With Phoenix's prodigious growth come concerns as well as opportunities. Prominent among observers of the region's path of development is the attitude that this growth has come at the expense of quality of life and a superior alternative course.
This view ignores the remarkable and perhaps unlikely success the region has enjoyed. The greater Phoenix area has had one of the highest job growth rates in the country, far outpacing cities such as Houston, San Jose, and Seattle during the last few years. Moreover, this growth has come while maintaining a low cost of living, roughly 25 percent below places like San Diego. Due to this, Phoenix's average annual wage is worth more than the average wage in places like Portland, Boston, Philadelphia, and San Francisco. The region also has one of the highest homeownership rates in the country, more than twice that of New York or Boston.
Much of the growth is itself growth-induced. But even this points to an underlying entrepreneurial current. For instance, Phoenix has one of the highest concentrations of high-growth companies. And amidst the changing international economic scenery, Phoenix has managed to maintain a high share of high-tech output, almost 50 percent above the national average.
Yet an emerging strategy calls for a massive shift of funds and, more broadly, a development strategy that is anachronistic with the Valley's organic multi-centric path. Despite an infusion of approximately $2.4 billion in capital into the downtown since 1989 and remarkable population growth in the greater Phoenix region, the area experienced a population decline over the 1990s. Now another $2 to $3 billion is in the works for downtown projects. The lack of success for similar projects in the 1990s should prompt policymakers to question the assumptions of central city boosters.
In terms of jobs, an affordable quality of life, and entrepreneurial dynamism, few places in the nation have enjoyed a better record or more success, despite and more likely because Phoenix largely has not followed the idealized examples of cities elsewhere.
Phoenix's best path lies in cultivating its historically organic pattern of multi-polar development by maintaining a business-friendly, growth-oriented environment with low tax and regulatory burdens.