Oro Valley at 50 Years 

From Bedrooms to Business 

By Dave Perry

When Oro Valley was incorporated 50 years ago, it was envisioned as a bedroom community, cozy and low-key. The town had about 1,200 residents within 2½ square miles.

In 2024, it’s estimated more than 48,000 people reside on 36 square miles of scenic desert generally west of Oracle Road, north of Ina Road and east of I-10.

It is an evolving town that is clean, proud of its public safety, and populated by highly educated residents with disposable income. Winter visitors add to the economic pie. Oro Valley has the full menu of services and shopping. It has trails, bike paths and a new, $20 million investment in Naranja Park.

It takes care of its roads and is home to high-performing schools. There is public art everywhere, and views of the Catalinas out every door, all of which help make it a place to live, work and play.

Oro Valley is home to two industry-leading, home-grown companies. Roche Tissue Diagnostics employs more than 1,700 people dedicated to improving the lives of people afflicted with cancer. Simpleview’s 160 employees are part of a worldwide team serving 1,000 destination marketing organizations with digital solutions.

“There’s no place I’d rather be than here in Oro Valley,” says Simpleview CEO Ryan George, who grew up in the community, and is raising his family here.

George believes the Oro Valley story fits into a circle identified by Maura Gast, then the CEO of Visit Irving Texas.

“If you build a place where people want to visit, you’ll build a place where people want to live,” Gast once said. “If you build a place where people want to live, you’ll build a place where people want to work. If you build a place where people want to work, you’ll build a place where business wants to be. And, if you build a place where business wants to be, we’ll be back to building a place where people want to visit.”

“It all starts with the visit,” Gast said.

In Oro Valley, a visit can lead to so much more.

Oro Valley’s front door is long-tenured El Conquistador Tucson, A Hilton Resort. Each year, El Conquistador Tucson attracts thousands of guests to its 428-room property for meetings and conventions, weddings, celebrations and relaxation.

In 2021, Oro Valley went around the corner of the Catalinas to annex a second resort, the Southwest classic Westward Look Wyndham Grand Resort and Spa on Ina Road east of Oracle Road. Its 241 rooms bring the town’s total to 1,085 guest rooms.

The year 2023 was “record-setting” for the El Conquistador, general manager Shelby Francom said. That’s good for town government. El Conquistador Tucson generates on the order of $1.8 million a year in combined bed tax and sales tax revenues, helping to pay for roads, parks and prized public safety.

Retired Oro Valley Police Chief Danny Sharp put a community policing model in place that has been continued by his successor, Chief Kara Riley. In Oro Valley, you call a cop, you get a cop. The Town of Oro Valley commits one-third of its general fund to police because, officials say, a safe place attracts retirees and affluent residents. The median household income is $92,548. Those residents attract businesses of all sizes.

“We drive more economic development value in our community than Amazon ever will,” says Crispin Jeffrey-Franco, who opened Stacks Book Club with his wife Lizzy a year ago in Oro Valley Marketplace.

The Complete Package

Oro Valley Hospital and its related Northwest Healthcare system facilities employ 776 people in Oro Valley. The hospital’s 2023 payroll was $70.5 million.

“Having a hospital is really important, critical in fact, from an economic development perspective,” said Brian Sinotte, market CEO for Northwest Healthcare. “New employers ask ‘How’s the healthcare, what’s it like?’ It’s excellent,” Sinotte asserts, buttressed by Oro Valley Hospital’s regional affiliations through Northwest Healthcare.

The senior living industry knows as much. It is a vital leg on Oro Valley’s economic stool. The town’s largest current building project is La Posada at Pusch Ridge, a $140 million state-of-the-art senior living community rising east of First Avenue above the Cañada del Oro Wash. It’s due to open in spring 2025.

“We couldn’t find a more beautiful spot in the world to maximize the well-being of seniors,” La Posada President and CEO Joni Condit said at its groundbreaking.

And then there’s the beauty of the region. It has helped attract snowbirds and seniors who live their best lives at Splendido at Rancho Vistoso, Fairwinds Desert Point, All Seasons Oro Valley, The Watermark at Oro Valley, and a number of other properties.

Paul Melcher, Oro Valley community and economic development director, and Margie Adler, the town’s economic development specialist, point to an educated workforce, many of whom commute to the University of Arizona and Raytheon.

The town also has “great school choice for families,” said Adler. Among Oro Valley’s top-performing faith-based and charter schools, BASIS Oro Valley is a nationally regarded high school. Six of eight Amphitheater Public Schools in Oro Valley earned “A” grades as “excelling” schools in 2023, Superintendent Todd Jaeger reports. Pima Community College’s Northwest Campus, just south of the community, is designated as Pima’s Center for Excellence in STEM – science, technology, engineering and math. The emphasis on education bodes well for Oro Valley employers who have demand for people with those skills.

Retail has thrived from Oro Valley’s southern terminus at Ina and Oracle. At less-dense Oracle and Tangerine, Oro Valley Marketplace has struggled to keep large retailers, but change is afoot. Two hotels and two major apartment communities have been approved by the town council. Ground is being broken on a four-story Hampton Inn & Suites this summer.

“This center is hopefully coming of age,” said Jim Horvath, chairman and founder of Town West Companies which owns Oro Valley Marketplace. “We’re bringing it to life.”

Within Oro Valley’s southern edge resides a gem, Tohono Chul, ranked as one of the world’s 10 best botanical gardens by Travel + Leisure Magazine. Since 2023, Children’s Museum Oro Valley has resided at Tohono Chul. Both have thrived, together; other gardens and museums seek to emulate the model.

At Oro Valley’s northern end, the Western National Parks Association serves parks and monuments across the West with books, puzzles and other materials as well as educational programming. Its National Parks Store is wondrously unique to greater Tucson.

In between Tohono Chul and the National Parks Store, the University of Arizona College of Veterinary Medicine occupies two buildings in the Foothills Business Park.

It is a paradigm-changing institution and economic driver. Dean Julie Funk reports the vet school is a $23 million annual enterprise with more than 140 faculty and staff serving 330 students who are educated year-round for three intensive years. The vet school had more than 2,500 applicants for its most recent class of 110.

Changing Perception

Melcher draws a distinction between Oro Valley’s public review and permitting processes.

“Navigating the entitlements process can sometimes lead to frustration,” he acknowledges. Oro Valley prides itself in giving voice to its citizens. But that can slow things down.

Once entitlements are in hand, “we’re customer-service-focused,”Melcher said. “We get you through the system.”

“The perception was ‘It’s going to be hard,’ ” said Hector Martinez, who opened The Hoppy Vine with his wife Marnel. “That was definitely not our experience. The Town was extremely helpful every step of the way.”

Martinez summed it up: “I would not hesitate to tell people ‘Yeah, Oro Valley is a great spot to open.’ ”


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