Service industry battles summer slump with fresh concepts, attitude

While there’s no perfect answer to staying fiscally sound when the summer heat blankets Tucson, various businesses in the service industry have adapted to the triple-digit temperatures.

Whether it’s a business baking sweets or offering a soft pillow to an out-of-towner, relishing in what the Old Pueblo can offer appears to be the cornerstone to success.

What sets the Downtown Clifton hotel apart from the competition is it offers a quiet getaway that’s walking distance from Tucson’s nightlife, said Erin Cox, guest and community relations manager at the local lodge. Moreover, their staff, some of whom live in the neighborhood, offer a welcoming, family feel, she said.

“So we have a lot of return guests, who are very loyal to us,” Cox said.

Read the entire Inside Tucson Business article here. Originally published May, 10, 2019.

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New Ina Road interchange promises increased capacity, improved safety

Signed, sealed, delivered—the new Ina Road interchange is yours. 

After more than two years of construction, the Ina Road revamp at Interstate 10 is now open, although workers are completing some final details.

Ruthrauff Road at I-10 is next on the list for construction, but that project won’t begin until September. 

The $128 million project at Ina Road had a handful of goals: widen I-10 to three lanes in each direction at the interchange; expand a 1.6-mile stretch of Ina Road to two lanes from North Silverbell Road to North Camino De La Cruz, which is just east of the freeway; create new bridges to carry Ina Road over the Union Pacific Railroad tracks; and create two new bridges over the Santa Cruz River. The project also lowered I-10 at Ina Road and called for renovation to the corresponding frontage roads.

The Arizona Department of Transportation managed the project. 

Tom Herrmann, public information officer at ADOT, said although this type of undertaking is “daunting” it was “tremendously important” for two main reasons: the exponential growth in the Town of Marana, and to create a safer throughway.

“We can look back now and think it was a lot of hard work, but it was absolutely worth it from our perspective,” Herrmann said. “We hope the community feels the same way.”

Read the entire Tucson Local Media article here. Originally published May 1, 2019.

Local company transforming stroke, brain cancer treatment

The art of developing innovative medical treatments can simply consist of reassigning how a compound is being used. 

Just ask Dr. Evan Unger, who co-founded NuvOx Pharma, a Tucson-based research and development company. 

Since 2008, NuvOx Pharma has focused on treating life-threatening diseases involving hypoxia, where oxygen is prevented from traveling to body tissue which disrupts metabolic functioning.

The company’s journey began when Unger licensed the rights to dodecafluoropentane emulsion, or DDFPe, which was originally developed for ultrasound technology. The company repurposed the compound for oxygen delivery therapies for patients who suffer from stroke, traumatic brain injury and hemorrhagic shock.

The company’s flagship program is for stroke treatment, Unger said, because of the size of the market. They believe the effectiveness of their therapy could make it the next standard of care. Approximately 795,000 Americans suffer from strokes each year.  

Read the entire Tucson Local Media story here. Originally published April 24, 2019.

Medical Marijuana Offers Gateway to Re-Leaf

From soothing physical ailments to liberating patients to creating local sustainability—that’s the impact the medical marijuana industry can have, said Aari Ruben, owner of Desert Bloom Re-Leaf Center.

For many people living with a chronic disease, medical marijuana is a last-ditch effort, Ruben said. When new patients trudge through his door believing they’ve exhausted the gamut of treatments, he prescribes something different: hope.

“Instead of them going to a doctor who’s giving a grim prognosis, I’m trying to educate them and inform them what their different options are,” said Ruben. “It’s very empowering. And it starts to give them some faith in themselves that they can manage other areas of their lives.”

Almost six years ago, Ruben opened Desert Bloom, which started as a family-run medical marijuana dispensary operating out of 1,200-square-foot storefront.

Read the entire Tucson Weekly article here. Originally published April 18,2019.

Mourners laud Don Diamond’s legacy, philanthropy

He was an influential leader, a charismatic entrepreneur and man who loved Tucson until his final days.

That’s how friends and family described the legacy of the late Donald R. Diamond, a prominent Tucson-based real estate developer and philanthropist, during a memorial held on Wednesday afternoon.

Diamond died on Monday, March 25. He was 91.

More than 300 people packed the Catalina Room at the Jewish Community Center Tucson. Although the required garb was dark the tone of the ceremony was playful and light-hearted, keeping in step with Diamond’s temperament.

“My father couldn’t afford a rabbi for the service, so I will be officiating this afternoon,” his eldest daughter Rabbi Jennifer Diamond told the piqued crowd.

She further said Donald Diamond would be pleased to know that he’ll finally recoup for paying for her the five years of rabbinic school.

Both comments sweetened the heavy mood of the day with warm laughter.

After leading a traditional service, Jennifer Diamond offered their personal guests a glimpse into her family’s life.

Read the entire Tucson Local Media story here. Originally published on March 28, 2019.

Arizona restaurateurs adapt as hourly workers see pay raise, benefits improvement

After 15 years of working in the food industry, Hub Restaurant and Ice Creamery General Manager Alex Zepeda knows just how hard the job can be. And she said that while restaurants across the state have had to adjust to the recent increases in Arizona’s minimum wage, the change was long overdue.

“It is something that I think needed to happen,” Zepeda said. “And I’m glad that we’re paying people what they should be paid—a livable wage.”

