Mesa is like Rodney Dangerfield. It has never gotten much respect, especially from its big neighbor Phoenix, the sixth largest city in the US. Few people know Mesa is the third largest city in Arizona; with over 450,000 residents, it is larger than Miami. Those who have heard of Mesa probably remember it as a quiet, conservative community of retirees. Mesa was hit hard, as was the rest of Arizona, during the last recession. But people would be surprised to see that Mesa is quickly emerging with a new image and energy that makes it a contender with booms in tourism, business and education.
Marc Garcia and his Visit Mesa convention bureau are helping lead the way. Garcia became the President and CEO in June 2012 after a long and successful tenure in convention sales and community affairs with the Phoenix Convention Center. Visit Mesa serves Mesa, Gilbert, Queen Creek, Apache Junction, The Tonto National Forest, and the Fort McDowell Yavapai and Gila River Indian nations.
“Our new motto is ‘City Limitless,’” says Garcia. “Mesa is a gateway to one of the most dynamic regions in the country.” With new online brochures and videos, new initiatives and partnerships, and an aggressive outreach campaign, during his tenure, Visit Mesa’s booked hotel room nights are up over 430%.
The past several years, Mesa has also pursued new educational institutions. Already with the largest school district in Arizona, Mesa now, also boasts sixteen schools of higher education, as Upper Iowa University, Benedictine University, Westminster College, Albright College and Wilkes University arrived in 2013.
Sports continues to be an important economic engine. The new 15,000-seat Cubs Park, now the largest spring training stadium in the US, replaced the historic Hohokam Stadium last year. In addition to attracting spring baseball fans and tourism dollars, it has attracted a new 180-room Sheraton Hotel, which will open nearby in 2015.
Arizona has had trouble attracting corporations. Mesa’s Economic Development Director Bill Jabjiniak, former Mayor Scott Smith, and other city leaders changed the paradigm by pursuing high-paying jobs in the past few years instead of low-paying call center and retail ones. They also realized it takes more than climate to attract and retain businesses.
By enhancing its educational, recreational and cultural opportunities, Mesa hopes to become a magnet for medical, technological, manufacturing and other businesses moving to Arizona.