FLORENCE — Pinal County is the least economically “distressed” county in Arizona, according to data collected by a Washington, D.C., think tank.
The Economic Innovation Group surveyed more than 25,000 ZIP codes across the country, assessing a community’s economy based on seven factors. Their data was released through interactive map graphics earlier this month. The individual counties of a state were shaded either red, yellow or green, depending on how well they scored on EIG’s “distress” scale.
EIG co-founder John Lettieri said just because a county is shaded green doesn’t mean it’s perfect. He explained the ZIP codes are measured in relativity to each other so the data illustrates that Pinal County is performing better when compared to other counties.
EIG measured a region’s distress level by compiling the unemployment rate, poverty level, unoccupied housing rate, the median income ratio and the percent changes of employed individuals and established businesses between 2009 and 2012.
ZIP codes were ranked by percentile in each of the seven categories and the overall distress score was the sum of these percentiles. EIG gathered their information through the American Community Survey and ZIP Code Business Pattern data.
Lettieri said this methodology allows states and counties to see where economic inequality may exist in neighboring communities.
The ZIP codes in Pinal County vary widely in terms of distress scores. The least distressed ZIP code had a score of 92 while the most distressed had a score of 2.
Diversity is a critical factor, Lettieri said, for regions to keep their economy strong in a post-recession society. He said one-industry towns such as Detroit have shown to not be sustainable and the entrepreneurship of multiple industries is what will make a region thrive.
Lettieri added that Arizona stands out as one of the most innovative states for trying new economic development strategies.
Pinal County Economic Development Program Manager Tim Kanavel said his department has been more “aggressive” with attempting to recruit new industries into the region.
He said the process can be somewhat of a “blood sport,” trying to supply information to prospective businesses in an instantaneous fashion.
One problem Kanavel continues to prioritize is strengthening the county’s workforce. He said curbing a company’s turnover rate is still a challenge.
Introducing more commercial and industrial uses in San Tan Valley is another challenge for Kanavel, who said that’s one of the county’s regions in most need of economic drivers.
Pinal County’s lower distressed status was a positive sign for County Supervisor Anthony Smith that there are reasons to be optimistic about the future.
He attributed the county’s ability to recover well from the recession to the cities and towns for making themselves attractive to new residents and businesses.
Smith said infrastructure and transportation are areas where the county still needs to make improvements and he’d like to find a way of doing so without placing a further tax burden on property owners.
Virginia Chavez said she thinks the county should spend less on roads and more on helping families that are struggling financially.
The mother of three moved to Eloy last year to manage an apartment complex and described the county’s economic conditions as “poor” and “discouraging.”
On a Friday afternoon outside the Department of Economic Security building in Casa Grande, Chavez said she had to scrounge up some loose change to pay for the gas money so she could check on the status of her food stamps.
If given the chance, she said she would move back to Tucson.
Seferina Gutierrez is a little more hopeful about the county’s economic condition. Her husband recently lost his job as an information technology worker, though she’s optimistic he’ll find another one soon.
She thinks the economic conditions have improved in the four years she’s lived in Maricopa but finds that many people still struggle to get well-paying jobs.
Good data should lead to good policy changes, according to Lettieri, who said the mission of the distress score data is to shine a light on communities in most need of investment and entrepreneurship.
EIG will be updating its economic distress scores as new data becomes available in the coming months