How Gateway Airport has become an economic driver for East Valley
Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport is flying high. In fact, November 2021 marked the busiest November on record for the travel hub, with 147,285 passengers making their way to various destinations. And, speaking of destinations, the steadily growing Gateway Airport offers nonstop service to upwards of 60 cities, including seven added routes courtesy of Allegiant Air (as of November 2021). And, while Arizona’s passengers reap the benefits of the airport’s convenient and expanded offerings, the local economy flourishes as well, with $1.8 billion in annual earnings. But, it’s not just the airport itself that is soaring to new heights; the surrounding region is rising in industrial development, retail options, office space and more.
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History in the making
Before it was the bustling region it is now, Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport was formerly Williams Air Force Base (AFB). In its 52 years in operation, the base played a pivotal role as the U.S. Army Air Corps’ top pilot training facility. It graduated more student pilots and instructors than any other base, with upwards of 26,500 service members earning their wings there. Now, decades later, the airport and region continue to make history as one of the PHX East Valley’s most prized economic development generators.
“It’s exciting to see just how much the area is going to continue to grow,” says Aric Bopp, executive director of economic development and innovation zones for Arizona State University (ASU). “As much activity has taken place in the Phoenix-Mesa Gateway region, I think we’re just scratching the surface.”
Bopp goes on to explain that in terms of development, the entire region isn’t even halfway there, “whether it’s at SkyBridge Arizona, the Northeast side of the airport, south of the airport along the Pecos Road corridor, or the campus that ASU controls as our poly innovation zone,” he says. “All of these projects are just incredibly exciting and still in early stages of development.”
Growth and development have always been a staple of Gateway Airport and the surrounding region. This includes an original Airport Master Plan and Updated Master Plan that were created to accommodate the needs of airport facilities and infrastructure, both in the coming years and decades. The facilitation and success of the Master Plan Update has been guided by Gateway Airport leadership and staff in partnership with financial assistance from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), Arizona Department of Transportation (ADOT) and Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport Authority (PMGAA).
It’s partnerships and collaboration that continue to be the wind beneath the economic wings of progress for the Gateway Airport corridor.
“Everybody sees the benefit and value of coming together and working together,” Bopp says. “You have a wonderful development group consisting of developers and land owners that understand the big picture that are making a good return on investment, but are not being overly greedy in the process, seeing the impact it’s having on the community and the region.”
Bopp also credits education partners in the region such as the East Valley Institute of Technology (EVIT), Chandler-Gilbert Community College (CGCC), ASU, and University of North Dakota (UND), as examples. Additionally, he points to district council member Kevin Thompson, “who is the biggest advocate and proponent of development, smart development and smart growth in the region,” according to Bopp. “Utility providers such as SRP, Union Pacific, the water team at Mesa, and the regional wastewater treatment facility that serves both Gilbert and Mesa,” have also been instrumental to the area’s growth and success, according to Bopp.
Economic development generator
According to the Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport Economic Benefit Study Executive Summary, revenues for the Gateway Airport are projected to reach up to $3 billion by 2027, with more than 26,500 in jobs generated.
As for the future outlook of the Gateway Airport, Ryan Smith, director of communications and government relations for Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport Authority, says, “When it comes to transportation hubs, growth begets more growth. When you have pockets of economic activity, it tends to build upon itself. You see a rise in growth being next to an airport with two converging highway systems, along with a significant rise in population.”
And the local population is taking full advantage of the convenience and provisions Gateway Airport and the extended region offer.
“People have figured out that they can conveniently fly out of an airport that’s close, convenient, and with low-cost carriers that offer fares that are affordable,” Smith says.
But affordability and convenience are not all that locals recognize about the Gateway Airport’s significance to the Greater East Valley — and state. Its value as an economic driver is becoming increasingly more evident.
“I think it’s important for the general public to understand the value of strategic investments in our community,” Smith says. “There was a time in Mesa when Ray Road really didn’t exist and did not connect our roads all the way over to Ellsworth. The City of Mesa invested in that corridor, invested in some water and sewer infrastructure and built a new water treatment facility. They’ve made strategic investments in Southeast Mesa, and now we’re enjoying the benefits of some of those investments.”
And, going back to the notion that “growth begets more growth,” businesses from near and far are relocating to the Gateway Airport corridor to invest in current and future opportunities. Gulfstream, for example, announced in November 2021 that it would build its first facility in Arizona, taking residence in a 225,000 square-foot facility in Gateway.
“I think the announcement about Gulfstream relocating and opening up a service center here at Gateway Airport will be a huge catalyst for additional growth,” Smith says. “I think you’ll see suppliers and other supply chain businesses see the value of being located here.”
Alongside Gulfstream, Amazon, already with an existing and prominent presence in the PHX East Valley, is anticipated to take up residence near the Gateway Airport, adding several warehouse projects.
“We just recently announced Gateway East,” Smith says, “which will be non-aeronautical development on the east side of the airport. That will kick off hundreds of thousands of square feet of retail, office and industrial development. Again, creating jobs, creating economic opportunity, creating an economic benefit for the entire East Valley.”
Real estate development and investment firm CRG is developing The Cubes at Mesa Gateway, which when complete will comprise approximately 4 million square feet of speculative and build-to-suit space. The Cubes sits on a 268-acre piece of land that had been on the market for some time.
“As investments in the Southeast Valley continue to grow, people have larger appetites,” says Steve Larsen, managing director at JLL. “Almost 300 acres is a very big pill to swallow. But you’ve got groups that are buying into what is going on in the Southeast Valley, and CRG capitalized on that. We already have multiple users looking for upwards of 500,000 square feet with offers being traded. We have tremendous activity from Fortune 100 companies that are currently evaluating The Cubes. We think this is going to be the premier site for large box industrial in the region.”
Near The Cubes development, Ryan Companies is building Confluence at Mesa Gateway. Positioned on 35 acres, the development will feature six speculative industrial buildings ranging from 32,000 square feet to 176,000 square feet.
As for future announcements of new arrivals, we can anticipate hearing more as we soar through 2022 and beyond.