The 2020 Hammer Awards

At the end of each year, Arizona Chamber of Commerce & Industry President and CEO Glenn Hamer hands out his Ham(m)er Awards to recognize the people and groups who contributed in a big way to the year that was. This year’s edition looks back on a year that was unlike any other.

Hit by a once-in-a-century pandemic that created an instant economic worldwide collapse, and soon after racial unrest triggered by the tragic murder of George Floyd, it’s fair to say that 2020 has been a tough year. We’ve lost more than one out of every one thousand Americans to the virus, we’re still down more than 10 million jobs and there’s continued social unease. 

But these difficulties brought out the best in many of us and that’s the focus of this year’s Hammers.

The public health heroes

Let’s start with the obvious. No group is more deserving of recognition than the frontline healthcare workers who have worked nonstop despite near-constant personal danger to keep us well and to educate us on what we should do to keep well. Our hospitals, including Banner, Honor Health, Dignity (CommonSpirit Health), Mayo and others have been working overtime on top of overtime. 

I want to especially call out Dr. Cara Christ for leading Arizona’s response. If you want the definition of an impossible and thankless job, it’s leading a state health agency during a pandemic.

A Hammer Award also goes to Dr. Amish Shah, an E.R. doc who is also a state representative. His blog posts early in the pandemic provided crucial information to the general public.

State Rep. Lorenzo Sierra deserves a Hammer for his deeply personal account of his harrowing battle with Covid that he shared in USA Today and with media outlets across the country.

Our universities stepped up massively. Led by Dr. Michael Crow, Arizona State University developed an easy and effective saliva test for Covid that was a welcome alternative for those who don’t like something stuck up their nose. Dr. Bobby Robbins, a distinguished medical doctor, developed several efforts to assist in the pandemic, including a huge freezer farm to store vaccines. NAU stepped up under the direction of Dr. Rita Cheng as well, lending needed research in the development of vaccines. 

Testing. Testing. Testing. Kudos and a Hammer to Dave Dexter and Sonora Quest for rapidly developing the leading testing platform for Arizonans. Testing remains critical to controlling the spread and we’re fortunate to have a major testing lab based in Arizona. 

Speaking of testing, A.P. Powell deserves a Hammer for setting up testing sites in underserved communities. A.P. also used his Bridge Forum to promote much needed dialogue between neighborhood leaders and senior law enforcement leadership. 

Our friends at Vitalant deserve a Hammer for their continuous efforts to encourage blood and plasma donations. Vitalant’s work is always essential, but in 2020 it was absolutely critical to help the scientific community learn more about Covid antibodies and convalescent plasma. Plus, they’ve ensured that blood donations can continue safely.

Frontline workers. The men and women who work in our grocery stores, serve our coffee and keep America running deserve our deepest thanks…and more. Many months ago, Peggy Noonan wrote that those who are undocumented who are keeping the gears of the American economy turning should be put on a track to citizenship. I agree. 

Over the air

Arizona’s media outlets have been essential partners in getting information out to the public throughout the pandemic.

Day in and day out, KTAR’s Jim Cross has been a go-to source for useful news about the pandemic’s impact on the state and national economies. The consummate workhorse, Jim was deservedly part of the 2020 Arizona Broadcasters Association Hall of Fame class. In addition to joining the Hall of Fame, he deserves a Hammer. I’ll let him decide which is the more flattering honor. 

ABC 15’s Garrett Archer, the Data Guru, boils down the flood of data from the state Department of Health Services into easy-to-follow daily digests. He points out positive and negative trends, avoids alarmist reporting, but also gives this crisis we’re living through the seriousness it deserves. He’s also relied on his years of experience as a congressional aide, campaign hand, and Secretary of State’s Office staffer to help us understand all there is to know about ballot counting. 

It’s also worth noting that AzDHS has done yeoman’s work in providing the public a wealth of information. I’m looking forward to seeing a daily tracker in 2021 on the number of vaccinations given across the state.

Crisis response

The Paycheck Protection Program is the most successful small business program ever developed or administered in the history of the country. The relatively smooth administration happened because multiple parties in Arizona stepped up in a major way. 

A Hammer Award goes to Paul Hickman, the head of the Arizona Bankers Association, for leading the charge. His organization was in regular contact with Capitol Hill and his member institutions were essential in getting the funds flowing to small businesses that desperately needed the help.

A Hammer also goes to David Adame of Chicanos Por La Causa for helping to save thousands of jobs through Prestamos, a Community Development Financial Institution, which issues microloans to struggling small businesses in underserved communities.

More than 80,000 Arizona companies secured over $8.5 billion in largely forgivable loans. A new round is on its way. I want to thank the U.S. Chamber of Commerce for the fantastic materials it distributed on PPP and other relief for businesses that have now been downloaded a billion times. 

A Hammer goes to Sandra Watson and her entire team at the Arizona Commerce Authority for putting together comprehensive programming for small businesses on how to navigate the pandemic. I believe that Sandra is the best economic development professional in America. The proof? During a pandemic it was announced that hundreds of Zoom jobs would come to Arizona. This news would be eclipsed in the evening of the same day when it was announced that TSMC would invest more than $12 billion and bring nearly 2,000 jobs to Arizona, the biggest deal in our state’s history. 

