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Phoenix  

Elizabeth Tandy Shermer

Phoenix, the capital of the state of Arizona, exemplifies the ways Sun Belt cities dramatically grew after World War II. Phoenix was best described as a small trading town in 1912, when Arizona became the last territory to achieve statehood in the continental United States. Although Phoenix was a capital city located in an area with little rainfall and high summer temperatures, its economy depended heavily on the sale of cotton and copper as well as tourists attracted to the Salt River valley’s warm winters. But members of the local Chamber of Commerce, like many small-town boosters across the US South and West, wanted to attract manufacturers by the 1930s, when the Great Depression upended the agricultural, mining, and tourism markets. The Chamber’s White male leaders (including future Senator Barry Goldwater) succeeded during World War II. They lobbied for wartime investment that transformed Phoenix into one of the many boom towns that dotted the South and West. That success fueled postwar efforts to attract industry by building a favorable “business climate.” Local leaders, business executives, and industry experts used that seemingly benign phrase to describe cities that guaranteed investors low taxes, weak unions, few government regulations, and other policies that maximized profits and undermined 1930s reforms. Phoenix stood out in what reporters called the “Second War between the States” for industry. General Electric, Motorola, and Sperry Rand had all opened branch plants by 1960, when Phoenix was already one of the largest US cities. It also stood out in 1969, when Republican strategist Kevin Phillips drew attention to the “Sun Belt phenomenon” that seemed to be the metropolitan core of a new conservative politics dedicated to free enterprise and poised to spread across the rapidly deindustrializing Northeast and Midwest. But growth undermined the Chamber’s power. By the 1970s, citizens questioned putting business first, and investors began shifting manufacturing overseas, which left residents to deal with the environmental, fiscal, and political damage the business climate ideal had wrought.