Photo by Brent Mathis
Candid Camera: Joe Snell captures the big picture of Tucson
Usually when people are trying to get inspired, they look up. That may not be the case concerning Tucson and its surrounding areas in the near future.
Joe Snell, president and CEO of Tucson Regional Economic Opportunities, says Southern Arizona is celebrating its best year since 2007. With news of HomeGoods, Comcast and LCMS moving into or expanding in Tucson, job numbers and capital investment are soaring. A win for Tucson, is a win for Phoenix, he adds. Snell wants Arizona’s economic developers to think bigger, and that’s why the organization announced in June it changed its name to Sun Corridor, Inc., which has 56 board members who represent 85 percent of all employers south of Phoenix.
Let’s talk about some of these good announcements coming out of Tucson.
There’s no doubt the recession hit Arizona hard. Southern Arizona was hit especially hard. It has been a rough run of it for six or seven years. We’ve been more aggressive into our operations than we were pre-recession. In every measure, we’ve had the best year since going into the recession. We ended up announcing, between major expansions or relocations, 14 major projects. … We did add two more foreign trade zone magnet sites to Pinal County… We opened our footprint by offering them two FTZ sites. … We’re actively selling Pinal County. It’s a natural segue to Sun Corridor. The name change, more than anything, is just catching up to the reality of what’s happening on the ground.
What is the significance of Sun Corridor?
One of the mantras we have with that is we just need one market. Sun Corridor is loosely a term for all these cities (in Southern Arizona). … We are the biggest bi-national economic development group in the nation, which means we’re working both sides of the border. Mexico is an integral part of our future economy. We plan to have a strong presence there. We’re one market divided by a border. We want people to look at Southern Arizona and Northern Mexico as one market.
What is Sun Corridor’s statement about the difference it will make?
We want to shape and maximize economic opportunities for Arizona. I think Southern Arizona will be an economic convergence center for the U.S., Mexico and Canada.
Last year, when we talked, you mentioned creative fundraising initiatives. Where is Sun Corridor at with these?
The vast majority of our funding is private. Funding is not an issue for us. We’re doing very well. We’re providing a strong vision. We’re healthy with good reserves. (Paying for infrastructure) is still an issue for us. We’ve worked closely with the rest of the business community and local government to support a bond issue that could put $800M back into the system. I have a 56-member board that voted unanimously on this. If we don’t invest in our own roads and economic development initiatives, who will? … What I’m saying is that maybe 15 years ago, we would have looked at the federal government to underwrite us. Now, we’re taking control of our destiny.
What is one of Tucson’s most understated values?
I think Tucson is well-known but not well understood. There are a lot of values here that are not well-understood. The talent pool is deep and rich at all levels. We have great high-tech and craftsmen. Our strategic location is just super. It’s not just Tucson. It’s Southern Arizona. Big markets in California and growing in Mexico…they’re going to be an economic superpower quickly.
How has the Banner-University Health Network merger affected SoutherN Arizona?
I was extremely supportive of the Banner partnership. One problem we have in Arizona is we think in pockets. We think too small. We’re one market. When I was in New York, Phoenix is five times the size of Tucson but no one has heard of it. They see L.A., Chicago and everything else in between. I came out of Denver doing this. In Southern Arizona, we embrace regionality. Maybe UA brings something no one else does. Let’s work as one market. Banner Health’s work does point to one market. I love their slogan: No boundaries. We embrace that.