Sandra was charged with leading the Arizona Together fund, the business community’s response to the pandemic. This fund chaired by Eileen Klein has distributed millions of dollars in aid. Many donors deserve credit. Special recognition goes to Catherine Ivy of the Ben and Catherine Ivy Foundation for her generous $5 million donation and to Michael Bidwill for being the first to contribute seven figures. 

Speaking of the economy, a Hammer goes to Jim Rounds and the crew at Rounds Consulting Group for their outstanding work to help industries of all types not only understand the impact the pandemic has had on the Arizona economy, but also what policymakers can do to help Arizona recover in a position of strength.

A Hammer goes to Sen. Kyrsten Sinema for hosting weekly conference calls with the business community during the early stages of the pandemic. These practical calls helped to ensure that Arizona businesses were well represented in Washington when it came to Covid relief. She delivered. 

Kim Sabow and the Arizona Lodging and Tourism Association deserve a Hammer Award for rolling out the best safety program on the market. The AZSAFE + CLEAN hotel certification program is the model that can be used for other industries. Kim’s industry was hit first and worst, so credit to her for leading her industry through the most difficult period ever.

Globalization is good. A Hammer goes to Pfizer (U.S.) and BioNTech (Germany) for developing the world’s first widely distributed vaccine. Clocking in at 95% effectiveness using mRNA technology, the vaccine provides hope that other illnesses (cancer) will ultimately benefit. The key is to get as many people as possible vaccinated and as quickly as possible. The U.S. is leading the world in doses administered, with Israel leading on a per capita basis. The Trump administration deserves tremendous credit for developing Operation Warp Speed. Many experts said a speedy, safe vaccine was not possible. They were wrong. To have multiple vaccines at around 95% efficacy hit the market in less than one year is the accomplishment of this century. 

Speaking of private sector contributors stepping up to meet a global need, Honeywelldeserves a Hammer Award for its lightning-fast turnaround of its Arizona production lines to crank out millions of N95 masks. The effort was so impressive that it earned a factory visit from President Trump. Honeywell’s work in 2020 wasn’t a nice-to-have, it was must-have, and it was an inspiring display of American ingenuity and invention. 

The Hammer Award for Model Bipartisanship goes to Gov. Doug Ducey and State Superintendent Kathy Hoffman for joining together to provide smart, healthy and at times politically courageous guidance to keep our K-12 system running. Our teachers and school staff members all deserve big thanks for ensuring our kids have a safe place to go during this most disruptive period.

There’s no I in team

I’m very fortunate to have served under excellent board chairs throughout my tenure at the Chamber, and this year was no exception.

We started out 2020 with Susan Anable at the helm, who was completing her second year with the gavel, which itself was unusual because our chairs usually rotate every year. But Susan didn’t bat an eye when the board asked her to take on a second year. No one knew then that the business community would be entering its most challenging year ever, but Susan took on the challenge with her usual aplomb and helped shift the Chamber into crisis response. I should also recognize her company, Cox, which has proven to be an indispensable partner in helping thousands of Arizona kids learn remotely and folks like me work from home.

In June, we welcomed Dawn Grove as our board chair. Dawn’s a longtime Chamber member and is recognized nationally and globally as a leader in manufacturing policy with a razor-sharp legal mind. An executive with Karsten Manufacturing, the parent company of PING, few have Dawn’s insight into what makes Arizona’s manufacturing environment one of the country’s most competitive. The fact that Arizona now has more manufacturing jobs than construction jobs is in no small part thanks to Dawn’s contributions over the years. As we turn our attention to the great Arizona economic recovery of 2021, the Chamber board couldn’t ask for a better business leader. 

Finally, a Hammer Award to each team member at the Chamber, Chamber Foundation and Arizona Manufacturers Council. Our last regular day in the office was in mid-March. They didn’t miss a beat. The team assembled regular virtual meetings with our colleagues across the business community; presented dozens of webinars for small businesses to access relief funds; shifted each of our regularly scheduled events online; coordinated dozens of video calls for our members with leaders in government, business and academia; launched a campaign with the Arizona Medical Association to help businesses keep their employees and customers safe and healthy; issued policy papers on big issues; and even cranked out a regular YouTube show on news of the day (that sometimes as many as dozens enjoy!). To top it all off, they kept me and my schedule in one piece as I shifted to mostly working from home.

I would not want to repeat 2020, but I’m thankful for my colleagues at the Chamber who made lemonade out of a year full of lemons.

We’re in the final months of what has been a lethal pandemic. There is light at the end of the tunnel. Please be safe and get the vaccine as soon as it’s your turn. 2020 has been tough. There’s potential for 2021 to be the year we vanquish Covid-19 and begin a new and robust expansion. Let’s make it happen.

Glenn Hamer is president and CEO of the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry. 

Glenn Hamer

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