Photo provided by Teri Drew
by Ray Newton
As Regional Director for the Northern Arizona Council of Governments (NACOG) Economic Development District (EDD), over the years Teri has influenced economic growth throughout the four counties (Yavapai, Coconino, Apache and Navajo) and 24 communities that make up the NACOG EDD.
Teri Drew began her career with NACOG as a teenager in the mid-1970’s as an Administrative Assistant. After about six weeks of employment, she was on her own to develop her career. Within just a few years Teri was appointed to the position of Case Manager and eventually as the Regional Director.
The NACOG EDD consists of 47,786 square miles and is home to over half a million people, including portions of nine tribal nations. NACOG has been a catalyst for regional planning for Northern Arizona, taking a leadership role to address critical issues facing the region, drive policy changes and champion projects to ensure long-term sustainability.
Teri Drew has successfully led the way to investing millions of dollars to build strong communities and create job opportunities for thousands of individuals across the District. She is the Regional Director for the Northern Arizona Council of Governments Economic Development District, and she serves as Executive Director for the Yavapai County Workforce Development Board.
Teri is the Chair of the Arizona Workforce Association and is a past President of the Arizona Association for Economic Development. Teri is also an active member of the United States Workforce Association. She also serves on the Arizona Town Hall Board of Directors. Other Boards, Commissions and Councils Teri has served include the Governor’s Commission on Non-Traditional Employment for Women, which she co-chaired, the Governor’s Digital Arizona Council, Arizona Rural Development Council, the Prescott Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors and the Arizona Manufacturing Extension Partnership Board of Directors, as well as the Greater Prescott Region Economic Partnership.
Teri was named Prescott Area Leadership Woman of the Year in 2012. She is a graduate of the University of Oklahoma Economic Development Institute, has gained the Arizona Economic Development Professional (AZED Pro) certification through AAED, and is a recipient of numerous regional, state and national innovation awards.
A native of California, Teri moved to Prescott early enough that she “feels like a Prescott native.” She and her husband, Rick, have two adult children and two grandchildren. Teri’s favorite role in life is as a wife, mother, mother-in-law and grandmother.
PRESCOTT LIVING: The Northern Arizona Council of Governments (NACOG) has had some significant changes in recent months. Can you share what some of those changes involve and their impact upon residents?
Teri Drew: The federal government is putting out a lot of funds, making major investments in communities. One of those investments was in Northern Arizona – a $400,000 Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act grant for us to develop and implement a recovery and resilience plan for our four member counties – Yavapai, Coconino, Navajo and Apache.
The major disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and other natural and economic emergencies during 2020 confirmed the strengths, challenges and opportunities identified in the Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy (CEDS). They also highlighted additional actions and modifications to priorities for the CEDS. That helps us to study and understand how we can do better in the future responding to pandemics and other similar economic injuries that come to our front door.
We had two years to accomplish that plan. We were pleased to have accomplished it within the first year. That allowed us to begin implementation in year two to best leverage the CARES Act funds.
We worked with the Arizona Town Hall as primary partner of our process to gather community information and input.
PRESCOTT LIVING: How did you achieve all this?
Teri Drew: We held seven Town Halls overall. More than 300 people participated in the development of the plan. It was really eye-opening.
First of all, we realized that we have become very reliant on broadband. To best prepare our communities to have access to federal resources, we developed a Regional Broadband Plan with our consultants, Magellan Advisors (MA). MA first conducted a regional survey that included a live broadband speed test for folks who participated, which documented many shortfalls in internet access across the four counties. The federal definition of reliable broadband is 25 Megabytes per second (Mbps downstream/2 Mbps upstream).
The other thing that survey accomplished was to identify existing broadband infrastructure above and below ground and the various connections.
What we found out is that we don’t have reliable 25Mbps/3 Mbps broadband in Northern Arizona. We identified that as the Number 1 problem – an issue because the economy turned very quickly toward telehealth and related online healthcare, distance learning education and remote work, among several other internet-reliant strategies. To be competitive in our global markets we need broadband.
