Pinal County, Arizona’s third largest by population, has experienced a manufacturing renaissance in recent years. Located between the state’s two biggest cities, the municipalities in Pinal County have become prime targets for businesses looking to locate in the Grand Canyon State — especially manufacturers.
“Pinal County is the fastest growing area in the state for jobs and people,” explains Sandra Watson, president and CEO of the Arizona Commerce Authority (ACA). “From July 2020 to July 2021, Pinal County added just shy of 20,000 residents, which is nearly 5% growth. And with some of the most recent announcements, we’ve added 3,500 people that are now newly employed in the manufacturing sector in Pinal County, and there are 100 businesses which contribute over $8.5 billion to the county’s economy.”
As the state continues to welcome more people and businesses, this rapidly growing county is becoming an increasingly important part of Arizona’s diversifying economy.
Pinal County manufacturing
For Eloy Mayor Micah Powell, the reopening of the Owens Corning insulation manufacturing facility in Eloy is something of a homecoming. The 42,500-square-foot facility shuttered over a decade ago amidst the Great Recession, leaving the building long vacant.
“Owens Corning has had a place in the community for many years. I even worked there when I was younger,” he says. “When they closed, it took a big portion of our employment factor away, so we’re really excited for them to [reopen]. It’s about 50 to 60 jobs, but they’re good paying jobs.”
Adding to the city’s job creators is Vext Science, a Canadian medical marijuana company that purchased a 72,000-square-foot facility for its grow operation. Furthermore, a 2022 economic development brochure for the City of Eloy notes that National Gypsum intends to build a 500,000-square-foot wallboard manufacturing plant anticipated to open in mid-2023. Minutes from an Eloy City Council meeting on Sept. 27, 2021, shows approval for a development agreement with Gold Bond Building Products, LLC — an affiliate of National Gypsum — to construct a wallboard facility within the Sunshine Industrial Park.
But Eloy isn’t the only city in Pinal County that has caught the eye of manufacturers. On Feb. 17, 2022, the ACA published a press release stating that Kohler, a kitchen and bath brand, is constructing a manufacturing facility, ancillary warehouse and office space on 216 acres in Casa Grande. The 1-million-square-foot facility will bring 400 jobs to the city, with the potential for future expansion.
Richard Wilkie, economic development director for the City of Casa Grande, adds that Kohler’s decision came after a long search. One of the benefits of locating in Casa Grande, according to Wilkie, is the cost of property. He notes that land prices are significantly more affordable compared to Metro Phoenix, and it was properly zoned for Kohler’s needs.
Powell agrees that the availability of property is a huge benefit for economic development and manufacturing in Pinal County.
“We’re willing to bring somebody in and see what’s best for all parties. We’re not going to be picky and say, ‘Oh no, you’re this or that and we don’t want you here,’” he explains. “We do have to make sure that it’s the best for the City of Eloy, but we have plenty of land, it’s zoned out and we’ve redone our general plan. We’re ready — now is the time.”
While the availability and affordability of land in Pinal County is a benefit for those communities, it’s not the only reason companies are choosing to locate between Arizona’s two largest population centers.
“The connectivity of having Interstate 8, Interstate 10 and the mainline to the Union Pacific Railroad was another draw for [Kohler],” Wilkie notes. “They can get their products to market by rail, by truck and we’re within one hour of three major airports. Those are all key elements for manufacturing and logistics companies to consider a site which we had to offer.”
The region is also receiving a significant boon from Governor Ducey’s recent announcement that the state will make an up-front investment of $400 million to widen Interstate 10. The total cost is estimated to be under $1 billion, with $700 million of that coming from state funding.
The widening of the I-10 will not only make travel safer and quicker but will also make employment opportunities in Pinal County more attractive for folks living in the East Valley.
“Workforce is always key for any company,” Wilkie explains. “We have direct access to the same highly educated and talented workforce as the Metro Valley communities because it’s about 30 minutes down the way to Casa Grande and it’s going against traffic so you’re not in rush hour congestion. It’s more windshield time than anything.”
As more businesses choose to locate in Pinal County, they serve as a proof of concept for other organizations looking to do the same.
“These companies are successful because they’re smart and they do their due diligence,” Wilkie concludes. “When you have Kohler, Frito Lay, Abbott Nutrition, Lucid — these really solid companies locating here, it makes people think, ‘Maybe we should check out Casa Grande.’ It’s almost like the old telephone trees. You tell two people, they tell two people and that’s how the word continues to get out.”