Amid signs that Arizona’s economy is showing signs of recovery, the Wallow wildfire in eastern Arizona, the largest in the state’s history, may be a wild card. As of June 15, the fire was at 478,452 acres and only 29 percent contained. Thirty-two residences have been destroyed and more than 2,700 are threatened. More than 4,650 personnel are involved in fighting the fire.
The Wallow fire is one of three burning in the state, which, along with a recently extinguished fourth fire have burned at least 735,000 acres of forest and grasslands so far, UPI reports.
In addition to eastern Arizona’s most precious high country lands, the fires could also have devastating impact on the state’s economy. Apache and Greenlee counties, where the fire is burning, had April unemployment rates of 15.6 percent and 9.1 percent, respectively, according to Arizona Department of Commerce figures cited by the Arizona Republic.
The fire is jeopardizing the peak summer tourist season. As of this week, for example, more than 10 lakes, reservoirs or streams that the Arizona Game and Fish Department stocks with trout and bass fish have been closed, the newspaper reported. Hiking trails have also been closed in other National Forests in the fire’s path. Meanwhile, the fire is also causing cancellations of events such as weddings and reunions at area lodges and cabins.
Overall, the state’s economy has “been stuck in neutral and bouncing along the bottom since the recession officially ended,” according to a recent report by the University of Arizona Economic and Business Research Center in the Eller College of Management at the University of Arizona. But just as forests rejuvenate themselves, so is Arizona starting to see some growth.
“Arizona is early in its recovery process,“ Research Center Director Marshall Vest told MillionaireCorner.com.
The collapse of the housing market ended the burst of growth Arizona enjoyed during the past decade. The growth was fuelled by population growth (Arizona was second only to Nevada as the fastest growing state) and the flow of money into real estate, Vest said. When the housing bubble burst, the population declined.
The housing crisis continues to hold back growth, Vest said. “Mobility in this country is the lowest we’ve seen in six decades,” vest said. “Across the country, people are locked in to their homes and unable to sell them. That’s what is holding back the flow of people to Arizona, which really is a destination of choice, not only for retirees, but people in their working years.”
However, for those who are mobile, this reversal of fortunes has led to “real bargains” in real estate prices, attracting, for example, retirees who had been priced out of the market when by 2006-2007, housing prices had doubled within a five year period.
Another positive development, Vest said, is the state legislature balanced the budget for the first time in about four years without raising taxes. “We’re a low-tax state,” Vest said. “We’re seeing quite a flow of companies and people coming from California to escape the high cost of living and taxes.”
The state is seeing an increasing presence of solar and bio-technology companies, he added.
Most encouraging is that “consumers are spending again,” Vest said. “We’re seeing double digit annual increases in spending mainly in autos, general merchandise and apparel. Tax receipts are flowing in ahead of expectations. I expect growth to pick up as we go forward.”