/ Modified jan 10, 2015 9:33 a.m.

METRO WEEK: What Can Southern Arizona Expect From State Officials This Year?

They can help themselves and region by getting involved in new state administration, business leader says.

Southern Arizonans are advising Governor Doug Ducey on policy issues, in an effort to ensure this part of the state is recognized and represented in his administration.

Ducey selected Lea Marquez Peterson, president of the Tucson Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, to co-chair a transition team to advise him on economic development and business-related issues. She serves with Glenn Hamer, president of the Arizona Chamber of Commerce.

In that role, she represents the views and requests of Southern Arizonans to the governor. She focused on the departments that handle economic development, she said.

"I spent a lot of time working with key stakeholders in Southern Arizona...about what their expectations were working with each of these departments," said Peterson, who supported Ducey's election bid.

Peterson said she is trying to get Southern Arizona residents to apply for commissions and boards that make decisions or recommendations to the governor's staff, and to apply for permanent positions in state departments.

"I think what's particularly important for Southern Arizona is that we have a voice at the Capitol, at the state Legislature," she said. "A lot of times that's done via these boards and commissions."

The transition teams' work continued, she said, as he began his term in office this week.

"I'd like to see, personally, a larger role for either the trade policy advisor or the Arizona-Mexico commission within the governor's staff. Certainly that's a lot of the feedback I've received in Southern Arizona," she said.

The Southern Arizona region of Pima, Cochise and Santa Cruz counties has an acute understanding of the importance of expanding economic development and trade with Mexico.

Ducey is showing his support for economic development with Mexico by inviting the governor of Sonora, Mexico, to the inauguration ceremonies earlier this week, Peterson said. She also said he is aware of the negative reception some anti illegal immigration legislation in Arizona has received south of the border, and is interested in improving the state's reputation.

Regarding the looming $1 billion budget deficit the state will see in the fiscal year that begins in July, Peterson said it's a little early to know what could be cut, or where money will be shifted.

"What the impact on southern Arizona can be, I think time will tell...there are certainly a lot of concerns about what might happen in education specifically," she said. State officials must balance financial strain with the need to support programs that expand the skilled workforce to foster economic development, she said.

Peterson said the education system draws employers, so funding for the state universities, the K-12 school districts and community colleges is important.

"I hear quite often about the quality of applicants that are applying for jobs, what's interesting is during our economic recession, people were laid off, companies shrunk, but we're at a point now in 2015 when people are starting to add employees," she said. The Tucson Hispanic Chamber is talking to companies about adding bilingual employees, and those with training from Pima Community College and retaining University of Arizona graduates.

Health care and insurance requirements are another issue Peterson said will be on the radar for businesses this year. The Tucson Hispanic Chamber is hosting meetings on the small business health insurance requirement in the Affordable Care Act. The state is in court defending its expansion of the Medicaid enrollment, but it is unclear whether Ducey will defend or drop the lawsuit.

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