By Brian Powell
From the time Mignonne Hollis was a senior at Tombstone High School—graduating-class size: 28—she believed the key to her success was to make connections outside of Cochise County. She would attend events in Tucson and Phoenix to seek out scholarships and other opportunities.
Today, her mindset is much the same, as she spends her time promoting the economic-development interests of the rural southern Arizona county she still proudly calls home.
In her fifth year as executive director of the Arizona Regional Economic Development Foundation (AREDF) in Sierra Vista, Hollis has never forgotten the importance of branching out into other parts of the state to support projects back home.
“I always knew the way to leverage things was going outside my neighborhood and using every single resource available to you. I learned that early on,” she says.
And that is exactly what Hollis has done. She is a recently appointed member of the Arizona Commerce Authority board of directors, a governor-appointed member of the Greater Arizona Development Authority, as well as a member of the Arizona Association for Economic Development, the International Economic Development Council, and the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition’s Arizona Advisory Committee. She is also a Flinn-Brown Civic Leadership Academy Fellow.
At home in Sierra Vista, home to Fort Huachuca, Hollis’s organization has taken the lead on promoting unmanned aerial systems in the state. And as part of a foreign-trade zone, the AREDF has worked closely with Mexico to provide economic-development opportunities for both Arizona and Sonora businesses.
Hollis understands rural economic development cannot be done in a vacuum, but must include partnering with leaders in the state’s metropolitan areas as well as developing relationships with state-level elected officials and even international leaders.
One way she has developed policy knowledge and these important relationships—including with legislators—has been through Flinn-Brown, a program of the Flinn Foundation launched in 2010 to help develop state-level civic leaders. Today, there are about 225 Fellows from throughout the state.
When Hollis first learned about the Flinn-Brown Civic Leadership Academy and its emphasis on state-level leadership and policy, she knew right away she must apply. A University of Arizona graduate with an MBA from University of Phoenix, Hollis had only participated in local leadership classes before being selected for Flinn-Brown, which offers the only state-level program of its kind in Arizona.
“I now have a feel for how the state views things, I understand how government really works at the Capitol, and I see the true picture of Arizona as a whole outside of my region,” says Hollis, adding that the connections she makes through the Flinn-Brown network are invaluable.
Hollis understands her rural community has different needs than the state’s metro areas. Her work includes recruiting new industries such as the unmanned aerial systems she argues are especially well-suited for Cochise County’s location and open airspace. She is also leading a health-care needs assessment—going beyond the need to recruit and retain physicians—and will share the findings with area hospitals in order to put together an action plan.
The AREDF, formerly known as the Sierra Vista Economic Development Foundation, has a fully leased co-working space for small companies, with plans to expand to a second complex. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security-Citizenship and Immigration Services also maintains an office there, the consequence of a connection made through Flinn-Brown.
Hollis says that her organization’s new name—changed just a few months ago—testifies to the role the group plays. The Arizona Regional Economic Development Foundation now promotes a statewide focus, an important reflection of her Flinn-Brown experience.
“I love to get in the ground level of a project and see change happen,” Hollis says. “It’s just an exciting time for economic development in Arizona.”
—By Brian Powell, Flinn Foundation