With the Arizona Commerce Authority celebrating its 1st year, jobs remain the focus as the state’s CRE industry reaps the benefits.
In August, Tempe-based First Solar purchased 635 acres in Pinal County for $9.8M and announced plans to build a generating station on the property.
The rapidly expanding, clean-energy company is still constructing its solar module manufacturing plant in Mesa, expected to be up and running by mid-2012 with as many as 600 new, high-paying jobs.
The company also is building generating stations in Gila Bend and Yuma. In January, Power-One opened its first North American manufacturing facility in Phoenix. The California-based company, which makes inverters to convert renewable energy to usable energy, said it will employ as many as 350 people at build-out.
At Power-One’s grand opening ceremonies, Gov. Jan Brewer credited the Arizona Commerce Authority for the big win and for wielding CEO clout and corporate incentives in making Arizona a hot spot for solar companies looking to expand or relocate.
“I have been consistently focused on ensuring Arizona is a magnet for business relocation, capital investment and a catalyst for the creation of new business and new jobs. And, with the work of my Arizona Commerce Authority, we’re seeing tremendous results in the solar space,” Brewer said at the time.
A year after the Arizona Department of Commerce, a government agency, morphed into the Arizona Commerce Authority, a public-private partnership led by a board of directors filled with many of the state’s top business leaders, six solar companies boasting a combined 1,700 new jobs have announced plans to expand or move to Arizona, says Bennett Curry, who has been piloting the organization’s business attraction efforts since it launched.
Besides growth in the renewable energy sector, diverse companies are finding Arizona attractive. They include:
- Amazon, which recently announced plans to add another 1.2 MSF of warehousing space and 200 jobs to its existing Arizona enterprises;
- Able Engineering, which hopes to expand into new manufacturing facilities in Mesa, eventually more than doubling its 230-employee roster within a few years of the expansion;
- Ventana Medical Systems, which is expanding and adding another 500 jobs in Oro Valley.
Best is yet to come
Arizona Commerce Authority counts new jobs, not the square footage to house them, so it’s difficult to estimate the new office, manufacturing and warehousing space represented by the business growth, Curry says.
But while Arizona Commerce Authority’s mission is to generate jobs, Arizona’s commercial real estate industry is a big beneficiary of the growth, adds Mike Haenel, executive vice president Industrial Division at Cassidy Turley/BRE Commercial.
“Job growth creates absorption, construction and new development opportunities for the state’s commercial real estate industry,” Haenel said.
Arizona Commerce Authority has assisted companies such as Amazon, First Solar, Suntech and others with expansions and relocations, he says, but possibly even more important is the organization’s impact convincing local legislators and other Arizonans about the importance of proffering tax breaks and other enticements to snag coveted business.
He credits the prestige of the corporate leaders backing the group with influencing passage of the Arizona competitiveness package. And their combined weightiness as enticing to national business leaders looking for relocation options.
“Even though the Arizona Commerce Authority has only been in existence for one year, and the fact that we are in a slow recovery cycle, the Arizona Commerce Authority has been instrumental in educating the business community and those businesses looking to relocate that Arizona has the incentives available for quality job growth,” Haenel says. “We’re still in a tough economy and having Arizona Commerce Authority can only help the state with job attraction.”
Sundt Construction chairman Doug Pruitt, an Arizona Commerce Authority board member, says the organization has logged some early successes.“Working with Arizona Commerce Authority partners, there has been a
massive reduction in vacant space,” he says. But Pruitt says the biggest bang-for-the-buck is still to come as the organization spent much of its first year laying groundwork.
“Arizona Commerce Authority’s active projects are up 38 percent over a year ago,” Pruitt says. “One of our short-term plans includes aggressive recruitment of California-based firms within our targeted business sectors.”And the vision doesn’t stop at the Pacific Ocean. “Not only are we working to promote the state nationwide, we are taking the message that Arizona is the best place to do business to a global audience,” he says.
DMB Associates chairman Drew Brown, also an Arizona Commerce Authority board member, says each successful recruitment breeds more business. And as the expansions and relocations pile up, a boom in the state’s commercial real estate industry will be a welcome by-product.
“I think Arizona Commerce Authority’s function of attracting high-quality export jobs will be a big shot in the arm for the local economy,” he says. “The multiplier effect will encourage other new jobs.”
As more businesses come to the state, they will fill up vacant residential and commercial real estate, generating demand for new construction and development and the new jobs associated with that. “It’s out there. It will happen,” he says.
Building lasting relationships
Brown, like other Arizona Commerce Authority leaders, says the organization can’t take most of the credit for attracting the impressive influx of new business during its first year.
Arizona Commerce Authority has been forging important strategic relationships with key economic development groups such as Greater Phoenix Economic Council (GPEC) and Tucson Regional Economic Opportunities (TREO) to marshal joint clout, Brown says.
“We are working with the Arizona Commerce Authority on several active projects,” says Laura Shaw, TREO’s senior vice president for Marketing and Communications. “While the authority is still very new and thus getting its legs, so to speak, we have formed a close partnership and have many opportunities moving forward.”
And the Arizona Commerce Authority’s Curry says the new competitiveness package passed early this year opened a lot of doors for Arizona Commerce Authority to pitch the state’s wares.
“Before our toolbox didn’t have a lot of tools,” Curry says. “Now Arizona is ranked high among Western states.”
During a recent trade conference in San Francisco with international companies looking for a U.S. presence, the organization landed 19 meetings with interested prospects, and three are actively pursuing a possible Arizona relocation, he says.
Pruitt adds the Arizona Commerce Authority still faces hurdles — the uncertain global economy and Arizona’s somewhat tarnished reputation regarding school funding, immigration, gun laws and other issues. But he is optimistic.
“Some 300,000 of our residents have lost jobs since the recession began,” Pruitt says. “We realize that people are counting on us to do our job. The Arizona Commerce Authority takes this duty seriously and is focused on a single task — getting businesses to invest in Arizona to create jobs.”