by Joe Pyritz, Public Information Officer
Between balancing the $3.3 billion in economic development projects in the county and many other future projects in the pipeline, Kanavel hasn’t had much time to sit down and assess what he has seen in the past year.
But it wasn’t always like that for Kanavel.
“When I first got here in 2009, I was given an office, phone and not much else,” Kanavel recalled. “The idea was for me to help bring businesses in, but there was not much consensus on how to do it.”
During that time, Kanavel took some advice from then County Manager Terry Doolittle.
“He told me, ‘If you are going to sell the county, you need to know the county,’” Kanavel said. “So I picked up a vehicle from our fleet management and started hitting every road inside this county.”
Now keep in mind that Pinal County encompasses 5,376 square miles. That’s larger than the states of Connecticut, Rhode Island and Delaware. Each week, Kanavel put over a 1,000 miles on his vehicle.
Doolittle’s advice paid off. Today, Kanavel can tell you where every acre of available land is located across the county. In the end, his knowledge of Pinal County has impressed prospective entrepreneurs from Denver to Dubai.
“You try to wrap your head around all the projects that have come to Pinal County in 2016 and it seems improbable, if not impossible,” stated Board of Supervisors Chairman Todd House. “When we sat for the first time as a Board of Supervisors in 2013, we knew what we wanted to do. It took strategic planning to help bring that vision of more jobs to Pinal County in focus. We realized this county had the assets that businesses wanted, but we knew it was going to take a serious commitment on our part and dedication by our staff to make it happen.”
Those assets the Supervisors saw are: Available land, two interstate highways, rail service, being located between two major international airports and an available workforce.
“If you don’t have the workforce, then you really aren’t in the game,” said Vice-Chairman Anthony Smith. “One of the best moves we ever made was to create our own Workforce Investment Board and concentrate on making sure we are finding these employers the right employees. We also want to find those who are looking for work the right job for them. As of November this year, our unemployment rate was low at 4.9 percent. It is up to us to keep those employers coming in and furthering our workforce’s education so we can keep on getting these jobs of the future.”
Smith pointed to the five job development areas that the board agreed to pursue – aerospace and defense, manufacturing, health services, transportation logistics, along with natural and renewable resources.
Under the Supervisors direction, Pinal County’s Public Works, Air Quality, Community Development and Economic Development departments started working together to further expedite the permitting process. They developed Priority Express Permitting for businesses that qualify for the streamlined process.
“I’ve always believed that if government gets out of the way, businesses will be able to thrive,” said Supervisor Steve Miller. “Our philosophy is that we are here to facilitate not just regulate. The express permitting program has caught the eye of a lot of businesses who want to locate here. We’re not skipping important steps in the permitting process, we’re just giving those who meet the criteria a chance to move forward faster than those who are beginning from the ground up and need extra help from our staff.”
One of the challenges facing the county is its size. When you have a county that is larger than the state of Connecticut, you are going to have vastly different areas of need. The western and central portions of Pinal County are relatively flat with a reliance on agriculture. The northern section boasts its scenic Superstition Mountains and being near the East Valley of the Phoenix metropolitan area. The eastern section is mountainous and scenic with a reliance on mining.
Supervisor Pete Rios, who represents the eastern side of Pinal County, has seen the area go from the king of copper production to a set of communities struggling to survive.
“You had an area as little as 20 years ago that was known worldwide for the best copper production anywhere,” Rios said. “The downturn in copper prices during the late 90s was disastrous for this region. One of the largest copper mines in America closed its doors in June of 1999 and they put over 2,500 people out of a job overnight. While that could have been a knock-out blow for many areas, these people persevered. It’s just a matter of finding out what is the right fit for the region.”
An answer to those residents’ search for the right fit came in January 2016. An enterprising group of local adventure-lovers bought a piece of property on the northern end of the Catalina Mountains just outside of the town of Oracle. Arizona Zipline Adventures began its five zipline operation using just a handful of employees. Today, they employ over 40 workers to help people experience the longest zipline in Arizona.
“This has been a huge win, not only for the zipline people, but for the entire area,” Kanavel exclaimed. “They are putting local people to work and they are using local vendors to provide a small restaurant for the patrons.”
This “eco-tourism” has been a financial boon to the eastern side of Pinal County.
“The area is beautiful,” said Supervisor Cheryl Chase, who used to work as a nurse at one of the local mines in the area. “You’re up in the high Sonoran Desert; you are surrounded by 10,000-foot mountains. It’s quiet, scenic and has everything for an outdoor-lover.”
The supervisors are determined to help spread the word about the amenities Pinal County has to offer for those coming in from across the country and across the globe. Kanavel and other administrative staff have procured the services of an Arizona marketing and public relations firm to help spread the word about tourism and business opportunities nationally and internationally.
“We were simply not able to produce everything we needed to do in-house,” Kanavel said. “It was decided that to augment our Public Information Officer’s efforts, we would enlist the help of an outside firm. We picked one with a national and international reputation for excellence. We really look forward to seeing what Moses, Incorporated, along with us, can come up with.”
In 2016, Pinal County has taken the step from a rural, sleepy area into a business juggernaut. In the middle of the year, Attesa announced it was going to build a major motorsports complex just south of Interstate 8. While still in the planning stages, Attesa looks to have not only racing tracks, but research and development opportunities and residential sites along with its own runway.
In November, Lucid Motors formally announced its intention of building an auto production facility north of Interstate 8 on the corner of Selma Highway and Thornton Road.
While those two announcements have garnered national and international press attention, County Manager Greg Stanley says the region has seen some other large companies start their operations in 2016.
“We’ve had a very good year with companies like Tractor Supply, Sheffield Lubricants, Applegate Insulation, Arizona Zipline Adventures and New Holland Agriculture starting up,” Stanley said. “We can always point to the future and say this is in the planning stages, or that is in development. But we have started to see our efforts in the past few years come to reality when it comes to these five companies.”
With a track record of success, it would be easy to just sit back and wait for businesses to start coming your way.
“We can’t sit pat,” Kanavel said. “We were told that we don’t want to stop this economic freight train because it is almost impossible to start rolling again. It is our intention to keep getting the message out about who Pinal County is, what Pinal County has to offer and how you can be a part of Pinal County. It’s not that hard because, in reality, the county almost sells itself. We are no longer a best kept secret in Arizona.”
Pinal County in 2016:
- Capital investment amounts to over $3 Billion
- Jobs created: 8,000
- Companies beginning operations this year: 5
- Companies currently under construction or in planning stages: 9
To see where Pinal County is going and how to jump on this economic freight train go to: http://www.pinalcountyaz.gov/ed/Pages/Home.aspx.