Jan. 19, 2005 - Marana government and business leaders say they hope to reach agreements with state officials this year that would allow for the expansion of industrial and commercial development surrounding the Marana Regional Airport.

Ed Stolmaker, executive director of the Marana Chamber of Commerce, said he considers the area an ideal place to bring to Marana high-paying jobs, including manufacturing, which would use the airport for its business operations.

With traffic at the airport increasing every year, Stolmaker said, the airport will need to expand and grow, requiring the need for more mechanics.

"That's a great opportunity for the business community and Marana to grow," he said. "But the state wants to lease the land and a business doesn't want to lease the land from the state. They want to own the property."

The land Stolmaker refers to is largely composed of cotton fields, which the state currently leases to farmers. But the area is changing, he said.

"The important thing is that we need to be able to have an area that we can develop commercially, and provide good-paying jobs for the residents of Marana," he said.

The Marana Regional Airport, 11700 W. Avra Valley Road, was purchased by the town in 1999 and is operated by Marana.

Classified as a "general aviation reliever" for Tucson International, the airport is home to more than 250 aircraft and had more than 75,000 takeoffs and landings in 2003, according to its Web site.

Town Manager Mike Reuwsaat agreed that state land use is an issue the town will deal with this year as a top priority. Commercial usage of the land surrounding the airport would be ideal, he said.

"We'd love to have that be a major employment center, creating close-to-home jobs for Marana residents and county residents," he said. "But working with state land is a very slow process. They have a much longer-term horizon for their goals than we do, and that's part of the issue."

Reuwsaat said Marana officials met about three weeks ago with several state land officials and hope to initiate "an urban planning process to jointly plan that area."

"We'd like to know what's inside the fence and what's outside the fence for industrial development," he said.

As part of last year's county bond election, about $2.8 million was allocated in revenue bonds to build a sewer system at the airport - the last critical utility needed to provide for development and industrial expansion in that area, Reuwsaat said.

Stolmaker said last week he'd be sure to bring up the issue during the chamber's first monthly conference call with the Arizona Chamber of Commerce Jan. 14.

"They don't have anything about state land reform (on their agenda), but that's an issue for me," he said.

On Jan. 26, members from the various chambers throughout the state will pay a special visit to the Legislature. Stolmaker said Marana Chamber members will make the trip that day, but because the group doesn't have its own lobbyist, much of its legislative agenda this year will be pursued through a letter writing campaign and dealings through the state chamber.

He said the chamber has placed tax relief for business on its legislative agenda this year. Stolmaker said he and other chamber members had lunch with Gov. Janet Napolitano Jan. 12 where tax relief for business was a consensus priority.

Business property taxes currently are taxed at a rate 2.5 times that of residential property of equal value. Stolmaker cited Rep. Steve Huffman's, R-26, five-year plan to reduce business taxes from 25 to 20 percent - a bill the Tucson Republican may put before the Legislature this session.

Other items on the town's legislative agenda that will be pursued through the Pima Association of Governments include maintaining the integrity of the Regional Transportation Authority and Capital Improvement Program funding, Reuwsaat said.

He noted that the Pima Association of Governments has a legislative package that includes supporting the restoration of Highway User Revenue Funds to the area.

"We always want to protect and retain our share of state revenue," he said.

Marana's lobbying is done through Racy Associates at the state level. On the federal level, the town contracts through Art Chapa and Marshall Brachman.

Other issues the Arizona Chamber will deal with this year, Stolmaker said, include worker compensation issues and tort reform for doctors whose insurance premiums have multiplied, causing many to leave the profession, and leave for the state in dire need of doctors. The chamber hopes to pursue a cap on the amount for which someone could sue and keep premiums at a decent level, he said.

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