Think Again: Visions for our business future

I'm in Washington, D.C. this week for a conference called "GridWeek," where representatives from technology companies and utilities have gathered. They're here to discuss what are called "smart grid" technologies that will bring our nation's electricity grid into the modern age.

Today at the conference, Glenn Steiger, Glendale Water & Power's general manager, will accept a national industry award on behalf of the team for our city's groundbreaking program implementing smart meter and smart grid technologies.

As full disclosure, I am on the Glendale Water and Power Commission, so part of my volunteer job is to examine and provide guidance on the utility's programs. I've been closely following Glendale Water & Power smart grid implementation, which is in its early stages, and while there are opportunities for improvement, we should be proud of our city's leadership in this area.

For starters, as part of our city's smart grid program, we are seeing millions of tax dollars — tax dollars we pay to the federal government — flowing back into our city as part of federal stimulus grants. This work will lay a solid foundation for Glendale's future. This doesn't happen by accident, but rather with thoughtful and forward-looking leadership.

At GridWeek, I've been meeting and talking to representatives from many entrepreneurial companies that are blossoming in the new smart grid sector, and it's energizing. It reminds me of the days I spent in Silicon Valley before coming to Glendale. But it also heightens my angst because Glendale's business climate seems tepid in comparison.

These companies started as small businesses and are growing, or have grown, into larger ones. Why can't we attract this caliber of enterprise to Glendale that would create jobs and boost our city's economy? What is preventing promising entrepreneurs from setting up shop in Glendale and coming up with the next big thing? We need to be driven more by a unifying vision to explore the possibilities for our city's future.

What reminds me of this issue recently is driving around the city you get the impression that Glendale's top industry is Halloween products, with Halloween stores around every corner. These seasonal and transient businesses have descended upon Glendale with all the cheap vacant retail space and that's says something about our city.

It makes me wonder what we are doing to make Glendale more business-friendly and cutting-edge? Deploying smart grid technologies is a good first step, but how can we take that further? What's next in our city's vision? Do we even have a vision?

I would like us to make it easy for small businesses and entrepreneurs to set up shop quickly. We need businesses to see Glendale as the place to locate because we work in partnership with them and have the available workforce.

We have a lot of intellectual capital in our city. With Glendale Community College, we have talented students eager to embark on new careers. What are we doing to harness that potential and create incubators of innovation?

I don't think anyone has all the answers, but these are the questions we should be asking ourselves as we create a long-term strategic vision for Glendale's future.

Unfortunately, all I see us doing is illogically paying a marketing firm in Tennessee to tell us things about ourselves and the shopping habits of people in neighboring areas, thinking our future lies in getting more retail shoppers to Glendale. This approach is thinking too small.

This marketing company will come back to us with a "big idea," a branding slogan as the solution. I can save us some money, here is our tag line as I see it today, "Glendale: The Halloween Capital, where scary things happen."

Let's pursue a real vision for our city, one that certainly supports retail businesses, but that thinks bigger about areas where we can create higher-paying jobs that provide career paths for our youth.

ZANKU ARMENIAN is a Glendale resident and a corporate communications professional. He can be reached at zanku.armenian@gmail.com.

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