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Businesses growing, jobs coming in East Valley

All of this week, KTAR is presenting its “Voice for a Better Arizona” series called “Working for Arizona.”

TEMPE, Ariz. — A groundbreaking ceremony was recently held for the new Southwest College of Naturopathic medicine in Tempe.

Mayor Mark Mitchell said it’s just one of many new developments in his city.

“We have Liberty Property Trust developing 100 acres on the corner of Rio Salado and Priest,” said Mitchell. “We also have Go Daddy developing down at the (Arizona State University) Research Park. They’re building a 150,000-square-foot facility.”

There’s also a new hotel and conference center to be built at University and Mill.

“Who wouldn’t want to come to Tempe?” Mitchell asked. “We’re the only city in the Valley is surrounded by five freeways.”

Mesa Mayor Scott Smith said most of the jobs that are being created in his town are low-paying jobs of $20,000-a-year or less. He hopes that recent announcements of companies moving here will change that.

“Things like the Apple announcement will go toward restoring well-paying jobs and building upon the well-paying jobs that we need to have long-term sustainability,” said Smith. “We’re just not there yet.”

Apple recently bought a vacant factory in east Mesa, and will lease it to GT Advanced Technologies, which will supply Sapphire Glass for some of Apple’s tech products.
Thirteen-hundred construction workers will be hired to get the building ready for GT. Once open, it will employ 700 workers with an average salary of $50,000 a year.

It’s a hint that things may be looking up for the east Valley.

“We’re not booming yet, but there’s definitely signs, and technology is one of them,” said economist Dennis Hoffman with ASU’s W. P. Carey School of Business. “We are creating jobs at about the same occupational and industrial mix as the rest of the nation right now. But we’ve also seen some bright spots in financial services, and, to some degree, technology. The showcase one is certainly Apple.”

A $10 million grant from the Arizona Commerce Authority helped lure Apple, and Hoffman said that Arizona needs to keep offering incentives.

Smith said Mesa is doing a good job attracting companies.

“What we don’t do a good job with is creating buildups — companies that go from the beginning and then become the medium and large companies. That’s really what we’re trying to work on. That’s really our focus,” Smith said. “We want to create that atmosphere, that environment, that platform where companies can not only start, but they can thrive. They can get the expertise, they can get the support, and eventually can get the financing, because we want companies to stay here.

“We have too many ideas that are nurtured here, that are germinated here, and then they go off to Silicon Valley or someplace else where they can become something significant.”

Can the East Valley become the next Silicon Valley?

“I don’t think that the economic development community in Silicon Valley is looking over their shoulder and worrying too much about us yet,” Hoffman said.

But Hoffman thinks the East Valley should continue to work to change that notion. He said there are advantages to coming to Arizona, including lower costs for housing and land on which companies can grow.

Smith said that economic growth is something that Arizona’s next governor will have to think about.

“The next governor will probably face an improving economy, and will face some incredible challenges as to what to do with the state in that economy,” said Smith. “Not only from a state expenditure, but how do we truly build an economy in a state that’s competitive in a global economy?”

Smith hopes that he’s in the governor’s seat to face those challenges in Arizona. He announced his candidacy for the job earlier this month.