Zepeda, 29, said that while Tucson’s cost of living is comparatively affordable, local folks may be supporting a family on a 40-hour weekly salary, so they need to make a living, she said.

In November 2016, Arizona voters approved Proposition 206, which increases the statewide minimum wage during a four-year period. In January, Arizona’s minimum wage rose to $11 per hour; and in 2020 the statewide hourly rate of pay will reach $12 per hour.

The ballot initiative also guarantees that workers accrue paid sick time off. Arizona businesses with 15 or more employees must now offer 40 hours of paid sick time annually, while businesses with less than 15 workers must allow for 24 hours of paid sick leave.

Under Prop. 206, employees earn one hour of paid sick time for every 30 hours they work. If an employee doesn’t use their sick pay, those hours will roll over from year-to-year.

When voters OK’d the ballot measure, Arizona’s minimum wage was set at $8.05. The current federal minimum wage is $7.25, which hasn’t budged in a decade.

Read the entire Tucson Local Media article here. Originally published on March 27, 2019.

Chamber leaders roll out new healthcare plan for small businesses

Many small businesses face a tough choice: Do you push to grow your company, or do you offer health benefits in order to retain your employees?

In an attempt to address the latter, the Southern Arizona Chamber of Commerce Association launched a new health insurance plan this month for self-employed workers and those operating modest proprietorships.

“For small businesses that don’t have access to healthcare right now, hopefully this will give them an option to acquire insurance and offer it to their employees,” said Robert Medler, vice president of public affairs at the Tucson Metro Chamber.

And if a qualifying company already provides benefits, the new association health plan could give employers a more cost-effective option, he added.

In June, the U.S. Department of Labor implemented new regulations that make it easier for small businesses to coalesce and purchase an association health plan.

The Southern Arizona Chamber Benefits plan, which is managed by UnitedHealthcare, is one of the many new AHPs to hit the market nationally.

Read the entire Tucson Local Media article here. Originally published on Feb. 20, 2019.

Fitness instructor learns better living from his students

Having a well-rounded approach is the key to helping someone recover from an injury or maintain an active lifestyle, said Todd Lutz, Get Fit program coordinator at Splendido at Rancho Vistoso.

After working almost a decade at Oro Valley’s premier retirement community, Lutz has remained committed to keeping his clients living at their highest potential.

“I want to help them enjoy the activities they appreciate as long as possible,” said Lutz. “And I think fitness is big first step in a lot of those things.”

Some Splendido residents moved into the community in order to take advantage of the fitness programs and facilities, and will often act as role models for their neighbors, Lutz said.

Conversely, some of Lutz’s clients are affected by a life event like a fall or heart attack.

No matter the circumstances, Lutz said staying fit can keep folks on the hiking trails, traveling or maintaining their independence.

There’s an unofficial requirement penciled into Splendido’s various fitness training classes: laughter. Lutz said he keeps the mood light whenever possible.

“I don’t want people to think fitness is a serious thing. We can have fun and still be fit,” he said.

Read the entire Tucson Local Media article here. Originally published Jan. 31, 2018.

GOP tax overhaul includes some big changes for business tax filers

If you haven’t met your maker by April 15, Uncle Sam will be expecting his annual tax settlement.

But small business owners throughout Arizona may appreciate some of the changes to the federal tax code, which was ratified by Congress in December 2017.

The federal Tax Cuts and Jobs Act aimed to simplify individual filings, slash the federal corporate tax rate and offer temporary tax deductions for comparatively small proprietors.

By 2027, the federal tax overhaul will also add more than $1.4 trillion to the national deficit, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

While local tax preparers are waiting to see if Arizona will conform to the new federal law, here’s what some professionals had to say about the changes.

Small businesses eligible for 20 percent deduction

Under the new federal tax law, pass-through entities—which include sole proprietorships, partnerships, LLCs and S corporations—will be eligible for a 20 percent tax deduction on qualified income.

Even though owners of pass-through entities may get a significant savings from the new 199A deduction, it’s a more complex and time-consuming calculation, said Marshele Scherrer, marketing manager at R&A CPAs.

Read the entire Inside Tucson Business article here. Originally published Jan. 18, 2019.

ON THE STREET: SAV recruits support deputies, community

At the entrance of Sunrise Pointe Vistas, Larry Walsh hits the lights on his Sheriff’s Auxiliary Volunteer squad car.

Walsh and his partner for the day, Field Operations Division Director Linda Rundel, pull behind two cars stopped along South Abrego Drive in Green Valley.

The owner of a German Shepherd is trying to corral their pet, which is crisscrossing the street.

Rundel hops out of the truck, throws on a reflective vest and offers a hand.

Being on a leash for the first time spooked the year-old puppy, the dog owner tells Rundel. So she keeps the traffic at bay while the man grabs hold of his dog.

Then she jumps back in the squad car and they continue on their southern Green Valley beat.

Whether it’s checking on a home that’s vacant for a holiday or directing traffic while deputies work a car accident, one of the best parts of SAV work is being a “force multiplier” for sworn peace officers, Walsh says.

Not only can you increase a general sense of safety, you get to serve the people, he says.

“And if you don’t greet and meet people three or four times a day on your route, you’re not doing your job.”

Read the entire Green Valley News and Sun article here. Originally published Jan. 1, 2019.