Today: Feb 17 , 2020

People Who Make a Difference: Dr. Robin Sobotta, Ken & Lisa Lain

03 January 2020  

They have made a difference in our community, and Prescott wouldn’t be the same without them!

As young children, we are enticed by the idea of Santa Claus and the loot we hope he will bring. Nurturing the possibility of receiving everything we want fills us with shivers of anticipation. As we get older, reality sets in, and we come to understand that getting our hearts’ desires isn’t likely to happen.

That's how local pilots and airport users must have felt only a few years ago. There was general agreement on what was needed: a better, more dependable flight service; a new and modernized terminal; maintenance, longer runways, parking and so much more. All that takes money, and even though the needs were clearly known, the path forward was still obscured. 

Enter Dr. Robin Sobotta. “On loan” during her sabbatical from Embry Riddle Aeronautical University, where she was the Founding Chair and Professor for the School of Business, she was hired by the City of Prescott less than two years ago. Boy, was she needed! Shortly after Sobotta came on board with the City, Great Lakes Airlines abruptly announced they were suspending all passenger flight operations across the country, leaving Prescott without any air service at all. 

Using her innumerable connections, vast experience and other incredibly valuable skills, Dr. Sobotta was instrumental in negotiating the deal to bring the SkyWest Essential Air Service to the Prescott airport in August, 2018. With the new air service, the city’s enplanements increased beyond anyone’s wildest predictions, passing the key number of 10,000 for the first time since 2009, allowing the City to qualify for an additional $1,000,000 in annual funding from the federal government. 

By June of 2019, the Prescott Regional Airport had turned around from being an airport with operations trending downward, to being named the 2019 Outstanding Airport by the Federal Aviation Administration Western Pacific Region. Of course, Dr. Sobotta didn’t take the credit, stating, "This reflects on City leadership, including staff and elected officials. Also, I want to thank our commercial air carrier United Express, operated by SkyWest Airlines, as well as our airport staff.”

Michael Lamar, Mayor Greg Mengarelli, Mayor Pro Tem Billie Orr and Dr. Robin Sobotta

Dr. Sobotta went on to say, “We remain appreciative of the tremendous support that the City has received from the FAA Phoenix Airport District Office and the FAA Western Pacific Region leadership and staff. Continued strengthening of our interagency partnerships — at the Federal, State, and regional levels — will be critical to our future growth and success, as we elevate to Primary Commercial Service Airport status this year.”

As for the elusive new terminal so strongly desired and needed, yet out of reach financially? Well, the plans are drawn up and a groundbreaking celebration is coming up soon. The new terminal should be operational by early 2021.

There have been many previous capable Airport Directors before Dr. Sobotta. But no one else had the vision and the ability and adeptness to navigate the requirements of the FAA in order to turn the Ernest A. Love Prescott Regional Airport into a first class facility. Through Dr. Robin Sobotta’s leadership, Prescott is opening up to much greater economic development such as with Eviation; better strategic partnerships such as with the US Forest Service and new business and international opportunities as yet undiscovered.

One word of caution, however. If you are ever watching a presentation by Dr. Sobotta, be sure to utilize the recording app on your phone. Dr. Sobotta has so much knowledge jam-packed in her head, so many facts and figures available with instant recall, that you won’t catch it all the first time! 

Bringing beauty to the world around you is a difficult enough task, but inspiring and enabling others to do the same is even more impressive.

Ken and Lisa Lain of Watters Garden Center have made Prescott more beautiful one gardener at a time. Gardening in our climate and high desert conditions is definitely an art based on skill and knowledge. Ken is instrumental in developing enhanced products and plant varieties that overcome the local soil and climate limitations so gardens can thrive in this area.

Ken is the familiar face and voice, the one who is talked about, the one who stands behind the microphone and is seen in the public. 

Lisa is the quiet strength alongside Ken, bringing her own personal knowledge and artistry. She tends to be behind the scenes because she chooses to be, but when Lisa does come forward, it is always with charm and graciousness.

Back to Ken, who, by the way, is never the demanding guy at City Council meetings, complaining about this or that; but he is the guy that brings plants to give away at non-profit and chamber meetings, always with a big smile and cheerful banter. He is active in the community and fiercely supportive of local businesses. Don’t be surprised to see classes at the Garden Center that highlight pets and raptors; or focuses on butterflies, bees and ladybugs. 

Each year, Watters Garden hosts the Arizona Raptor Experience during one of their garden classes,
allowing people to learn more about these majestic birds of prey so important to our ecology. 

Every year Ken and Lisa host events at Watters Garden Center to benefit worthy causes. One of the best known is the annual Grapes for Grades that has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars over the years to benefit math and reading programs at local schools. 

Finally, Ken and Lisa (he truly couldn’t do it without her!) run a business that makes Prescott look good! Watters Garden Center is consistently at the top across the region, state and country when it comes to garden centers. People read and listen to his garden column all over the country; and often tourists place a stop at Watters Garden Center on their list of things to do when they come to Prescott.

We all need beauty to nourish our lives. Thanks to Ken and Lisa Lain, Prescott is richer and more colorful in many, many ways.


Lynne LaMaster

Lynne LaMaster is the Founder and Editor of the eNewsAZ Network of websites. She asks a lot of questions! In her spare time, she loves photography, cooking and hanging out with her family.