Pima and Pinal Counties cooperate toward economic development
By Joe Pyritz
Nikola. Lucid. Severtson. Attesa. Green Gas Partners. Different companies. One location: Pinal County.
In the past month, Pinal County has landed a very impressive list of firms; some making their plans known ahead of time and others announcing after keeping their intentions quiet. Pinal County Economic Development Program Manager Tim Kanavel said these successes do not happen in a vacuum.
“First of all, Economic Development is a blood sport,” Kanavel said. “It’s not for the faint of heart. With that being said, anytime you find entities that work together, you will see success like this.”
In August, Nikola Motors announced the location of a manufacturing plant located to the north of Interstate 10 at Exit 211 B, otherwise known as Highway 87. The plant will be located in the city of Coolidge.
Last year, the city of Buckeye and the Arizona Commerce Authority had worked together to bring Nikola to the state.
Landing a project like this took the combined efforts of the city of Coolidge, Pinal County, Pima County and the Arizona Commerce Authority.
It’s not uncommon to find neighboring municipalities trying to outbid each other to land a manufacturing plant, distribution center or a call center, but Pima and Pinal Counties are fighting against that perception by joining together to merge their strengths to balance out their weaknesses. The results have been positive and promising.
“The location of Nikola Motors south of Coolidge is a major boost for the manufacturing economy and workforce in central and southern Arizona,” John Moffatt, Pima County Economic Development Director said. “Congratulations to the city of Coolidge and Pinal County on their “Can-Do” attitude that makes these kinds of successes possible; and thank you, Nikola Motors for choosing to expand in Arizona.”
With 1,700 high-paying new jobs heading to Pinal County, it becomes incumbent to find the workforce with the skills necessary to make Nikola a successful project. That’s where regional collaborations play a key role in landing these projects.
“We have the land, they have the workforce,” said Board of Supervisors Chairman Todd House. “A project like this isn’t possible without those two components. Partnering with Pima County to land projects like Nikola Motors makes sense. In the end, everyone wins. It’s good government in action.”
Projections have Arizona’s population growing faster than the national average. University of Arizona’s Eller College of Management Economist George Hammond forecasts that the state’s population will gain 3.2 million residents by 2047. This will put an emphasis on bringing in jobs for those moving to the area in the next 30 years.
“The selection of the city of Coolidge and Pinal County for the location of a new $900 million manufacturing plant for Nikola’s next generation semi-trucks is a major win for our region,” said Pima County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry. “This kind of success is only possible through sound preparation and collaboration among a number of partners. Nikola’s workforce needs will provide excellent jobs for workers in both Pinal and Pima Counties. We look forward to any collaborative efforts Pima County can provide to assist in making this a success.”
Nikola isn’t the only company to have big news for Pinal County in the last month, Lucid Motors announced in September that they had reached a financial deal to begin construction on their plant located in Casa Grande.
Lucid will be building electric cars at the plant in Casa Grande, bringing 1,700 highly technical and high paying jobs with it. Again, the workforce will be key in keeping Lucid profitable and the cars in production.
“This is where those collaborations with entities pay off,” Supervisor Steve Miller said. “Just look at the progress Central Arizona College (CAC) has made with its Industrial Maintenance Certificate program. They are already producing graduates who are getting work around the area.”
Kanavel agreed. “Dr. Jackie Elliott and the Governing Board of CAC have taken the reins of helping to train the next generation of workers that Lucid, Nikola, Attesa and the other companies need. They are making tremendous strides of reaching students in elementary school to prepare them for what kind of employment will be around when they graduate. Without CAC and their new direction of preparing local workers for local jobs, we’d be in a world of hurt in trying to catch the eye of even one of these companies.”
ARIZONA@WORK Pinal County has also played a big role in catching the eye of many potential employers. Pinal County is one of 12 local workforce areas that are branded as ARIZONA@WORK across the state. The mission for the public/private partnership is to help meet the workforce needs of employers in Arizona.
“This has been an extremely busy year,” stated Joel Millman, Workforce Development Program Manager. “We are the jobs center of Pinal County, and it is incumbent upon us to make sure our employers have the people they need to conduct business. We have some large companies with some large workforce demands coming in the next few years. It’s given us the time to plan and prepare for bringing in nearly 5,000 highly technical workers. It’s going to be challenge, but we are up for it. This is where our collaboration with our ARIZONA@WORK colleagues from around the state pays off.”
Now, with the association of Pinal County with auto manufacturing and a major auto testing facility in Attesa, the next step is into fuel sources for the future.
Solar power has been making numerous inroads in Pinal County with a 257 acre plant opening in May near Coolidge, along with two more going through the planning process. The county is also home to a large ethanol plant in Maricopa and soon-to-be-opened bio fuel plant just outside Stanfield.
“I have advocated that we streamline our processes to greatly reduce the amount of time it takes companies wanting to open a solar plant or any other alternative fuel source here,” said Supervisor Anthony Smith. “It just makes a lot of sense.”
Officials in both Pinal and Pima County have been intrigued by the numerous opportunities that Pinal Air Park offers to many different companies. The airpark, on the border of Pinal and Pima Counties, has been busy with more and more companies leasing space for repair and deconstruction of aircraft.
“I can see us working even further with our partners in Pima County on bringing more employment opportunities to the airpark,” Kanavel said. “There is so much space out there, it’s a literal goldmine of opportunities for new employment sectors.”
Working together has paid dividends for both counties. Officials say that this won’t be last time you see them partner up to land new employment opportunities.
“There is a lot of open land between us and Pima County,” said Pinal County Manager Greg Stanley. “I can see us working with them to explore employment opportunities at Pinal Airpark, or take advantage of the transportation corridors of Interstate 10 and the Union Pacific Railroad. There are a lot possibilities and the only limit is our imagination.”
Picture above: Nikola’s next generation semi-trucks will soon be manufactured in Coolidge, AZ