Arizona Gov. Katie Hobbs and Arizona State University President Michael Crow were guests of honor at Mayor John Giles’ annual State of the City speech Feb. 7.
Hobbs’ appearance was not announced before the event and the city said it was the first time a governor has attended the speech since Jan Brewer stopped by one of former mayor Scott Smith’s State of the City speeches.
The Mesa Chamber of Commerce, which co-produces the speech, said this year’s sold-out event was the largest State of the City yet with almost a thousand attendees.
Giles’ “Back to the Future” presentation featured a video introduction with special effects filmed partially at ASU’s new film school building in downtown Mesa.
Hobbs praised Mesa for initiatives that she said fit in with her “Arizona for Everyone” vision.
“Arizona has enjoyed tremendous economic growth in the past several years, but it’s not necessarily growth that everyone is benefiting from,” Hobbs said.
She cited local jobs created by companies moving to Mesa and the city’s investment in downtown, support for small businesses and the passage of its nondiscrimination ordinance in 2021.
“When I talk about Arizona for everyone, we’ll look to the cities to lead the way on that,” she said.
Crow later joined Giles on stage to tout ASU’s $200 million expansion of its Polytechnic campus in southeast Mesa next to the Phoenix-Gateway Airport.
ASU has occupied the campus for decades, but it is expanding its footprint with the creation of a new advanced manufacturing school.
The recently launched School of Manufacturing Systems and Networks is intended to complement southeast Mesa’s manufacturing “ecosystem,” which includes transportation, manufacturing and research nearby.
Crow called the school the most advanced manufacturing school “yet to be built by our species.”
“We’re growing the campus overall to 15,000 students overall, maybe 20,000,” Crow added.
To drive the event’s “future” theme home, State of the City organizers parked a replica of the Delorean time machine from the “Back to the Future” film franchise outside the ballroom entrance.
True to the theme, Giles looked toward the future in addition to celebrating the past year, officially announcing a new Trees are Cool initiative that aims to plant one million additional trees in Mesa by 2050.
Giles said the goal of the initiative is to grow Mesa’s tree canopy coverage from its current 6% to 15%.
Increasing the number of trees in the city gives shade to cool people and pavements down, helping combat the heat island effect. Trees also capture and store greenhouse gasses, Giles said.
City staff currently maintains 30,000 trees on public property, but Mesa’s overall tree inventory includes those on private property too, so reaching the 1 million tree goal will require residents to plant trees on their own land.
Consequently, State of the City guests were offered free saplings to take home and plant. Each tree included a QR code so residents could register their tree with the city and count it as part of the 1-million-tree goal.
Giles also looked back at recent city accomplishments, and his bottom line assessment was “It’s clear that the state of our city is very good.”
On the economy, Giles highlighted the addition of 3,500 new high wage jobs in the past year and the development of 11 million square feet of industrial buildings.
He also touted the launch of the Mesa’s Climate Action Plan and pointed to initiatives like the rollout of smart meters at the city’s utilities and the conversion of street lights to more efficient LED bulbs.
The mayor praised initiatives to recognize and create understanding among the various communities that make up Mesa’s half-million residents.
He pointed to the launch of the Together Mesa diversity initiative last year, and the city’s honorary street dedications that pay tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Cesar Chavez.
“Our diversity is one of our great strengths,” Giles said.
The mayor called public safety Mesa’s No. 1 priority, and thanked voters for approving $157 million in public safety bonds in 2022.
He praised the city’s growing partnership with nonprofit mental health provider Solari to divert select 911 calls from police and fire services to crisis mental health teams. Giles said Solari responded to 3,500 mental health calls in Mesa last year.
He also highlighted the work of the Real Time Crime Center, which delivers a live feed of traffic and security cameras all over the city to a central location constantly monitored by staff.
The mayor ended his speech with a reflection on the recent progress in revitalizing downtown Mesa.
For Giles, downtown is less about “Back to the Future” and more about getting back to the past.
“The more this area of our city transforms, the more it resembles the busy and active downtown I remember growing up,” he said.