America's Most Prosperous City? This Arizona Suburb
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because success is a road map for others to follow.
By Nick Fouriezos
In the early aughts, when Lynne King Smith started TicketForce, an events ticketing software company, with her husband in their basement in Gilbert, Arizona, the town was just on the cusp of growing into the thriving suburb of Phoenix it is today.
As her business grew, she needed more space, so she began renting an office in nearby Mesa. But now that the former “Hay Shipping Capital of the World” has shed its agrarian modesty, Smith has returned to Gilbert. Her plan to build a single office has turned into a three-story project. “So apparently now I’m a real estate developer as well,” the 54-year-old says, chuckling. Her new headquarters will feature second-floor offices, a first-floor restaurant, a rooftop bar and a third-floor co-working space — the latter operated by her 25-year-old daughter, because of course entrepreneurship runs in this family’s veins.
Gilbert is the type of place where businesses flourish, sometimes even beyond the imagination of the most intrepid owners. The Economic Innovation Group, a Washington, D.C.–based think tank, last year announced that:
Gilbert is the “most prosperous” of America’s 100 largest cities.
That’s despite Gilbert growing so fast its leaders haven’t yet changed its designation, making it reportedly the largest incorporated “town” in the world, with nearly a quarter-million residents. The EIG considered seven factors in its ranking, including poverty rate, high school diploma attainment and percentage of nonworking adults. The results underscore other positive economic indicators, including Gilbert’s 3.2 percent unemployment rate. Gilbert also boasts the highest median household income in the state, at $98,458, best among localities with 50,000 or more people.
The town has benefited from a thriving health and wellness industry. The area’s largest employer is Isagenix International, which moved to Gilbert two years ago to be even closer to its manufacturing partners, says Cheryl Lewis, vice president of corporate affairs at the dietary supplement and personal care supplier. Good neighborhoods and schools, proximity to the talent pool and research arm of Arizona State University, as well as a large population base and friendly chamber of commerce have been boons, Lewis adds.
Prenexus Health, a prebiotic health product company, is in the middle of moving from Brawley, California, to Gilbert, partly because of its proximity to the “fiber-cane crop” the company picks — but also because of the favorable tax and permitting climate in the Republican state. As “the governor of Arizona, Doug Ducey, once said: ‘Our greatest salesman to bring business in from California is Gov. [Jerry] Brown,’” notes CEO Tim Brummels. GoDaddy has an office here, as does Cascade Financial Services, and there’s a well-known hospital, the Banner MD Anderson Cancer Center.
If there is a challenge for Gilbert, it will be to adapt to its fast-paced growth. Town officials expect the community to grow to a full capacity of 300,000 by 2030, meaning the decision to adapt has to be made soon. And as it grows, it needs to develop an arts culture to match the success of its business climate. “If there aren’t more museums, art, entertainment, people are going to go outside of the city for that, and it’s just lost revenue,” Smith says.
Mass transit isn’t quite an option — “we’re still fairly rural in parts of our town,” notes Gilbert Mayor Jenn Daniels — but plans are set for two stops in Gilbert along a high-speed commuter rail link between Tucson and Phoenix. The digital roadways are being paved too, with a small-cell 5G internet framework installed by private developers to help prepare the city for autonomous vehicles. It reflects the mindset of a town that is constantly reshaping itself, Daniels says: “Tomorrow, Gilbert is fine. We have enough of a foundation. But 10 years from now, what does Gilbert need?”