Located just east of downtown Phoenix, you’ll find one of the most vibrant and diverse areas of the valley. Tempe is largely known for being the home of Arizona State University — the largest public university in the country.
But Tempe is far more than just a college town. It’s a city that’s making strides in many areas, from LGBTQIA+ equality to affordable housing. Tempe’s current population is more than 184,000 and growing, similar to Phoenix and its surrounding areas. That’s an increase of more than 22,000 residents since the 2010 census.
There’s one person who knows more about the advancements of Tempe than anyone else, and that’s Mayor Corey Woods. He served as a Councilmember for the City of Tempe from July 2008 to July 2016. He was elected as mayor of Tempe in March of 2020.
We asked Mayor Corey Woods to make the case for moving to Tempe
How would you describe Tempe to someone who has never been here before?
I would say that Tempe is a forward thinking, diverse, inclusive community, for people of all different backgrounds. One of the amazing things about the city of Tempe is that if you’re in the north portion of the city, it’s very urban. There’s a lot of tall buildings, lots of density and very walkable streets. It has the sort of food and the nightlife you would expect in a very thriving downtown area.
But if you go a few miles south, you’ve got people who have large properties and they’re riding horses and tending to their stables. You have all of these things within one community.
We’re a very diverse community in so many ways. It’s not just the people. It’s also the amenities, the neighborhoods. Tempe has so many amenities and neighborhoods within our 42 square miles, that we have something for everyone, regardless of who you are, or what kind of community, or what kind of neighborhood you want to live in. It exists within Tempe. I would encourage everybody to look into relocating here.
If you’ve got a business that you’re looking to expand, Tempe is absolutely the place to do that. We are the hottest market for class A office space in the entire valley. Tempe really has an environment for everyone who wants to locate here, and I’m very proud of that.
You’re about halfway through your mayoral term right now. What kind of positive changes have you witnessed in those first two years?
Affordable housing has been one of the key issues that our council has really chosen to focus on, because housing affordability is really a challenge. It’s a national problem at this point. In January of 2021 we created Hometown for All. It’s an affordable housing plan was sparked by a constant desire for innovation, and trying to find a way to increase the supply of affordable and workforce housing.
The reason why this program came about is because Arizona has quite a few statewide prohibitions and restrictions when it comes to creating more affordable housing. There are lots of tools that are used in other states, tools like tax increment financing, or inclusionary zoning or rent control. All of those things have been banned in the state of Arizona, which makes it very, very challenging to create more affordable housing stock when you don’t have those tools available at your disposal. But we aren’t elected to not make excuses. We’re to come up with creative ways to get things done.
Hometown for All consists of two things: Firstly, it’s taking money that might otherwise go to the general fund. It’s an amount equivalent to 50 percent of permitting fees that are paid to the city when someone does a market rate development, whether it’s multifamily or office, and we take that money before it goes into the general plan. We put it into a 501(c)(3) nonprofit three called the Tempe Coalition for Affordable Housing.
The second portion is that we have a voluntary contribution schedule for developers who want to contribute to this 503(c)(3). Because in Arizona, it’s not illegal to mandate that developers do it. So, we set up a voluntary contribution system for developers who don’t do affordable and workforce housing as part of their portfolio. They can still contribute and that amount is 20 percent of the total permitting fees if you’re building multifamily apartments.
In the first year, we thought the program was somewhere between two and four million dollars. But actually generated over $6 million in cash receipts and pledges. That money is being used for a couple of things. One is to acquire additional land within the city. We’re just simply trying to make sure we create the kind of community where everyone can afford to live, regardless of your income or your occupation.
But secondly, we’re also using that money to do environmental remediation on existing parcels of land — one of the biggest things that a lot of affordable housing developers would tell us is we really need a clean piece of dirt. We get a piece of property and we’ve got to do a ton of environmental remediation if we find out at one point [the site] was used for dumping. That program has been a huge success and we’ve gotten a lot of inquiries, because I think people [discover that] it’s very creative, and it’s an innovative way to get around some sort of legislative prohibitions.
What’s been the reaction of developers to that program? Has it been relatively positive?
It’s been extremely positive.. A lot of people who build affordable housing do it because that’s their niche. They build affordable, workforce products and they specialize in it. But then there are other companies where that’s just not in their portfolio. They don’t know how to build it. They don’t understand how the Low Income Housing Tax Credit process works.
I would have developers who would come to me say, “Look, I understand though, even if we’re building what would count as a market rate product, we still want to contribute in a way to the city of Tempe’s ability to get the affordable housing stock that they definitely need. That was very well received. When it’s like, “Hey, we’re going to be proposing market rate units, but we’re willing to make a contribution of $200,000 or $300,000 to the housing affiliates, so you guys can actually get this done.”
