Region Offers Established Employers Room to Grow
By Jay Gonzales
For the last several years, the Tucson region has been building a base of stable employers that now has economic development experts and site selectors beaming at the possibilities.
As the nation climbs out of the COVID-19 pandemic, Tucson is a region that sees itself as “resilient” because of the employment gains made with companies like Raytheon Missiles & Defense, Caterpillar, Amazon and others.
“It’s very difficult to say some places are COVID-proof,” said Steve Eggen, a retired Raytheon Missile Systems executive. “If you look at what’s happened, there have been some pretty substantial impacts. But, I think you can say we have a certain resiliency in our community that lends itself to being responsive, being quick to act, being able to provide the kinds of things that are now more in demand than they were previously.”
In 2004, Sun Corridor Inc., then known as Tucson Regional Economic Opportunities created an Economic Blueprint that was later updated to emphasize four industry clusters as targets for relocation and expansion. The clusters are now aerospace and defense, bioscience and healthcare, renewable and mining technology, and transportation and logistics.
Joe Snell, president and CEO of Sun Corridor Inc., said those clusters are a fit with the region’s talent base and efforts to strengthen it further. “If we can get the right talent, companies will follow that. Labor drives all market decisions. It has for a long time.”
In all, 72 companies have relocated or expanded in the region over the last five years, bringing in 16,125 jobs, according to Sun Corridor Inc.
Notably, Tucson has seen the recent expansion of Raytheon Missiles & Defense, the arrival of Caterpillar’s Surface, Mining & Technology Division, three Amazon centers and autonomous truck driving startup TuSimple, among many developments. Just this fall, Nanomoneo, a biotech instrument company, announced it will open an operation here after a nationwide search.
Pima Community College and University of Arizona are providing the workforce development programs to fuel these companies.
“When companies are looking to relocate or companies are looking to expand, one of the central questions centers around, ‘Can I get my talent needs met?’ ” said Lee Lambert, chancellor of Pima Community College. “A lot of those talent needs are going to be met through the educational system in your community and how well that educational system functions in partnership with business and industry.”
PCC just announced a $2.5 million gift from the Thomas R. Brown Family Foundation that will bolster training programs in the school’s Center of Excellence in Applied Technology. Among the systems that will get new resources are those that power smart grid, autonomous automobile systems, robotics and pilot avionics.
UArizona also has numerous workforce development partnerships in place to serve area employers, including a College of Engineering mining graduate certificate program with Caterpillar. UArizona received a $2.5 million award from the Freeport-McMoRan Foundation in 2019 to advance responsible mining in the region.
Eggen, who is heading up a Sun Corridor Inc. committee focusing on recovery post-covid, said going forward, Tucson needs to focus on retraining displaced workers and lowering its unemployment rate.
“We’ve been listening,” Lambert said. “All the work we’ve been doing leading up to this crisis, building those relationships, aligning what we do with the needs of business and industry are now starting to pay off.
“We have the relationships. We have the infrastructure in place so that as employers tell us they need X, Y or Z, we can pivot to help meet X, Y and Z. A lot of what you’re seeing in this part of the country is a focus around advanced manufacturing, a focus around IT (information technology), a focus around healthcare. We already are doing the work in those critical areas to support the employer community here and making sure we provide the workforce talent that they’re going to need.” Lambert said.