Apache Junction City Council candidates discuss jobs, economic development

By Richard Dyer
Twitter: @RHDyer
Posted 6/28/20

When land south of U.S. Highway 60 is being developed, interest to locate businesses will soar, bringing needed jobs from manufacturing to distribution and construction, some candidates for Apache …

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Apache Junction City Council candidates discuss jobs, economic development


When land south of U.S. Highway 60 is being developed, interest to locate businesses will soar, bringing needed jobs from manufacturing to distribution and construction, some candidates for Apache Junction City Council and mayor said.

Five Apache Junction residents have qualified to run for mayor and five others for three seats on City Council.

Running for mayor are Charles Austin, Robin Barker, Jeff Barlett, John Insalaco and Chip Wilson. Vying for council are Braden Biggs, Darryl Cross, Kelly Gremmel, Tess Nesser and Jeff Struble.

The mayor and the seats of three members of council --- Vice Mayor Wilson and Councilmembers Barker and Struble --- all who were elected in November 2016, are up for re-election. Incumbent Mayor Jeff Serdy is not running as he is seeking office on the Pinal County Board of Supervisors.

Independent Newsmedia reached out to each mayoral and council candidate seeking answers to a variety of questions, which will be detailed at yourvalley.net in the coming weeks.

Below are their answers on what types of jobs does Apache Junction need; and what is your plan for economic development?:

Mayor candidate Charles Austin

All types of jobs are needed in Apache Junction, from manufacturing and construction to medical, Mr. Austin, 58, said.

“What types of jobs does AJ need? All various types of jobs are needed in Apache Junction --- for all ages and skill levels. Medical, accounting/finance, general labor, legal/paralegal, hospitality, architectural/design, marketing, manufacturing, construction, surveying/engineering, government, marketing, real estate, along with other several types of services and employment,” he said.

Mr. Austin has worked with a lawn service, with various employment assignments; Botta’s Concrete Construction; and for D Bradshaw and other contractors.

He can be reached at ctecaustin@msn.com or 602-309-8226.

Mayor candidate Robin Barker

Promoting growth south of U.S. Highway 60 will create more business interest to the City of Apache Junction, Ms. Barker, 77, said.

“Apache Junction is not unique in its job needs. We need everything from service jobs to top industrial jobs and, once again, we need growth to support businesses that will offer those jobs,” she said.

“As new business follows growth, I would promote the growth to the south to open the door to create more business interest in our area. Two things seem to bring business to an area: customers and workers. That means forming a partnership with our local high schools and Central Arizona College to graduate students who meet the needs of employers and ensure that those future workers have affordable housing, excellent schools and a safe, healthy environment,” Ms. Barker said.

Ms. Barker is a retired English teacher (21 years); and was owner of the AJ News.

She is on Facebook at Robin Barker for Mayor 2020. She can be reached at barkerr43@yahoo.com and 480-980-0880.

Mayor candidate Jeff Barlett

The free market should decide what jobs will come to the City of Apache Junction, but adding public transportation could allow residents to go outside the area to look for employment, Mr. Barlett, 24, said.

“I would say we should always be trying to create more jobs. I support letting the free market decide on what jobs get created. I also believe that if we had public transportation it would help those who struggle with transportation to be able to find jobs outside of the city,” Mr. Barlett said.

He works as a call-center representative and has experience working as a correctional officer, as a semi-truck driver and has also worked in security and other occupations, he said.

Mr. Barlett is on Twitter @barlettjeff and Facebook @Barlett4Mayor2020. He can be reached at vote4jeffbarlett@gmail.com.

Mayor candidate John Insalaco

Growth and jobs will come with the sale of the state Trust Land to the south of the city, Mr. Insalaco, 82, said.

“For many years the state has held up the release of land south of the freeway. This is where the growth will happen,” he said.

Mr. Insalaco retired from Insalaco’s Music and Upholstery in December 2013 after 42 years ownership and now plays in the four-piece band “Country Soul.”

He can be reached at jsinsalaco@gmail.com and 480-323-6752.

Mayor candidate Chip Wilson

Industrial jobs are needed on property already in the city and on adjacent state Trust land, Mr. Wilson, 72, said.

“We need to attract industrial jobs to our community. We need to look for and find funding to establish the needed infrastructure requirements for our industrial area just south of US60. We also need to extend this area into a small area of the state land next to this area,” Mr. Wilson said.

He retired from Boeing as a calibration and repair of electronic test equipment technician, and retired from the military after more than 22 years of service.

He is on Facebook at Chip Wilson for City Mayor. He can be reached at walterchip@aol.com or 602 361-6135.

Council candidate Braden Biggs

Commercial and light-industrial businesses similar to what have been developed in Casa Grande and Maricopa can be developed south of US60 to bring needed jobs, Mr. Biggs, 27, said.

“We need head-of-household jobs regardless of what industry they are in. Our top three employers are Apache Junction Unified School District, the City of Apache Junction and Walmart,” he said.

