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Granchelli: Sedona High Technology Council,
better pay would help workers afford housing

by Ralph Granchelli

Editor’s note: Granchelli was vice president and executive officer of Silicon Valley’s Elantec Semiconductor. After more than 28 years of large and small business experience, and with two public offerings under his belt, Granchelli moved to Sedona in December, 2000.

Ralph Granchelli Sedona ArizonaGrowth happens, and Sedona is no exception. The question is, what type of growth do we want to see happen?

Visualize the Sedona you will see 20 years from now. The current trend seems to be one of simply being content with growing the poverty level. The most recent Community Plan calls for adding an additional 950 “affordable” housing units to the area. And then what, more?

I’d like to propose another scenario - one in which we grow the ability of people to afford housing here rather than simply growing the poverty.

First of all, to prepare itself for the future, Sedona needs a High Technology Council.

Such a council will be a valuable strategic asset for all of us, planning and paving the way for new economic growth, job opportunities, advanced city planning, and technology-focused academics. Over time, it will spawn new local industry while simultaneously creating job growth. The objective has to be to provide the jobs that will produce the income levels that Sedonans will need in the future.

The need for people to be able to afford housing in Sedona also fuels the requirement for high technology jobs in the area.

Housing, with a median price approaching $370,000, coupled with average incomes of approximately $40,000 per year, has created an affordability chasm for people wishing to reside in Sedona. These affordability statistics were recently highlighted by John O’Brien, Sedona’s planning director. He states that an income of approximately $100,000 per year would be required to qualify for home ownership. A recent scan of available jobs in the area does not reveal any obvious open positions paying in this range.

However, a quick search of the Multiple Listing Service for single-family homes in Sedona under $150,000 does turn up numerous opportunities. One starter home was approximately 900 square feet, for $82,000. With 95% financing, a down payment of $4,000 would be required, plus a monthly payment of approximately $505 (at the prevailing rates). Opportunities to own homes here are available for less than one-third the median - today.

As we approach build-out in Sedona, assuming that the economy recovers, it is reasonable to believe that median housing prices will continue to increase. This is driven purely by supply and demand and market-based factors.

The affordability problem will worsen if nothing is done to create new jobs that can support the purchase of a house with a $500,000 median price down the road. It is simply unrealistic to assume that the job opportunities that exist here today will support the housing cost requirements of the future.

But government has not been working effectively with industry. We need to work together to change that if we want to create sensible growth and higher paying jobs here in Sedona.

To be successful, a Sedona high-tech council must have representation and buy-in from the top. The mayor, council, and city planner must sponsor and drive the high tech council for it to be successful. The council will need academic, industrial, and venture-capital representation.

The council will need to provide a strategic vision of what “high technology” means to Sedona. It most likely will be the envisioning, planning, defining, designing, call support/application centers and consulting in select focus-market and technology areas, rather than local manufacturing.

The council would follow the proposed process:

1.         Establish council

2.         Define role of technology in Sedona

3.         Take a technology-asset inventory

4.         Explore how it can be packaged and sold to industry

5.         Go sell it to industry

In defining the role of technology in the context of Sedona, it is of paramount importance that it be non-invasive and transparent upon the area, focusing as I’ve mentioned, along the lines of design, strategic marketing, and consulting. It is key that in achieving growth, Sedona maintain its pristine beauty and all the other elements that make this community a desirable place to live in and visit.

As I’ve mentioned, it is currently proposed in the community plan that Sedonans be responsible for putting up 950 “affordable housing” units. Is this the “growth” trend we want to see happening in Sedona? Rather than continuing to add to the poverty problem, would it not make more sense to provide people with a means to afford the considerable housing we already have?

I believe that the asset inventory will turn up a rapidly developing technology base. Recently, while recruiting engineers in this region for an electronics start-up company, I was surprised how many tech people contacted me from this area. There is a base of skilled people here already with no available tech jobs. A number of people commute and telecommute to tech jobs outside the area.

There also are skilled individuals in the process of prospecting for their future retirement homes here. Many people I have spoken to are from the tech environment. Technology is here and will continue to advance. But will there be any jobs in Sedona for these people in the future?

In the selling phase, matching up the available talent with the needs of the industry is key. A Web site needs to be created and targeted to recruiting personnel and hiring managers of tech companies. The Web site also would have a listing of available talent in the area.

It is time to stop wondering what to do about high housing costs and the lack of high-paying jobs in the area and do something about it.

How you can help? Contact your city council members and voice your support for the creation of a high tech council here in Sedona. There is also the possibility of forming a citizens council.

Comments or questions? You can Email Granchelli (granchelli@redrockreview.com) or leave a comment on our Web site discussion page

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