Arizona’s Economic Opportunities

By Gabrielle Fimbres –

Arizona’s Economic Opportunities
New Model for Global Competitive Edge
Maximizing Southern Arizona’s Economic Opportunities

Southern Arizona is harnessing the power of Arizona’s Sun Corridor – a megaregion of potentially limitless economic growth – to create opportunity and prosperity.

Leading the effort in the central and southern swath of the corridor is Sun Corridor Inc., which recently changed its name from Tucson Regional Economic Opportunities or TREO.

Sun Corridor Inc. is bringing together the major players in the megaregion across Southern Arizona, including key employers, public sector partners, higher education and nonprofits.

The organization has expanded its geographic horizons to extend from Mexico to northern Pinal County.

This rebranding and sharpened focus builds on the collective strengths of a united binational region, said Joe Snell, president and CEO of Sun Corridor Inc.
“We are much more powerful with unity of voice as we represent Arizona to companies looking for a prosperous region for their growth and expansion,” said Snell, who has led economic development efforts throughout the organization’s 10-year history.

“We have to sell them on the Southern Arizona market.Sometimes Tucson wins, sometimes Pinal County wins – but we all win with a unified effort.”
TREO/Sun Corridor Inc. recently completed one of its most successful years, supporting the relocation or expansion of 16 companies, with an economic impact of nearly $2.6 billion.

Among them, HomeGoods announced a new distribution center that initially will employ 400. Comcast announced a new customer support center to be staffed by 1,125 customer service representatives and managers.

The Sun Corridor concept to make the most of regional assets in combination with the proximity and strength of Mexico as a trading partner was first identified in about 2007.

Snell and Sun Corridor Inc.’s leadership believe the economic development organization’s new approach will benefit Southern Arizona by:

  • Promoting the megaregion as a gateway for near-shore products and movement of goods
  • Developing a stronger binational position with Arizona’s largest trading partner, leveraging Mexico’s economic growth
  • Creating greater synergy to compete in a new global economy post-recession
  • Enhancing influence at state and federal levels, representing a greater geographic region
  • Leveraging a larger talent pool
  • Combining resources and expertise to address complex economic trends

Denny Minano, board chair of Sun Corridor Inc., is a retired General Motors executive and current consultant in environmental, energy, governance and transportation infrastructure strategies. He said this broader regional focus of Sun Corridor Inc. makes Arizona more marketable.

“Our core, Tucson, is good, and Pima County is very strong,” Minano said. “When you add other counties, it allows us to present the very best of Southern Arizona and gives the area more power to collaborate with Phoenix.”

The timing was right for the change in name and focus, especially as economic development in Mexico is starting to soar, Minano said.

“Sonora has an economic development plan focusing on auto and aerospace and they have achieved that,” Minano said. “Their success is important to our success. Their moving forward in that area is a strong indication that we can have success not just at the border but deep into Mexico.”

The region’s proximity to Mexico – with its opportunities in manufacturing, Port of Guaymas and transportation of goods – makes the entire region more attractive internationally, said Guy Gunther, immediate past chair of TREO and VP of operations for CenturyLink in Arizona.

“We are not just competing against California and Texas, we are competing against Taiwan and central Europe in this global economy – and this move makes us stronger competitors,” Gunther said. “We are improving our product.”

Key to the region’s success are its counties and communities, including Cochise County, Santa Cruz County, Pima County and Pinal County, which serves as a linchpin between Phoenix and Tucson.

In November 2014, Pinal County Supervisor Anthony Smith joined forces with TREO, embracing the Sun Corridor concept of economic development. He now serves as a member of Sun Corridor Inc.’s Chairman’s Circle.

“I recognized in the next few decades most of Arizona’s growth will be in the Sun Corridor and I believe the Sun Corridor will be characterized by higher-than-average population growth,” Smith said. “We have certainly experienced that in Pinal County.”

Pinal County’s population has doubled in the past decade, and Smith is on a mission to build economic development in his county, so residents don’t have to travel to Tucson or Phoenix for work. Currently, half of Pinal County’s working population travels out of the county for jobs, he said.

“Pinal County is geographically located in the heart of the Sun Corridor, and I believe it is important that we be proactive and work with the economic development organizations to leverage our collective interests,” Smith said. “The fit with Sun Corridor Inc. seemed like an absolutely natural one.”

As mayor of Maricopa for four years, Smith said he worked closely on economic development efforts in Phoenix with the Greater Phoenix Economic Council.

“I’m thrilled that Tucson, Pima County and Southern Arizona have a similar organization with the potential for a lot of high achievement in the future,” Smith said.

Among the assets Pinal County brings to the Sun Corridor are a population of 402,000 and workforce of 154,018.

Also key are its manufacturing, mining, agriculture, healthcare and aerospace & defense assets.

Key Sun Corridor infrastructure strengths provided by Pinal County are:

  • Access to major California markets via Interstate 10 and Interstate 8, as well as access to Mexico via Interstate 19
  • Union Pacific Railroad’s double-tracked main line from the ports of Los Angeles to the East Coast, the railroad’s short line at Picacho servicing Phoenix, and the Copper Basin Railway servicing eastern Pinal County copper mines
  • Seven major rail-served industrial parks
  • Four major electric companies
  • Access to major airports
  • A large regional workforce

“Arizona is a day’s drive to many of the major markets, including the international markets, which minimizes any business interruptions and increases people’s quality of life,” Smith said. “I think these kinds of factors make communities within the Sun Corridor a very attractive place to grow a business.”

Smith hopes the collaboration will draw aerospace & defense jobs and other high-tech industries to the region.

“I think that is the way of the future for us.”

Pima County Supervisor Sharon Bronson said regional partners bring assets that make Southern Arizona highly attractive to companies nationally and internationally.

She sees the new name and focus of Sun Corridor Inc. as beneficial to the economy and the region, signaling a new era for the region’s economic development.

“Economic development does not stop at the jurisdictional boundaries – it’s about the region – and this branding lets people know we are serious about 21st century economic development,” Bronson said.

Partnerships with Mexico are key. “Mexico’s economy is taking off and that can only aid our efforts,” she said.

Snell said the evolution from TREO to Sun Corridor Inc. is a natural one, as Arizona’s Sun Corridor builds in strength and momentum.

“We worked with Eloy to create a foreign trade zone and it occurred to us that we are really not Tucson Regional Economic Opportunities anymore. We are really much more than that,” Snell said. “We were almost limiting our opportunities through our name.”

He said the organization, founded in 2005, has embraced the Sun Corridor concept since 2007.

“We are going to do some of the things TREO did as well as add several new initiatives – but in an expanded footprint,” Snell said. “We are going to continue to work to increase the prosperity of Southern Arizonans, and we are going to do that through job recruitment and job expansion. But those jobs might go to Cochise County just as easily as they would to Pima County.”

The organization will continue to use its updated Economic Blueprint as a roadmap to prosperity – focusing on bolstering infrastructure, education and training, a healthy community and a positive business climate to draw key high-wage industries to the region.

“All of our counties and cities share the same last name, we have the same asset base and the same challenges – but collectively we are speaking together as a big, binational population center,” Snell said. “It just makes good business sense.”

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