“With the growth south of the US60 happening and more accessibility to roads/major networks with the Pinal County (Regional Transportation Authority) funding, I believe that we can expand our commercial and light-industrial opportunities similar to what we have seen in southern Pinal County in Casa Grande/Maricopa. This type of growth will naturally raise our median household income --- currently at $38K --- as well as bring in new streams of revenue that will help diversify so we are not so heavily reliant on our sales tax and winter visitors,” Mr. Biggs said.

He is director of communications and program development at Empowerment Systems Inc., an Apache Junction non-profit organization.

He is on Twitter @BradenBiggs, Facebook @Biggs4AJCityCouncil and has a website at Bradenbiggs.com. He can be reached at Biggs4AJ@gmail.com and 573-586-8787.

Council candidate Darryl Cross

Industrial-type businesses are needed to bring good-paying jobs to Apache Junction, Mr. Cross, 55, said.

“Apache Junction needs good-paying industrial-type jobs. Large industrial-type businesses bring additional revenue to small communities like Apache Junction. They tend to pay employees higher wages with great benefits,” he said.

“Those individuals will help support our smaller businesses with that better income. I plan to reach out to businesses that are looking to expand and promote Apache Junction as the place to build,” Mr. Cross said.

He has worked at Summit Fire Protection since August 2018 to present; and for Nu-Way Fire Protection --- 1998-2018.

He is on Facebook at Darryl Cross. He can be reached at CrossforAJcouncil@gmail.com and 602-820-9583.

Council candidate Kelly Gremmel

While the city should work on improving the downtown area, the adverse effects of COVID-19 require that the council now focus on saving its small businesses, Ms. Gremmel said.

“Webster’s Dictionary defines economic development as ‘a process of creating and utilizing physical, human, financial, and social assets to generate improved and broadly shared economic well-being and quality of life for a community or region,’” she said.

“I would have told you that I would like to see our city work towards improving and extending our downtown area. While the addition of Flatiron Park has added a much-needed area for children, families and the community to come together for enjoyment, I would have liked us to work on bringing in new businesses, thus creating jobs and revenue,” Ms. Gremmel said.

“Unfortunately, due to COVID-19, I no longer believe this idea would be realistic at this time. Instead, this current and next elected City Council will be focusing on saving our current restaurants and other small businesses, in an attempt to maintain the current economic development that so many before us have worked hard to achieve,” she said.

Ms. Gremmel is a retired administrator for the City of Phoenix Prosecutor’s Office, a licensed real estate agent and co-owner of Successful Options.

She can be reached at kellygremmel114@gmail.com.

Council candidate Tess Nesser

Adding larger businesses in industry, technology and professional professions such as accountants and engineers will bring in needed jobs, Ms. Nesser, 71, said.

“Jobs needed: technology, industry, educators, professionals --- i.e. accountants, attorneys, dentists, engineers, physicians, other medical professionals,” she said.

Ms. Tesser has a plan to bring businesses to the city to provide the jobs.

“My plan has two parts. First, the City of AJ needs a strong Economic Development Department and possibly an Economic Development Commission who would concentrate on bringing technology and industry to our city. As to my plan, I would need to work with city staff to learn what is lacking --- if anything --- and what is required --- if anything --- to create a city staff and possibly a commission who could concentrate on bringing larger businesses here to bolster our economy,” Ms. Nesser said.

“Second, the City of AJ needs to strengthen and enforce city ordinances to make absentee landlords --- both residential and commercial --- responsible for the upkeep of their property for the health and safety of their tenants and for the economic life-blood of the entire AJ community. If we continue to look old and tired --- old, unkempt structures and facilities --- we will not attract larger, upscale employers,” she said.

She retired from the Pinal County Attorney’s Office as a unit supervisor in Florence, where she worked 1986-2010. Part-time employment includes:

  • Apache Junction Unified School District, part-time sub-para --- 2017 to present;
  • Goldfield Ghost Town Museum, --- 2019 to present;
  • Arizona Renaissance Festival entertainer --- 1999 to present; and
  • Pinal County Elections Department, as a poll worker.

Ms. Nesser is on Facebook at Tess Nesser – Apache Junction City Council. She can be reached at TessNesser-AJCityCouncil@yahoo.com and 480-540-9680.

Council candidate Jeff Struble

Manufacturing and distribution jobs could be brought to Apache Junction to help businesses at other employment centers, Mr. Struble, 57, said.

“Apache Junction needs manufacturing and distribution jobs that supplement the businesses at the airport and mines. We will continue to work with GPEC and other regional organizations to improve our reputation and infrastructure,” he said of the Greater Phoenix Economic Council.

“We also need to have the state legislature loosen up the strings they have tied upon local municipalities on incentivizing business-development opportunities,” Mr. Struble said.

Mr. Struble owns both Padgett Business Services and Fatmans Pizza.

He is on Facebook at Jeff Struble for Apache Junction City Council and has a website, letsbuildourfuture.com. He can be reached at jeff@rhinodreams.com and 480-694-5100.