During the pandemic, folks went home. Everything went remote as we sheltered in place and became solely reliant on taking care of ourselves. We were told to wash our hands over and over and over and to use sanitizers and avoid crowds – multiple things like that. However, we realized that tribal areas in the Navajo Nation didn’t have running water – they didn’t have hand sanitizers and they didn’t have clean water for a long while there. And, they didn’t have broadband.
Communication was lacking and inconsistent. Take COVID measures, for example. Prescott was more lenient in terms of masks, closures and enforcement. Shift into Prescott Valley, and there was a different rule there. We found that boundaries became blurred and it became a critical issue across the entire region.
Another thing we recognized was that there is not a well-known evacuation plan for other mass emergencies, should there be a fire or a flood – how do we communicate exit strategies? How do we communicate an evacuation route? How do we better communicate with our neighboring communities? Not just community to community, but county to county and county to state?
Being able to provide our communities strategies to access funding opportunities to develop broadband is helping us to solve those issues. Together as a region we can improve, implement and maybe speed up the process for sustainable and resilient broadband access in Northern Arizona.
PRESCOTT LIVING: Some people don’t really know what broadband means. What’s the importance of broadband?
Teri Drew: Broadband is internet connectivity. It’s how we’re going to school. It’s how we’re working. It’s how we’re receiving healthcare. We do our banking online. So, it’s your internet connectivity from among many sources. It can be above ground or underground. The point is, broadband is vital to economic development and sustainability.
PRESCOTT LIVING: How does Yavapai County compare to the rest of the state?
Teri Drew: Yavapai County has done an outstanding job. I want to compliment the Yavapai County Board of Supervisors for leading the way with the School & Library Districts with internet accessibility. The Board of Supervisor’s visionary planning has us well ahead of the curve in broadband expansion.
Yavapai County is making a considerable investment at more than $20 million and asking all the towns and cities within Yavapai County to contribute to make Yavapai County wholly connected.
When you think about it, education has changed. Remote/distance learning is our future. Broadband expands our opportunities and becomes more accessible for more students. We hope this raises Arizona’s annual educational attainment level.
PRESCOTT LIVING: Do you have any soft spots in the County?
Teri Drew: We have several outlying areas that are either unserved or underserved. Among them are the Congress, Yarnell and Wickenburg areas. Congress and Yarnell are developing and expanding very rapidly as a result of the I-10 corridor. As they grow, lack of broadband may impede development. An average business cannot come in and open operations without reliable, high-speed internet connectivity. Wickenburg is partially in Yavapai County. These areas are included in the County’s public broadband development plan. The County has contracted with Cox and Altice to bring last mile broadband service to Congress, Yarnell and everything north from Vulture Mine Road in Wickenburg.
The Verde Valley has several “dark” areas with little to no internet, for example, Jerome. Different types of terrain affect the type of internet infrastructure available to various communities and locations. Broadband is getting a lot of attention because during the pandemic we recognized how reliant we are on it. The Arizona Commerce Authority has made significant investments in rural and urban broadband development statewide through American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding. The Northern Arizona counties of Apache, Coconino and Navajo were big winners in the first round of grant funding.
The I-17 corridor will be a hot spot because there’s an expansion going on. I had served on the Governor’s Digital Arizona Council. At that time our number 1 accomplishment was to partner with the Arizona Department of Transportation. Our partnership with them was for any roads that they are expanding or building they would lay fiber in the roadways. Once you have the fiber in the ground, the lion’s share of middle-mile construction is done.
PRESCOTT LIVING: When the I-17 expansion begins, it will really make a difference.
Teri Drew: It will make a big difference – it will be fiber-ready. The I-17 corridor becomes a vital connection to make the Regional network whole. Additionally, the Arizona Commerce Authority is investing $68.1 million to expand broadband and connectivity along the I-40 corridor from Flagstaff to the California border.
In some estimates a 10 – 15 mile project could be about a $25 million broadband project. It’s not cheap – that’s why our effort at NACOG was to create the mapping and data for the grants. Every grant in Northern Arizona helps us build a bigger, more sustainable system for the region.