As a matter of fact, we just did a deal with [McBride-Cohen Management Group] on a project called “South Pier.” It will be built over the course of the next few years on Tempe Town Lake — a higher end project with condos, a hotel and other amenities. But they’re giving over $10 million to our Tempe Coalition for Affordable Housing. This was the single biggest contribution we have received as a result of the development that we’ve done. So the development community has really embraced the program.
That was related to our city’s efforts on LGBTQIA+ equality. Every year the Human Rights Campaign’s municipal equality index is broken down by different categories — one of them was, “How welcoming is your city to the LGBTQ community?” [Prior to 2014] our score was about 72. It wasn’t a terrible score. But we said, “Well, we were a progressive, forward thinking community. And there’s no reason why we shouldn’t be able to do better than a 72.” We spent a lot of time with our Diversity Department. We went through every single item that was listed on the index.
We discovered that all of these items were things that we could do. We just hadn’t done them yet. And one of those things was passing a strong non-discrimination law to protect LGBTQIA+ persons The next year, it was actually codified into our voter approved city charter. by an overwhelming number of our residents. We really wanted to make sure that it was embedded into the constitution of the City of Tempe.
Every year since 2014, we’ve received a 100 percent score from the Human Rights Campaign for that municipal equality Index. Every year you still strive to get better. You maintain regular communication with the Human Rights Campaign and other LGBTQIA+ equality groups within the state of Arizona. We do a lot of work with groups like Equality Arizona and One Community, and are constantly making sure that the City of Tempe really is an inclusive environment where everyone feels welcome.
Working in Tempe
Tempe has a diversified and strong economy. Residents can expect to find careers in many different fields. Notable employers include State Farm, Go Daddy, First Solar, Tempe St. Luke’s Hospital, Microsoft, Amazon and many more.
Here’s a list of the largest employers by category in Tempe:
Education – Arizona State University
Business Services – State Farm
Utility – Salt River Project
Food Distribution – Safeway, Inc.
Financial Services – Wells Fargo
Advanced Technology – Honeywell
Advanced Manufacturing – NXP
Automotive – Carvana
Healthcare – Express Scripts
Construction – Sundt
Medical Device Manufacturing – Medtronic
Telecommunications – NETSIAN Technologies
Information Technology – Insight Direct
Brewery – Huss Brewing Company
Colin Diaz is the CEO of the Tempe Chamber of Commerce. He’s also a new resident to Tempe, moving to the city just over five months ago. We talked to him about Tempe’s economic growth, the city’s innovative mindset and what the future may hold for businesses and homeowners.
Talk to us about Tempe’s recent economic growth — which sectors are continuing to expand?
There’s been significant economic growth and business growth over the last five years, although it had slowed a little bit during the pandemic. But in terms of growing fields, advanced manufacturing still leads the way, as well as healthcare. That’s going to probably continue to rise just because of the types of jobs that are in the area, a lot of supportive services and the city’s continuing efforts to foster growth in those areas. There’s been a lot of effort to attract those businesses, retain those business sectors as well as programs that help support their growth in Tempe.
Is there a specific reason why the city is focusing mostly on those categories?
For advanced manufacturing in Arizona, Tempe, in particular, has been a hallmark business sector for a long time. There’s a lot of supportive, advanced manufacturing taking place. Because the demand, continually growing on a national stage, that’s a sector that the city’s continued to support, as well as some of the advanced business services. And now we’re starting to see tech.
FinTech and some of the disruptive technology that we’ve come to learn about the last few years are planting their home here in Tempe. We have the proximity to the airport, central location to the region throughout the valley. There are large reasons why there’s been growth. Also: The relationship that we have with Arizona State University with it being in Tempe has also been a pretty big draw for a lot of those companies, because they’re able to get graduates either from undergrad or grad programs directly from ASU that already have a footprint in the valley.
What differentiates Tempe from the rest of Phoenix both from a business and a general perspective?
We are, in terms of the business sector, one of the largest and fastest growing areas. From a general perspective, you’d have a long standing history and tradition in the community that’s mixed with growth and vibrance. I think having ASU has been a big influence in terms of thought leaders. You have sound business practices with a lot of out of the box thinking that comes from the university leadership.
Plus, the city council and mayor are really geared towards finding solutions that work for both business and residents.That’s not always the case throughout the Phoenix metro, where you may have a stronger business presence versus residents or stronger residential presence versus business. There’s a good balance of understanding in regards to the nuance of both residential and business, but also understanding the nexus of where they connect and the importance of them working together.
The fact that it’s a pretty good size of about 40 square miles but at the same time, you also have the element of a really small town makes it special. In the few months I’ve lived here, I’ve heard Tempe referred to as a very big small town. A lot of people know each other from a business side and residential side, but it’s got a sizable economy. There’s also a good sized business. footprint as well.
