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Small Town Big on Accomplishments

25 Sep 2013 by BizDESIGN in Entrepreneurs & Leaders, FALL 2013

By Pamela Doherty

Oro Valley is located three miles north of the Tucson city limits, covers 34 square miles and is home to approximately 41,000 people. Forty-three percent of the residents are retired and 20 percent are K-12 students.

But statistics do not begin to tell the story of this small town that’s big on getting things done.

Much of Oro Valley’s current vigor is attributed to its mayor – Satish I. Hiremath – elected in 2010. Hiremath is described as a leader with a magnetic personality, a clear vision, dogged determination and a penchant for results.

Plus, “he bleeds Oro Valley,” said Town Councilmember Mary Snider. “He is very dedicated to our community.”

In addition to serving as mayor, Hiremath is a dentist, with an active practice in Oro Valley since he migrated there from Michigan 20 years ago. He’s also the father of four children. Which begs the question – why run for office?

“In 2007 I saw many of my patients losing their jobs as the economy declined,” said Hiremath. “It became obvious to me that, rather than being controlled by what happens at the state and federal levels, local government needs to have more capacity and more control over its own destiny.”

Thus began Hiremath’s quest to get elected to the town’s top spot and, after many years of volunteer community service, to work in an official capacity to shape the future of the place he loves.

When asked about the accomplishments of his administration, Hiremath speaks passionately about success – and the reasons for it. Foremost in his mind is the value of regional collaboration.

“We have an expanded view of the community. It’s not defined by lines on a map,” he said.

According to Hiremath, Oro Valley has developed strong partnerships with neighboring jurisdictions – in addition to the governor’s office – which allows for collective problem solving.

“The economic collapse requires us to use more creativity and engage in increased cooperation because there is just not enough money to go around,” he said.

In 2012 Hiremath finished his term as chair of the Regional Transportation Authority, the corporation that oversees the 20-year $2.1 billion plan favored by voters in 2006. He considers the start of construction of the Sun Link streetcar system in downtown Tucson as a highpoint during his tenure.

“This will have a significant impact on the region,” he said of the oft-criticized project. “It is a vital piece of the puzzle for the City of Tucson. We have mutual respect and we have lent our support,” Hiremath said. “If it is important to another jurisdiction, it is important to us,” he added.

Hiremath continues as a member of the RTA, and was recently appointed to the Arizona Bioscience Roadmap Steering Committee. He also has served as chair of the Pima Association of Governments and president of the Southern Arizona Arts and Cultural Alliance.

Hiremath’s aim to forge ties with other municipalities has resulted in several victories for the mayor and for the town itself. These include partnering with the City of Tucson for the delivery of Central Arizona Project water, with the RTA to launch the Sun Shuttle Dial-a-Ride service, incorporating local service into the larger regional transit system, and with Pima County to assume management of the town’s library.

Oro Valley has a council-manager form of government, and Hiremath acknowledges the work of the six-member Town Council. He readily tips his hat to Town Manager Greg Caton, who assumed his post in April 2012.

“He is really sharp,” Hiremath said of Caton. “Mark my words – he will have a significant impact on this region.”

The Town of Oro Valley ended its last fiscal year in the black, and in 2012 reinstated a 2.5 percent cost-of-living increase for its employees. It has 36 percent more in its reserve fund than what is required.

There have been bumps in the road and hotly contested issues. The library’s transition to a branch of the county system was a source of fierce debate, as some residents were loath to relinquish control, anticipating detrimental effects on the community resource.

“The mayor listens to all points of view and we (council members) all have equal say in policy,” said Snider. “But he will insist on taking us in a particular direction when he knows it’s in the best interest of the community.”

Snider added that the library now has extended hours of operation and enhanced services. Pima County’s oversight saves the town approximately $600,000 a year.

Hiremath said, “The chronic naysayers will always exist. But we still have to make unpopular decisions when it’s the right thing to do. If you can persevere through the criticism you will come out on the other side.”

Which leads to Hiremath’s perspective on economic development.

“In Oro Valley we need to look at the things that enhance the economy without fear of losing our uniqueness because in actuality we will be supporting things that allow us to stay that way,” he said.

To help maintain ongoing fiscal stability, the mayor, council and town have set their sights on recruiting and retaining global high-tech employers.

Indeed, Oro Valley is the locale for two of the top pharmaceutical companies in the world – Sanofi and Ventana Medical Systems, a member of the Roche Group.

“Historically we made developers and businesses jump through ridiculous hoops to build here,” said Hiremath. “But local government needs to help create a community where people want to come to. We’ve had to streamline our processes and change our mindset. We’ve stopped being an obstacle to progress.”

Amanda Jacobs, Oro Valley’s economic development manager, agrees. “The mayor and council trust and empower the staff to have regional conversations – and that has made a world of difference. We have definitely experienced a positive change in terms of leadership and direction.”

To that end, the Town of Oro Valley established an Economic Expansion Zone, a district designed to attract high-wage employers and promote industry clusters in Innovation Park, a 535-acre commercial campus. Businesses that fit certain criteria and intending to locate in the zone bypass a lengthy vetting process, which may save six to nine months of time for requisite approvals.

The first business to benefit from the Economic Expansion Zone is Securaplane Technologies, a supplier of products for the aviation arena. In 2013 the company built a new 55,000-square-foot facility in Innovation Park.

According to Dave Perry, president and CEO of the Greater Oro Valley Chamber of Commerce, “the town and the chamber have a similar vision on where we ought to go when it comes to encouraging business development and creating jobs. Oro Valley is still young in terms of its development. We cannot stay a bedroom community forever.”

“The mayor is a big-picture guy and I admire that,” added Perry.

Another key growth strategy for Oro Valley is the expansion of recreational and cultural opportunities to encourage tourism.

Hiremath points to the Oro Valley Aquatic Center as a pivotal economic driver. The $5 million project was completed in March, and transformed a municipal pool into what is being touted as one of Arizona’s premier aquatics facilities. The competition-level facility is expected to draw state and regional events, in addition to serving local families.

Life’s good in OV, as the new town slogan goes – but Hiremath is keenly aware that, as a destination, Oro Valley does not sell itself.

“We like living here – but the rest of the country does not know where we are,” said Hiremath.

This why Hiremath has been particularly committed to the town’s investment in Tucson Regional Economic Opportunities and Visit Tucson.

Hiremath will complete his four-year term in 2014. He has not yet said if he will run for re-election.

When pressed, the mayor did say, “I have never overstayed my welcome. But I also won’t leave until the house I’ve built is strong and ready for the next generation. Are we there yet? I don’t think so.”

Oro Valley
A Picture of
Healthy Growth

“Healthy growth is not a progression where we begin as one thing and end up as something else entirely. Nor is growth measured by just one or two indicators. Healthy growth is the development and maturation of a community, from root to tip.

“Too often we see communities that pour their resources into one focus area while another area crumbles away.
“The Town of Oro Valley has taken great care to ensure that its roots and core values are nourished and maintained so that we are well-positioned for the opportunities that lie ahead.

“As a result, we’ve developed a strong framework for this year’s successes and our vision for the future.

“Those successes include the Oro Valley Aquatic Center, sports tourism, Oracle/Ina annexation, renewed focus on youth and families, business-friendly programs, arts and culture, investment in our employees, ongoing collaboration with other organizations and sound fiscal management.”

– Satish I. Hiremath, Mayor
Town of Oro Valley

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