That’s our vision, our plan and our primary goal.
PRESCOTT LIVING: You’re the Regional Director for NACOG. Define what that means. How many people know what that means?
Teri Drew: Probably not very many. I actually wear a few hats. As the Regional Director, I’m responsible for the Economic Development District (EDD) under the U.S. Department of Commerce, Economic Development Administration. Having an EDD gives Northern Arizona access to federal funds. These particular funds through the U.S. Department of Commerce were not accessible without an EDD. NACOG is the lead, and I am their Director for the EDD. In my role as Regional Director I have led investments of hundreds of millions of dollars that contribute to local communities, creating thousands of jobs and several hundreds of businesses.
Another hat I wear is the Executive Director for the Yavapai County Workforce Development Board. I am hired by the Board to manage their planning, implementation and performance for workforce recruitment, training and placement for Yavapai County.
Workforce is critical right now – it’s in high demand. We can talk about broadband, but equally important is having conversations about the workforce and talent pipeline. It’s so, so important right now. I think that, as a result of the pandemic and the aftershocks that followed, people have changed how they think about work. Before the pandemic, we would go to work, put in our eight hours and come home. But, during the pandemic, both companies and individuals found there are other ways to accomplish the same goals – maybe more efficiently. For many of the Fortune 500 companies it became more efficient and less expensive to have people work at home.
For moms and dads raising their families, it became evident what they were missing during the 9 – 5 workday. They missed being a part of their children’s educations, and their “latchkey” children missed having mom and dad there when they got home after school. Now, flexible work hours allowed parents to go to their child’s recitals or ballgames, then go home and get back to work. They could work after the kids went to bed or before they get up in the morning. Flexibility became very important, especially to young families.
PRESCOTT LIVING: Flexibility is a key word.
Teri Drew: Yes, and it’s equally important for seniors. Growing numbers of applicants out there in the workforce right now are returning retirees. With fluctuations in our economy, planned retirement income is not self-sustaining anymore. Many seniors are also bored and anxious to return to work.
Retirees offer a lot of opportunity to employers – their knowledge and experience, and beyond that, their work ethics and moral values. Retirees are at a point in time where they don’t need or have to reach for the stars, so they don’t need to be the CEO or manager. What they want to do is contribute to community. Seniors want to feel valued. They’ve become a No. 1 commodity in the workforce. We have lots of returning retirees in Yavapai County, and we welcome them.
We also have had a campaign to recruit returning Afghanistan Veterans. Our communities and our employers need Veterans.
It’s a critical time in workforce development to attract and retain workers in our area. Some employers are closing their doors, or they are greatly reducing their productivity because of the lack of labor to fill open positions.
We have advertised in Phoenix trying to attract workers to the cooler climate in the mountains. When summer temperatures reach 110 or 112 there, many folks are ready to make a change. We are experiencing in-migration from all over the country, particularly California, Texas and the midwest. We know our friends in California drive long hours for short distances, so why not go a longer distance for the same amount of time and come into Yavapai County – or better yet, relocate? A lot of people have realized they don’t need to live in the city to hold good jobs anymore. They can move to more rural areas and raise their families while maintaining a good wage with remote work.
PRESCOTT LIVING: There’s confusion among the public about what exactly NACOG is. Some people think you are part of a government agency.
Teri Drew: Sometimes people classify NACOG as a government entity – we are not government, but we are a Council of Governments. That means that our Board of Directors are elected officials from around our Region, making up the Council of Governments. NACOG is a large non-profit organization.
NACOG administers millions of dollars in programs and services to individuals – services such as Economic and Workforce Development, Senior Services, Head Start, Planning and Community Development. A common response from public presentation of our services is “Why don’t I know about this?”
I think sometimes people don’t know about us until they need us. For instance, for workforce development, eligibility is not population-specific. We don’t just serve the underprivileged, youth or adults, we serve all individuals to have a barrier to employment. A barrier to employment can be unemployment or underemployment – you are not sustaining your household. You may want to change careers. You may have been laid off, or you might be starting your own business.
