Fireside Chat: World-class education enhances Greater Phoenix’s thriving economy

Published: 03/09/2020

Greater Phoenix’s world-class educational institutions are a fundamental cornerstone of our thriving economy. After all, no business-focused community would be able to achieve consistent economic development in the long-term without substantial investments in its most important asset –– its people. If there’s one person who sees how education leads to economic growth daily, it’s Karrin Taylor Robson. 

As we continue our series of fireside chats with GPEC board members, Taylor Robson joined to shine a light on Greater Phoenix’s deep-rooted commitment to education. Taylor Robson is the founder and president of Arizona Strategies and a member of the Arizona Board of Regents (ABOR) where she is the secretary of the board, chair of the Finance, Capital and Resources Committee and member of the Audit Committee and Academic Affairs and Educational Attainment Committee.

Taylor Robson shared what her experience as a land developer and member of ABOR have taught her about engaging communities in education and economic development, and how Arizona can continue to advance its education system and drive the economy to even greater heights.  

Encouraging community cooperation through face-to-face engagements 

To kick off the fireside chat, Taylor Robson shared a story about being asked to help develop a Walmart in a Valley community known for strongly opposing new development. She explained how the challenge she faced centered on changing people’s attitudes from “not in my backyard” to “Yes, in my backyard!” Or, as she dubbed it, “NIMBY” versus “YIMBY.” 

History has shown bringing communities into the fold leads to better outcomes, so she encouraged a more transparent path forward and requested that Walmart engineers meet with the community once a week throughout the entire planning process. Every week the engineers would share their progress and listen to community input, then take the feedback they received and incorporate it into the plans. After the planning phase was complete, the permitting and construction process was one of the smoothest Walmart ever experienced. The project became one of the most successful for the company, and the neighborhood welcomed the new store because members of the community felt respected, included and engaged.  

Taylor Robson pointed out the parallels she’s seen in the education sector: transparency and engagement help to build bridges and encourage progress. For the support of education to increase, communities need to be given opportunities to engage and get involved. 


Communicating the value of education to key community stakeholders 

School rankings are commonly viewed through the lens of budget allotments––but Taylor Robson says this issue is far more complicated. The amount of funding school systems receive are undoubtedly linked to their success, but the budget isn’t everything. According to the U.S. Census, Montana was ranked first for high school graduations in 2016, but ranked 23rd in spending per pupil. At the same time, New York was ranked first in spending per pupil and ranked 40th for high school graduations.  

Taylor Robson said how a community views education is of the utmost importance. Investing in a quality education system provides value far past teaching a community’s next generation. Its return on investment (ROI) also includes improving public health and lowering crime rates, to name a few. 

While budgetary concerns are addressed, Taylor Robson says some schools in Greater Phoenix are increasingly reaching out to their communities and inviting key stakeholders such as parents, neighbors and friends to get involved. Like Walmart, this engagement should go both ways. The more schools can get involved in local communities, the more people will step up and increase “YIMBY” attitudes toward education in the Greater Phoenix ecosystem. 

Constructing educational offerings to reflect the market’s needs 

Education should not be a one-size-fits-all system, and the demands of tomorrow’s workforce require educators to teach students critical thinking and soft skills. Through her role with ABOR, Taylor Robson works closely with universities to pioneer solutions in our own backyard. 

Led by Arizona State University President Michael Crow, one example at ASU, is a model called universal learning, which aims to make higher education accessible to all. The approach is designed to provide academic training and skill-building opportunities to learners through online or immersive learning environments, regardless of their socioeconomic background. 

Among Greater Phoenix’s most valuable assets is our skilled workforce. In order for our community to continue to grow and thrive, individuals need access to continued learning opportunities whether they will be entering the workforce for the first time or are mid-career and need to enhance their skills to remain competitive. Taylor Robson said ASU and other institutions are helping to answer that call and ensure that Greater Phoenix leads the country with a robust and diverse talent pool. Greater Phoenix is in an exciting period of growth, and the world is taking notice. Now is the perfect time to join the ecosystem. If you are a business owner, innovator or entrepreneur interested in investing in the community, connect with us here. 

 If you’d like to share your growth and success story with the community, tell us about it here.