Todd Sanders said his passion for public policy first emerged when he was in 10th grade and living in Florida.
“There was a contest for kids who wanted to go to the Capitol and learn about policy, and I actually wrote an essay and did the interview, and me and 15 other kids from the whole state, we won, so we got to go to Tallahassee, got to meet Bob Graham, the governor then… and I just fell in love with that,” Sanders said.
Sanders has served as the president and CEO of the Greater Phoenix Chamber since 2009, and he said his favorite part about his work is that no two days are the same.
“Even if it looks like that on the calendar, it’s never going to end up that way by the end of the day,” he said. “Something happens, and you’re onto something different.”
Sanders was born in Colombia to American parents; his dad was an entrepreneur who worked for Ford Motor Company before starting businesses in Bogotá, where Sanders and his family lived. Since then, Sanders has worked in a variety of subjects.
“I actually spent some time working for British Petroleum in the fields of Colombia, doing community development with them, which was quite an adventure,” he said.
“In Arizona, I’ve done some time at the Arizona state Legislature; I was on staff there,” he continued. “We were the folks that would help to analyze bills, and we would help members understand what they were doing, create amendments, and then help push them through the process.”
After a number of years at the Legislature, Sanders began analyzing public policy for GPC before taking on his current role.
“We’re a chamber of commerce that essentially covers Maricopa County,” Sanders said of GPC. “We are in three verticals — the policy vertical, with our friends at the Arizona [Legislature] as well as the City of Phoenix, and then there are some times where we’ll engage at the federal level.”
Economic development is the second vertical, he said.
“We have a lot of groups in town that do a really good job of bringing companies to the Valley, which we need,” Sanders said. “But our role in this space is really helping companies stay here and grow here, and a big part of that is jobs and finding qualified talent. So, that’s the third piece, which is workforce.
“How do you create that workforce that’s not only going to be necessary for today but also for tomorrow?”
Sanders said chambers of commerce are often seen by the public as “one-dimensional creatures” that focus only on business in a narrow sense, but he said working at GPC has shown that the chamber’s purpose is more about community development with a side of business leadership.
“I think working at the Legislature, understanding tax policy, understanding education policy, transportation, air quality — all of those things really helped sort of define and helped me understand the bigger challenges that are at play when you’re thinking about growing an economy with a focus on business,” he said.
Sanders said he believes Phoenix is a great place to be new, and what he hears from newcomers confirms that belief.
“People that come here feel accepted; they feel like this is a place where they can reinvent themselves if they want, and there is this real sense that you can make it here,” he said. “People are in your corner; they’re going to support you.”
People in Phoenix want new arrivals to get involved, and they will help any way they can, Sanders said.
“I think that really makes us unique,” he said. “No one’s going to ask you who your parents are, where you went to school. They just want to know that you’re going to roll up your sleeves.”
Sanders said he draws inspiration from Michael Crow, president of Arizona State University, who he believes has been a transformational leader for not only the university but the Arizona community as well.
“What I like about Dr. Crow is he took a university that was a good university and turned it into something that is world-class,” Sanders said. “We are now not just nationally recognized but recognized on a world scale.”
Sanders said in the near future he is planning to focus on the upcoming legislative session, but he also wants to continue building out GPC’s workforce development strategies. Right now, the chamber focuses on four main industry sectors: health care, financial services, cyber and construction.
“Not enough people to fill these jobs, and so our goal is to create the right kind of atmosphere, the right kind of strategies to help businesses find qualified talent,” he said.