We continue to educate our constituents just as I’ve been doing for 45 years – what NACOG does and what we bring to the table. And, we’re just what it says – a Council of Governments. We are a nonprofit 501 (C)(3), but our Council represents local governments.
PRESCOTT LIVING: You are non-political. Bi-partisan.
Teri Drew: We are non-political. We really have to be. We’re very strict and just don’t go there. We don’t promote politics or religion. With a diverse region operating state and federal programs, it would not be a good idea.
NACOG serves four counties covering nearly 48,000 square miles and 24 communities. Our Board of Directors is made up of elected officials from each of those four counties and communities. We have 30 board members on the Regional Council.
On the Economic Development Council (EDC) are city managers, elected officials and economic & workforce practitioners for the counties and communities – another 30 individuals.
In Yavapai County we have a particular interest in workforce development – the Yavapai County Workforce Development Board (WDB) is made up of 20 individuals, mostly private sector business CEOs and optimum policy makers. Other partners include our education leaders, labor organizations and state workforce development program representation.
Each one of those councils and boards have dedicated committees to help them accomplish their goals and objectives.
PRESCOTT LIVING: Committees?
Teri Drew: There are more than 100 committee members in my department alone that we’re managing.
We recruit board members (as kind of a responsibility). Our EDC is well advised based on our collective accomplishments. Our councils are a great training ground for newly electeds or economic development professionals to hear about the District as a whole and connect for responsible economic development. They learn about a multitude of programs, services and economic development opportunities they would not probably otherwise know. We’ve had good fortune to have so many powerful voices supporting us.
Take tourism, for example. We have an EDC Tourism Committee. Folks have asked to be on that committee to represent their community tourism opportunities from a regional perspective.
We offer opportunities for workforce requirements for boards and committees. We’ve been fortunate to have on our WDB large and small business industry representation, including YRMC Dignity Health, Fann Contracting and APS, as well as higher education representation from Yavapai College, NAU and Prescott College.
So, lots of board members, lots of time and lots of energy. So when you think about what NACOG does, we’re a clearinghouse. We contract for and invest state and federal funds to improve community.
PRESCOTT LIVING: Where do you get your budget?
Teri Drew: It’s determined by demographics. For workforce development, as an instance, funds are allocated based on demographics, unemployment numbers, poverty rates and declining industries. The state takes those numbers and applies a formula to decide how federal dollars will be distributed across the state.
In economic development, when we write applications for annual planning grants, we demonstrate the distress level of the District as the factor that determines our base funding.
We need firm data to indicate that we need those investments in our NACOG District. For example, data for workforce development funding includes the unemployment rate, poverty levels, etc. Higher unemployment equals higher demand for services, resulting in more funding; decreased unemployment indicates a decrease in demand for services, and consequently a decrease in funding.
PRESCOTT LIVING: How big is the annual budget? Can you share that with us?
Teri Drew: For NACOG, the annual average operating budget is about $38 million, but can fluctuate on an annual basis. The Workforce Development budget is approximately $1.7 million. The annual Economic Development budget is a shared federal amount of $75,000 and community assessments of about 20% of the federal investment.
We are fortunate to not have to fundraise or beg, borrow or steal for our paychecks – and with that comes a demonstration of a solid reputation, success and responsibility with federal funds and performance.
We are bound by federal regulations and rules for the management of each program that falls under federal funding. Those rules and regulations can be impeding sometimes, especially when the rules were development 5, 10 or 15 years ago. Then we have a pandemic, and none of the old rules really apply. Sometimes for the federal government to keep pace with what’s actually going on in the states is a bit of a challenge.
PRESCOTT LIVING: Teri, you’re one COG of many in the nation. How many COGs are there?
Teri Drew: Across the country there are 600 COGs. In Arizona there are six, of which NACOG is among the largest.
When COGs came into being, they were primarily planning organizations. However, we’ve morphed into direct services. We’re larger in terms of staffing. NACOG has more than 500 staff. We’re a little bit different – some COGs don’t provide direct services an focus as planning organizations, consequently they are more limited. As I have said, we are one of the few COGs that serve our constituents directly.
