May 3, 2006 - In February, the Marana Town Council voted to pay a new economic development machine $50,000 this year to expand businesses and bring jobs to the town.
Council members warned representatives of the Tucson Regional Economic Opportunities, Inc. that if they did not produce, Marana would cut its funding.
Last July, TREO rose from the ashes of the Greater Tucson Economic Council, which for years had promised to bring jobs and businesses to the Tucson region.
In 2000, when GTEC ran into financial troubles, representatives asked Marana officials for more money. Marana - which had paid the organization $50,000 per year - gave GTEC $200,000 up front for four years of service.
Nothing much came of it, and in 2004 Marana cut its funding to $5,000 a year.
A consolidation of GTEC and the city of Tucson and Pima County's economic development departments, TREO already has fielded inquiries about Marana from large companies, Vice President of Business Development Lee Smith said.
An aerospace product manufacturer based in Las Vegas had considered land around the Marana Regional Airport, but an age-old hurdle tripped up Marana.
The company wanted to relocate sooner than Marana could provide the infrastructure.
"I think we were a little bit ahead of where Marana thought it was," Smith said. "I mean, it's like the question, what do you want to be when you grow up?"
Marana lacks large swaths of industrial-zoned land, which would attract larger companies, Smith said. An international office products manufacturer also met with TREO and Marana officials, but unofficially has chosen another location.
The company could have brought about 100 jobs to Marana, Smith estimated.
The 2000 U.S. Census counted almost 14,000 working Marana residents. At the same time, the town offered less than 7,000 jobs.
A recent survey of national site selectors found that Tucsonans view themselves much differently than people looking to move their companies. Tucson business leaders referred to their city as an "emerging high-tech center."
More than 20 site selectors referred to Tucson as "call center saturated" and "less competitive than Phoenix." Some even said, "Don't know much about it."
TREO has met several times with Marana Assistant Town Manager Jim DeGrood to discuss a plan of action. The discussions have focused on making information more readily available to companies looking to move to the Tucson area.
TREO continues to redesign its Web site, which will feature a sub-site for the town of Marana and other jurisdictions that fund the non-profit organization.
"We need to be better coordinated and get out of war-room tools," Smith said.
TREO wants to include more information about Marana for its "property blasts," quick-hitting e-mail summaries about what kind and how much land a company needs.
Marana has started creating maps of available land, which depict land at points along Interstate 10 and near the airport. These maps soon will appear on the TREO Web site.
Already, Marana officials seemed refreshed with the access they have had to TREO. Rarely, if ever, did GTEC travel to Marana for meetings.
"I personally reached out to GTEC," Marana Chamber of Commerce President Ed Stolmaker said, recounting the drive he made to the organization's offices on Stone Avenue.
Marana Mayor Ed Honea could not recall a time when Marana officials had a personal meeting with GTEC representatives.
Last week, Smith met for the first time with a local biotechnology company that expressed interest in relocating to Marana. The company will meet with Marana officials in next couple of weeks.
"This looks like a real one," Smith said after the initial meeting. "It's not a lot of jobs, but it's high-tech."
The company's president lives in Tucson and has partners across the country. The company needs at least 50 acres and has considered the Gila Bend area, too.
"We're sizing them up, they're sizing us up," Smith said.
The mayor at a February town council meeting expressed disgust about GTEC's inability to bring jobs to Marana. He thinks Marana has plenty to offer larger companies. GTEC just failed to take advantage of it, he said.
"We have the freeway and the railroad and state land they're looking to lease all around the airport," Honea said. "That's a prime corridor."
In fact, developer Mike Zipprich has planned a 7,000-home project on more than 1,800 acres just east of the interstate from Grier Road north into Pinal County. The developer and town officials have discussed setting aside industrial land in the development for a railroad business.
"That's kind of the cold water over the head," DeGrood said. "We don't have a lot of industrial land available."
Several acres of light industrial-zoned land exist southwest of Orange Grove and Thornydale roads and at Silverbell and Ina roads. Continental Ranch Industrial Park has more than 100 available acres, according to town records.
Whereas GTEC focused on attracting businesses, TREO has put more emphasis on expanding existing area businesses. It plans to do this through obtaining workforce training grants for local companies. Last year, Marana-based Sargent Controls and Aerospace - which employs more than 200 - received a $235,000 grant from the state department of commerce.
"We're doing more than recruitment," TREO Executive Vice President Kendall Bert said. "We're focusing on retention, expansion and recruitment. The most important thing is our working relationship with our partners."
TREO's partners include Marana, Oro Valley, Tucson, Pima County and several private organizations.
Diamond Ventures President David Goldstein served on GTEC's board for several years. The development firm - which has close ties to Marana - helped with GTEC's fundraising in the private sector.
A competitive air hung over GTEC, as the organization's different entities "all wanted to take credit for leads," Goldstein said.
In addition, GTEC had to answer to several "masters," as each jurisdiction used its own benchmark to measure success, he added.
"Is it the number of jobs? Is it the pay of the jobs? And so on."
Marana has no specific benchmark, DeGrood said.
"The ultimate goal, I guess, is to produce or increase the best economic environment for the town."
For the time being, that looks like more commercial development than industrial. Companies like Wal-Mart and Costco continue to offer the most jobs in Marana, and most of the town's industrial land is currently in use.
Stolmaker and the chamber of commerce have identified eight commercial areas in Marana, prime for development. Interested parties can get parcel identification numbers by stopping by the chamber's visitor center.
"For Marana, it's a matter of having the infrastructure in place," Stolmaker said, echoing others. "Economic development isn't something that happens overnight."
DeGrood and Town Manager Mike Reuwsaat this month will travel to Austin as part of a TREO-organized trip. With large companies like Dell and Sun Microsystems coexisting with an artsy, college scene, Austin has created a template for Tucson to follow, DeGrood said.