RetailWorks AZ Celebrates Launch of Initiative

Posted on February 9, 2017 • Category: The Education We Need




More than 229,000 people work in the retail sector in the Greater Phoenix area, making it one of the top three industries for employment. For the first time in recent history, an initiative of the Center for the Future of Arizona will bring together employers and partners to make it easier and faster for front-line, entry level workers to move up the career ladder.

A recent breakfast in downtown Phoenix hosted leaders from the retail, government, non-profit, workforce development and education community to celebrate the announcement of this new initiative, titled RetailWorks AZ.

In welcoming everyone to the event, Dr. Sybil Francis, Executive Director, Center for the Future of Arizona (CFA), noted that 1/3 of Americans report that their first job was in retail and this sector provides a foundational experience for today’s workforce. She talked about CFA’s commitment to creating The Arizona We Want with The Education We Need and the critical nature that retail sector jobs play in Arizona’s economy.

Dr. Francis also shared that last year Walmart provided a grant to the Center for the Future of Arizona to launch the work in Arizona as part of Walmart and the Walmart Foundation’s $100 Million Opportunity Initiative to help create economic mobility for entry level workers in retail and adjacent sectors. 

President and CEO of the Arizona Commerce Authority Sandra Watson then spoke of the state’s economic development environment and that Arizona has become a retail hub. She talked about the excitement for RetailWorks AZ and their recent sector landscape analysis, titled Retail Trade in the Phoenix Area, which will serve as an analytical foundation for RetailWorks AZ.

Edward Basha III, Chairman, President & CEO of Bashas’ Grocery Store, announced the intent of Bashas’ to collaborate on the initiative.  He expressed Bashas’ commitment to working with RetailWorks AZ on continuing education for employees of the retail sector, and the desire to advance each “member” of their employee group, for the success of each individual and the Bashas’ company. He reflected on how his father recognized the key role of education and served on many boards, including the Arizona Board of Education.

CFA Retail Sector Director Holly Kurtz highlighted the need for this new initiative and the fact that no one organization can do the work alone. She commended the group for rising above a competitive market for the betterment of those working within the retail sector. She laid out a path forward for the initiative:

  • Kickoff
  • Research
  • Presenting the landscape analysis to partners
  • Creating a collaborative that brings thought leaders to the table
  • Create a regional strategy
  • Develop and test pilot programs

Arizona Commerce Authority Workforce Program Manager Trevor Stokes presented findings from the ACA’s Retail Sector Landscape Analysis and provided several key takeaways:

  • 12% of the region’s workers are employed by businesses primarily engaged in retail trade in the greater Phoenix area.
  • In 2015, the retail sector contributed just under $16 billion to the state gross regional product.
  • The contribution of the retail sector is comparable to the manufacturing, finance, and health care sectors.
  • The current health and competitive strength of the Phoenix retail sector are strong, with average earnings in the Metro Phoenix area higher than the national average and while total jobs in the Valley have increased by just over 16% since 2001, retail jobs have grown by nearly 23%
  • The Phoenix retail workforce is young, with more than 47% under the age of 35. For all other sectors, that number is around 40%.
  • There are many opportunities for strong careers in the retail sector, and careers in retail correlate with positions in other careers.

He concluded by telling the group, “You may ask yourselves, what happens if I train people and they leave? My response to that is, what happens if you DON’T train them and they stay?”

The full analysis can be found here. An executive summary can be found here.

The landscape analysis led to productive small-group conversations.  Each table took some time to work together, discuss what questions need to be asked of employers, employees and partners about their career advancement and retention pain points, challenges and opportunities. The report-outs yielded compelling and targeted questions for the second phase of our research. 

Paula Ginnett, Regional General Manager and Vice President for Walmart Stores and Dr. Rufus Glasper, President of the League for Innovation in the Community College participated in a panel discussion, moderated by Holly Kurtz.

They highlighted breakthrough practices that are already happening in the retail sector around developing and retaining talent. Paula Ginnett spoke about the ability to move talent around an organization, and that it is just a matter of creating clear paths. She highlighted that 75% of Walmart’s management teams come from hourly associates at their retail stores.

Dr. Glasper talked about the efforts of more than 500 community colleges throughout the nation that focus on workforce training and that these institutions are the largest source of workforce training.

Phil Francis, Chairman, President & CEO (Ret.) of PetSmart provided concluding remarks to the group. He spoke about the opportunities that RetailWorks AZ will bring to our state. He also talked about his rise in the retail sector and his passion for seeing the sector succeed.

In closing, Dr. Francis thanked everyone for their enthusiasm, dedication and commitment to improving the lives of Arizonans and committed the center’s effort to continuing to show the way to find solutions around important issues.

If you are interested in RetailWorks AZ please contact:
Holly Kurtz, Director of Retail Sector Initiative



Center for the Future of Arizona
541 East Van Buren, B-5
Phoenix, Arizona 85004-2211
Phone: 602-496-1360
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