PRESCOTT LIVING: You are one of the largest COGs in the nation.
Teri Drew: In land area we are one of the largest, and while we aren’t as heavily populated as many COGs nationally, we have the advantage of diversity of populations when being considered for federal funding opportunities. Included in the federal definition of “equity” are indigenous communities. Being very populous in terms of sharing our District with nine tribal nations, we are at an advantage for partnering together to access federal funds for mutual economic development opportunities.
With a land area of 47,786 square miles, we are roughly the same size as the entire state of New York, and we are bigger than many states. And we are quite diverse, home to very small rural communities as well as large cities and towns, such as Flagstaff, Prescott and Prescott Valley. We live in one of the most beautiful COG districts with many landmark tourism opportunities.
PRESCOTT LIVING: Who sets the priorities for NACOG activities?
Teri Drew: Chris Fetzer is the Executive Director for NACOG. He leads the Board of Directors, known as Regional Council. I describe the Regional Council as one of NACOG’s “brain trusts” – our curators to develop a vision and a voice to combat common challenges in Northern Arizona.
Together as NACOG Program Directors, we help Regional Council understand the rules and regulations tied to funding sources as a means to guide Regional Council in the approval of community planning and processes.
The Yavapai County Workforce Development Board works cooperatively with the Board of Supervisors and the State of Arizona for the development and approval of plans for Yavapai County workforce development. NACOG is the agency that provides contracted services for plan implementation.
PRESCOTT LIVING: What are your top priorities right now?
Teri Drew: There are so many. It would probably depend on who you talk to, but one of our top priorities is the aging population and the loss of workers from the Great Baby Boomer labor force, which was the largest, wealthiest and most educated population in U.S. history.
There are just so many priorities, it’s hard to pare them down to a few. One example is early childhood education. Folks can’t get to work if they don’t have someone to care for their children. Another related concern is that NACOG’s Early Childhood Education Program is running well over 35 staffing vacancies right now, 19 in Yavapai County alone. Workforce is really important.
Economic development can’t happen without a talent pipeline. Some of our strategies are to develop that talent pipeline and help relocate folks and improve their skills so they can take local jobs and enjoy economic success. That is our priority.
Other priorities that I have already talked about is affordable, accessible and reliable broadband development in Northern Arizona. I would also add affordable housing and infrastructure improvement.
PRESCOTT LIVING: You’ve been doing this for a few years. What prompts you? What provokes you? Satisfies you?
Teri Drew: Gratitude. I’m grateful to contribute. I feel gladdened when somebody comes back and says, “You really made a difference in my life.”
Just a few days ago, I was at the Fry’s market. A woman came over and asked to give me a hug because I helped her with tuition fees. I’m always so grateful for that. That’s what motivates me to continue to do what I do.
Prescott is my home. I want my home to be the best that it can be. I want to create and be any part of creating the best home – that extends to the community.
The other thing I tell folks is that I’m never bored. I’m challenged every single day. I need that for my personality – I need to be challenged. I need to be creative. I need to be innovative. I’ve been known to stretch the rubber band – and with those federal rules, let’s stretch them as far as they’ll go. We don’t step outside of the rules, but we can make them more flexible for our constituents.
My job is to spend money – my husband tells me that this is the best job for me. He says “You’re really good at that, honey.”
That’s what we do at NACOG. We invest federal funds on behalf of local communities and local government. We want our communities and residents to have the best they deserve.
PRESCOTT LIVING: We’re near the end of our time. Anything you want to share? Anything you want people to know?
Teri Drew: I raised my family from birth to successful adulthood while at NACOG. My husband, Rick Drew, is my life partner, we have been together for 50 years, married for 45. We had the good fortune to renew our vows in the company of our children and grandchildren in 2017.
My family is my #1 priority, my pride and my joy. They lift me up every day.
I have been blessed to serve the NACOG District, especially Yavapai County where I office and lead the workforce development system.