When you look at schools and raising a family, a great area to do so, because of ASU and because of the fact that it’s landlocked. Property value continues to appreciate. Being landlocked creates unique challenges. A lot of the conversation now in certain areas is on height and density. Whereas if you look at Mesa, Chandler and some other areas that can still continue to expand out, they have a little bit of geographical spread.
But when you are forced to look at height and density, you also consciously or subconsciously, look at culture from a community standpoint. From a regional standpoint, I think we will continue to lead the way with a lot of innovative land use ideas, as well as public and private partnerships.
What makes Tempe a great place for residents and businesses to set down roots?
I have the perspective of being newer to Tempe and newer to Arizona. The leaders of this city, for the most part, row in the same direction and have a vested interest in the success and vitality of Tempe. That’s something unique, not just to the east valley in Arizona, but to cities all throughout the country. And I know community and culture have been thrown around quite often, maybe to the point of a cliche, but that those are the two things I would say that I would describe to somebody that’s never been here is that there’s there’s a sense of pride in the community, the culture that exists fostering that and the innovation that is different than many other places and it’s somewhat palpable.
I wouldn’t compare it directly to the heat but it’s one of those things where you feel it without really anybody making an effort to exemplify it. That’s something that I’ve noticed from day one and continue to see in various sectors from the education sector to residential, as well as the business sector. It’s a relationship and opportunity to have with the city, to be part of this community.
Innovative programs for Tempe high school students
Tempe is becoming known for its innovative social programs, and this includes a collaboration between the City of Tempe Human Services Department, the Economic Development Department and the Tempe Chamber Foundation called Career Ready Tempe. The three-part program for Tempe students in their junior or senior year of high school sends the students to local businesses for an eight-week paid summer internship. Students work at the businesses, honing soft skills knowledge, and are also matched with a mentor to help guide them through the process, as well advise them on potential career choices.
How did Career Tempe start?
In 2018, we received funding from the city of Tempe and began developing a program design and then we launched in the summer of 2019 as a two year pilot program. During that pilot phase they did have some pauses due to COVID, with schools being closed and a lot of businesses moving to hybrid or just having a pause for various reasons. But we are completing our third cohort this week and students are wrapping up their internships. Next week, school starts so we’re really proud, and looking forward to getting feedback from participants.
In the first year of the program, you had eight interns. How many do you have this year? Any notable success stories?
We have nine this year, and a total of 26 interns to date for all of our cohort years. It’s really exciting to see and hear from students from our previous cohorts, as well. Our second cohort we held over the fall because of changes due to the pandemic.
Our recent graduates from previous years that have received scholarship awards are currently enrolled in universities, not only locally, but also across the country. We had a student who received scholarships to attend Northwestern and we have another student who’s attending USC. From our first cohort we also have two students who are proudly serving in the military.
Can you explain the parts of the Career Tempe program?
We designed Career Ready Tempe to support our city, and develop our future workforce as well as develop our talent pipeline. We wanted to focus on making sure that we’re connecting students with careers that are in demand. Right now, our business areas of focus are advanced business Services, advanced manufacturing and bioscience. We do a lot of outreach to businesses in that area. We’re hoping that students are going to grow their technical knowledge, as well as learning things that are just as important, like getting to work on time, dressing appropriately, and learning to work with their supervisor.
There’s additional soft skills training that is provided by Arizona@Work of Maricopa County. That ensures that students are ready to hit the ground running and be as prepared as possible Throughout the program, our program coordinator who checks in with the students, and checks out the businesses, just to make sure everything is going well. Our students are also paired with a college connection advisor. That advisor meets with the students to help them explore what their education pathway will look like, whether they are interested in going to a two year community college, four year university, or trade school.
The students work 120 hours over eight weeks, averaging about 15 hours per week. The pay is $13 per hour and it’s covered by Career Ready Tempe, as well as funds raised by the Chamber of Commerce foundation and private donations. To be eligible, a student must be at least 16 years of age, a junior or senior in high school, as well as a resident of Tempe. We have a preference for students whose family income is at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty level. At the end of their internship experience with us, students are able to update the resume so that it’s reflective of the impact of their experience. We also hope that after their internship is done over the summer, that the student stays in touch with their advisors so that they can help them with all those important steps, like applying to and exploring college options.
What are your hopes for the future of the program?
We are really excited to continue to grow in terms of the number of students and businesses that we can support. We’re hoping that next summer we have more students and businesses partnering with us. We are going to be looking at ways that we can expand eligibility to more students, and to get the word out to more folks in the community. We think that it’s one of the best kept secrets in Tempe.
Given its vibrant culture, small town-like friendliness and innovative social programs, it’s easy to see why Tempe has become one of the most popular cities in metro Phoenix. Elements like their strong and diverse economy, as well as Arizona State University continue to draw newcomers. To learn about where you can find a home around Tempe, visit buzzbuzzhome.com.