Marana's contribution to the Greater Tucson Economic Council would be pared to its lowest level in more than eight years if the Town Council approves the funding for GTEC now being recommended by Town Manager Mike Reuwsaat.

Four years ago, Marana paid GTEC $200,000 in advance to cover the town's $50,000 annual contributions through the 2004 fiscal year. It was the only local community to make such a commitment, in the hope that the money would spur the agency to find industries interested in locating to Marana.

It hasn't happened. Only one company, Automation Plating Corp., has found its way to Marana because of GTEC's assistance, town leaders acknowledge. The company moved into the Continental Ranch Business Park in 1999, before the town's $200,000 payment. There has been little expansion of that business since.

It is largely due to GTEC's inability to bring new industry to Marana that Reuwsaat is recommending GTEC's budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1 be cut from $50,000 annually to $5,000 and that future funding for GTEC be reviewed annually rather than providing that funding up front on a multiyear basis.

The $5,000 figure, matching what Oro Valley contributes, would represent the lowest funding level since the period from 1993 through 1996 when the town allocated just $5,000 because it was so strapped for cash.

"It's a reflection of the contribution we've received from GTEC," said Finance Director Roy Cuaron.

The town has been handicapped in terms of its inability to meet the needs of a major industry because of a lack of infrastructure, but "where there are opportunities, nothing has materialized," Reuwsaat said.

"If you ask me about satisfaction, we wish we could have had at least one or two industries a year relocating to Marana and that hasn't occurred," Reuwsaat said. "And you just don't go four years without. You can't be happy with that type of performance."

As a result, Marana must re-examine its funding, "given that it hasn't proven very productive in the end in terms of recruiting businesses or industry to Marana,” he said.

"My concern is do we get the value we need for Marana and is Marana ready to expend $50,000 a year given that some of the infrastructure, the sewer, electrical and those sorts of things are not in place in some of the places we need, such as at the airport and along Interstate 10.

"My recommendation is going to be to remain a partner with GTEC, but not at the funding level we are now until we get additional infrastructure in place that you can really recruit to and we come up with an approach to recruiting that is more specific to Marana so that we do end up with industry here as a result of what GTEC is doing."

The $732 million Pima County bond package recently approved by voters should go a long way in helping Marana correct its infrastructure deficiencies.

The package included $2.8 million to design and build a sewer system for the Marana Northwest Regional Airport to expand its industrial base and $10 million to expand the existing sewer facility east of Trico Road near the Santa Cruz River to address area development.

Construction on both projects is expected to begin between 2004 and 2006 and be completed by 2010.

The town also is looking to acquire additional state land north and east of the airport to create a corporate jet center and other uses and at the same time protect the airport from residential encroachment.

GTEC President and CEO Steve Weathers said his group has responded to more than 50 requests from companies inquiring about land availability in Marana over the past year and a half and conducted five tours of the town for prospective businesses so far this year alone.

"They keep telling us they're not ready because of the infrastructure problems, so the question is, is there product to be sold," Weathers said.

Marana is convinced there is and that at times it just doesn't match up with the product that GTEC is trying to sell, such as companies looking for rail spur access or those looking to open their doors in 18 months.

While the $200,000 advanced by Marana to GTEC went into GTEC's general fund, a portion of it was used to hire National Community Development Services to raise money to counter a loss of funds from the county. Weathers said about $1.5 million was raised.

At the time, GTEC set a goal to create 10,500 new jobs between January 2001 and June of 2005 with the assistance those funds provided. GTEC has helped create 6,893 jobs so far, or 90 percent of the jobs it intended to create by this time, Weathers said.

Of the 10,500 jobs, GTEC had hoped 1,500 of those would be in several key technology clusters. That goal has been exceeded nearly three times over, even in the shorter time frame, he said.

Weathers said he appreciated Marana's willingness to continue to support GTEC on a regional level and understood the town's desire to put its money into parks, infrastructure and retail development rather than contribute as much to GTEC.

Such moves will only help GTEC sell a better product, Weathers said, adding that the most important keys to getting new businesses into a community are elements such as infrastructure, workforce, housing, roads and quality of life.

"Marana has been a very good partner with us and as a result of the completion of its fire supression system at the airport and the passage of bonds to make sewer improvements possible, the town should see increased interest from companies seeking to locate there," he said.

Reuwsaat said town leaders believed at the time the $200,000 commitment was made that infrastructure necessary to accommodate growth would be in place sooner.

Although that hasn't happened to the desired degree, because of that commitment Marana has gained a greater voice in regional economic development planning with Mayor Bobby Sutton Jr. on the GTEC board and as a member of a recently formed regional economic development committee, Reuwsaat said.

That group, formed earlier this year, is working toward a more regional approach to economic development, better coordination of economic development and workforce development and improved oversight and accountability with a goal toward creating a single agency to oversee all economic development. Recommendations toward that goal are expected by the end of the year

"I think that's productive," Reuwsaat said. "And if what works best regionally is GTEC, then they should be taking the lead," but whatever comes out of it must address the needs of the smaller communities such as Marana, Oro Valley and Sahuarita, as well as the needs of Tucson and Pima County, he said.

"It's hard to fault GTEC" if Marana doesn't have the infrastructure for them to work with, said Dick Gear, the town's community and economic development administrator.

"But now, with the bond package approved, we can put in the needed infrastructure and it will be a different story."

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