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  • Work south of Tucson promotes growth, wages

    By John Moffatt, Economic Development Director

    A main objective of Pima County government is to promote economic development, job growth, higher wages and increased disposable income within our region. We take this seriously and have worked hard to facilitate healthy economic growth. 

    The recognition of the economic potential in the southern portion of the Tucson metropolitan area stands as an example of the work and vision of County leadership. John Moffatt

    In 2010, the County purchased about 300 acres of property south of Raytheon Missile Systems, the region’s largest private employer. This purchase protected the company from urban encroachment, which Raytheon officials were concerned would prevent the company’s future expansions.  

    The County’s purchase not only eased the urban pressure on Raytheon, enabling the company to expand its workforce by nearly 2,000 employees, but it also precipitated the creation of the Aerospace Parkway. That has facilitated an influx of aerospace industry employers while ensuring Raytheon had room to expand their manufacturing facilities and that the 162nd Wing of the Arizona Air National Guard would have incremental space to store their munitions in a safe location. This project was the first phase of a larger plan to create an employment zone south and east of the airport with the purpose of diversifying our economy by attracting different types of clean industry including logistics, aerospace, and technology-related companies. 

    Perhaps the boldest aspect of this plan is the Sonoran Corridor proposal. For decades, transportation planners have been studying potential routes to connect Interstate 19 to Interstate 10. At least 18 different studies have been conducted over the years, with none coming to fruition.  

    With a new focus on economic development, and in cooperation with our partners in the Tohono O’odham Nation, the city of Tucson, Town of Sahuarita, Tech Parks Arizona, and the Vail area, we now have a clear plan for an industrial corridor connecting the interstates unencumbered by residential development in the Sonoran Corridor proposal.  

    Federal and state highway officials also are on board with the plan and have initiated a feasibility study and environmental impact analysis of the proposed highway.  The Study is scheduled to be completed by mid-2020, then the detail Raytheon gatedesign can begin for the route recommended in the study. Our hope is that the road will be constructed by 2025 at the latest. 

    This is an exciting development because the Sonoran Corridor holds the potential for immense commercial benefit. The more than 51,000 acres of undeveloped land in this part of our region – while still close to good a workforce, two freeways, a rail line and an airport – provide excellent competitive tools to recruit new or expand existing companies.  

    The proposed route also holds benefits for the trucking industry as it would cut 12 miles and nearly an hour of travel time for trucks traveling through the region. For the trucking industry, this is a huge benefit, since drivers can only work a certain number of hours per day.  

    An economic analysis conducted of the Sonoran Corridor proposal showed the potential impact of this roadway. Once constructed, the road could, over the next 20 years, create 200,000 new jobs, attract billions of dollars of new construction, and spur $32 billion per year of economic activity, effectively doubling Tucson’s annual economic productivity.

    Even while planning and design of the Sonoran Corridor are happening, the area is beginning to grow. Investors have purchased land and developed buildings in that area as well as adjacent ones. HomeGoods built a massive regional distribution center, the Tucson Airport Authority is moving forward with a new runway project, World View and Vector-Launch have joined the Raytheon expansion to add to the technology and logistics focus in the area and Tech Parks Arizona continues to grow with significant expansion plans. 

    The plan also has attracted the interest of utility and freight companies. Tucson Electric Power plans to build a large electric substation in anticipation of the projected industrial needs. We are in talks with Union Pacific Railroad to relocate the Nogales Rail Line and provide rail service through the area, which helps attract logistics and manufacturing opportunities. Our Wastewater Department is developing a sewer line in coordination with other utilities along Old Vail Connection and Aerospace Parkway to serve future development south and southeast of the airport. In addition, Pima County is creating large sites for major development around the Fairgrounds called the Southeast Employment and Logistics Center, which also will be near the route of the Sonoran Corridor.  All of this activity is part of collaborative master planning with many stakeholders that provides a win for everyone in the region.

    The Sonoran Corridor and other plans we have for the southern portion of the region could potentially remake the metro area’s economy for decades to come. This vision is starting to come into focus and it’s very exciting to see.
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