow it every time. It's like watching Lucy hold the football for Charlie Brown. Will she pull it away at the last second? Yes, she will. Longtime residents think of it as an entertainment expense. Silly Tucson.

While TREO was out of town recently, our economic boom ground to a halt because no one was here to man the kiosk loaded with brochures and coupons for cheap hotel rooms and affordable politicians. Suppose the CEO of Widgets Incorporated had heard of Tucson thanks to Comedy Central? Suppose he wandered in to pluck and peruse a pamphlet? Who would have been there to compliment his tie and dupe the sucker? Who would have been there to pitch Tucson and offer him a complimentary chance to own the Brooklyn Bridge and a lifetime supply of Tupperware?

TREO claims it has brought $2 billion worth of economic development into our slice of dried heaven. Could you be more specific?

As one who travels often across this great nation to entertain conferees, I have seen many glistening downtown convention centers and many thriving cities and many former economic development directors panhandling for change who can be specific.

And I'm sure the recent TREO trek to San Diego was as valuable as past expeditions to Austin, Portland, Albuquerque, Huntsville, Ala., and an unreported flyby visit to a lifeless frozen asteroid that, according to my sources, is being eyed by the city as a promising site for a stadium.

TREO is Tucson's most recent development hustler. We've had quite a few through the years: the Greater Tucson Economic Council, the Southern Arizona Please Move Here Poobahs, the Name Your Price Council, the We'll Do Whatever It Takes Bureau, the Pima County Economic Development Scrapbooking Club, Old Pueblo Peddlers, and Padre Kino's Welcome Wagon. Their memorable motto was the enchanting "Tucson: Palm Springs - with trailers."

Aside from the crumbling roads, battered schools and nattering NIMBYs, we're an easy sell thanks to the national fame from the documentary "Raising Arizona" and the tantalizing promise of the most fabulous downtown west of Lordsburg, N.M. A promise that is made all the more thrilling thanks to the reformation of the Rio Nuevo board. With certain members gone, it's possible our community will get back to the noble and timely task at hand: screwing up the redevelopment of downtown.

The first and most important move by the new and improved instant sugar-free board was the announcement that the board will file lawsuits against Tucson only every other Tuesday and on holidays.

At last, with the acrimony between the city and the board just water under the Rainbow Bridge, we can focus on the good things that are happening. The streetcar is coming. We won't be using those expensive ceremonial groundbreaking shovels to pound each other over the head. People will be living downtown. Some will actually not have nipple rings, Billy Idol sneers and purple mohawks. And you heard it here first: Madame Tussaud's Wax Museum of Gross Financial Mismanagement Oddities will attract tourists like crazy. One downtown developer took me aside and said, "The excitement that was never there is back. Two words: Sonoran Aquarium Bridge."

As a streetcar proponent once said, "There's a lot riding on this."

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