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Sharing the big picture: 3 burgeoning towns on Tucson's edge are key partners in regional economic planning
[August 27, 2006]

Sharing the big picture: 3 burgeoning towns on Tucson's edge are key partners in regional economic planning

(Arizona Daily Star, The (Tucson) (KRT) Via Thomson Dialog NewsEdge) Aug. 27--Metro Tucson's economic development efforts now appear more coordinated than ever before. But that doesn't mean the three incorporated suburbs are forsaking their own economic interests.

The towns of Oro Valley, Marana and Sahuarita participate to varying degrees in Tucson Regional Opportunities Inc., the superagency created in July 2005 to coordinate the region's job recruitment, retention and expansion efforts.

The three communities also have a local focus on their own economic development concerns.

But none of the towns' individual efforts dilute the move toward regionalism, TREO's chief observes.

The regional approach is "absolutely where we're headed," says Joe Snell, TREO president and CEO. Community leadership recognizes that working together makes us more competitive, he says.

Economic leaders in the growing suburbs also endorse the regional approach. They see their own efforts as complementing the larger effort, not competing with it.

Oro Valley

Oro Valley's efforts are headed by David Welsh, economic development administrator since May 15.

Oro Valley plays a key role in TREO but also maintains its own contacts and strategies for expanding tourism, encouraging retail expansion and fostering growth in the promising biotech sector.

Much of the town's revenue flows from sales taxes, so retail development is important, Welsh notes.

The community is also home to one of the region's heavy hitters in biosciences. Ventana Medical Systems Inc. plans an expansion that will boost its employee count from 600 workers now to about 800. And Sanofi-Aventis is expanding its Oro Valley operation on 12 acres near Ventana with plans to build a new pharmaceutical research and development center.

Ventana Medical was attracted by Oro Valley's setting -- mountain views that enhanced its headquarters campus and the company's ability to attract and retain employees, says Gregg Forszt, director of facilities at Ventana.

The town is still firmly behind TREO's regional approach. Oro Valley is a trustee and founding member of TREO, and Mayor Paul Loomis sits on the organization's board. The town contributes about $25,000 annually to TREO.

Welsh says he looks to TREO primarily for help with businesses looking to relocate. Maintaining a "small-town feel" while providing the employment, shopping and entertainment people are looking for is the mission for Oro Valley leaders, he says.


That same goal is voiced by Jim DeGrood, Marana's assistant town manager responsible for economic development efforts.

Marana is also fully in support of TREO's regional strategy and contributes $50,000 annually as a trustee member of the organization. "We support TREO at this early stage of development" as it prepares a strategic plan, DeGrood says. Marana is also focusing on issues unique to the town once known mostly for cotton farming. TREO success anywhere in the region will help all nearby communities, he says. "A rising tide lifts all boats, as they say," DeGrood adds.

"We want to be a diverse community that still honors and incorporates its agricultural past while providing a quality suburban lifestyle," DeGrood says.

That effort is symbolized by the development of Marana Town Center on 20 acres that includes the old town hall and a new 113,000-square-foot municipal center.

DeGrood notes that Marana lies in the path of the emerging megacity between Tucson and Phoenix. That location may help the town lure industry and businesses that are not as cyclical as housing, he says.

One of the cornerstones of future economic development, he says, will be industrial development near Marana Regional Airport, acquired from Pima county in 1999.


The upstart in the ranks of Tucson satellite communities is Sahuarita, incorporated 12 years ago but rapidly transforming from a rural/agricultural persona to a suburban one.

Kathy Ward, Sahuarita's economic development manager, notes that the town has experienced population growth of nearly 500 percent since the 2000 census, which counted 3,200 residents. Today, the estimated population exceeds 19,000.

Ward says the town is not yet in a formal relationship with TREO because it is still "taking baby steps in economic development." Still, the town fully supports the regional concept of recruiting and retaining employers, she says.

The explosive growth of residential development has led to the construction or expansion of six shopping centers, and the town is the site of a planned 78-bed Carondelet hospital slated to open in 2011. A new 64,000- square-foot municipal complex should be finished next year, and the Sonoran Institute has presented a plan for the Sahuarita Town Center and Santa Cruz River Corridor that will help guide future growth for a five-square-mile area.

A recent survey of residents revealed a young, highly educated population that should help the town recruit good-paying jobs in the future, Ward says. In yet another sign of the area's rapid transformation, she adds, Sahuarita officials are now in final negotiations with a provider for Wi-Fi service throughout the town, she adds.

Oro Valley

Incorporated: April 1974

Area: 34 square miles.

Population: (estimate) 40,000

Pillars: retail, construction, tourism, biotech

Vision: To grow resort and hotel capacity, foster a growing biotech industry and strengthen the retail sector.


Incorporated: March 1977

Area: 120 square miles.

Population: (estimate) 30,000

Pillars: Retail, cement manufacturing, aircraft maintenance, farming

Vision: To bring good-quality jobs to the area so people can live, shop and play close by.


Incorporated: Sept. 1994

Area: 30 square miles

Population: (estimate) 19,235

Pillars: nearby copper mines; pecan growing and processing; retail

Vision: To diversify the economy and enable at least one person in each household to work in an occupation suited to their skills and education.

--Contact Richard Ducote at 573-4178 or

Copyright (c) 2006, The Arizona Daily Star, Tucson
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