Barbara Goodrich was named Interim City Manager of Flagstaff earlier this year. She came to City Hall in 2000 as the Finance Director, was promoted to Management Services Director in 2009 and then Assistant City Manager in 2015. We caught up with her to talk about her background, how non-profits shaped much of her work ethic and all of the “best of” lists Flagstaff has made its way onto just in 2018.
Tell us a little about your background. What brought you to Flagstaff? I moved to Flagstaff in 1977 after going on a country-wide trip with a friend of mine. Coming through Flagstaff in July was just beautiful, so I moved out in September and never left. I am a proud Northern Arizona University graduate with a Bachelors of Science in Accounting. I have a Masters in Business Administration from the University of Phoenix and I’ve received a Certified Public Manager Certificate from Arizona State University. (I just need to get something from UofA to hit the trifecta of universities!)
You served many years as a financial officer for The Guidance Center. Tell us about working in the nonprofit sector and can you share your thoughts on what nonprofits mean for Flagstaff. I believe non-profits are the lifeblood of any community. So many non-profits fill essential gaps in our community including but not limited to – mental health, physical health, substance abuse recovery, victim witness services, and the most recent project the City partnered on – homelessness. Certainly, health-related services aren’t the only niche for local non-profits as we look to the work of United Way, Flagstaff Arts Council, Flagstaff Symphony, and Theatrikos. I absolutely believe in the mission of non-profits and I’m glad this is where I found my niche. I tried the private sector for about six months and the motivation behind the decisions did not meet my personal ethics. The mantra I frequently use I learned from former City Manager Dave Wilcox: Community first; team second; myself third. This has helped frame many decisions that may have a financial component but aren’t driven solely by money, but will have a more holistic solution.
What do you see as your main role as a city manager? I believe my main role is to provide the leadership that bridges the gap between the Council vision, goals and priorities into a viable work program by City staff so that our community continues to thrive today and into the foreseeable future. We are very fortunate in Flagstaff that we have an active and engaged community that values the many amenities we get to take for granted. Things we are busy with today that have long-lasting implications include the continued improvement of our streets, the protection of our dark skies, management of the infill growth, the construction of the Rio de Flag flood control project, the upcoming election on transportation and housing funding, ensuring an adequate water supply, the construction of a courthouse, enhancing our infrastructure to recruit high paying employment to retain our local NAU graduates, increasing air service frequency and destinations, and enhancing our relationships with our indigenous neighbors.
You’ve mentioned that you find yourself talking a lot about the value of all types of businesses for the economic health of the community. Can you elaborate more on that? Any community that is overly reliant on one sector for ongoing financial stability is at risk. It is best that a community can find a balance between sectors so that if one area ebbs another one might blossom. The City is currently heavily reliant on both the tourism and governmental/education employment sectors. When the most recent recession hit and layoffs occurred in those sectors we experienced significant revenue losses both locally and through the State of Arizona. Our tourism numbers remained relatively flat – which was good, but we had anticipated continued growth. We had budgeted based on growth and found ourselves (as many others did) with having to make significant personnel and other budget cuts. If our local economy were better balanced with more firms focused in development/manufacturing like Gore and Nestle or scientific research like U.S.G.S., we would weather another recession a little better.
That being said, tourism and NAU remain huge economic factors in Flagstaff, right? Our continued relevance in tourism is directly due to our efforts in both local, national, and international venues. On a local level, we heavily promote our local businesses. Our local Craft Beers event, the Flagstaff’s Lunar Legacy (celebrating the 50th anniversary on the lunar landing and all astronauts trained in Flagstaff), and the ‘Visit, Discover, Grow’ campaign all provide outreach to companies to encourage them to locate permanently here. Plus our overall rich offering in everything outdoors is a big attractor.
You can see it in all the “best of” lists the city is on. Just in 2018 so far, the City has been recognized as a top white-water rafting destination, one of the best burgers in America (Arizona Diablo Burger), one of the top college towns in the U.S., one of the best Memorial Day weekend getaways in Arizona, one of six places that “takes stargazing seriously,” one of the most beautiful U.S. towns, one of the top 25 places that are great for pet-friendly vacations, and – my favorite because it was true for me – one of the top 20 “Game-Changing” places to live.
We also have the added asset that we’re close to places like Phoenix and Las Vegas, even Los Angeles is just a day away driving time. This is what really helped us as many folks turned to ‘staycations’ during the economic downturn. We are very fortunate to be the hub for so many northern Arizona natural attractions, primarily the Grand Canyon. On an international level, we opened up our local community to the Australian market which is proving to be very successful and continues to grow. We also receive many visitors from Europe and we are growing our Central American visitation also. Tourism provides about 50% of our sales tax revenues and pays for a lot of our city amenities.
Northern Arizona University students make up about 30% of our overall city population and the university enriches our community in a number of ways. The University itself continues to gain recognition for their program quality, their research activity, their growth in indigenous/Native American student populations, and quality, competitive athletic teams. Students in our community work here, play here, eat here, volunteer here, and add to the diversity of conversation we have on local issues. In addition to this, they are an absolute economic driver being almost one-third of the population.
What do you see as ECONA’s role in maintaining and growing the Flagstaff region’s economic vitality? It’s right there in your question – it is important to have a regional perspective and ECONA provides that link. When our region grows, we all benefit. It is critical to have the efforts of the City and County coordinated as we have similar goals. We want to retain the local talent that comes from NAU. We want diversification in our employment sectors. We want our citizens to be financially stable. We want folks to be able to find housing that is affordable. We want our citizens to be successful in the long term. ECONA provides a level of expertise matching up the resources we have – whether they are in the City’s Economic Vitality division, or the business incubator and accelerator at NACET, or the team at the Greater Flagstaff Chamber of Commerce.