November 23, 2005 - In baseball, home runs are usually what make the crowds cheer and what creep into the ESPN highlight reels. But it's base hits that win games, says Joe Snell, president of Tucson's newest economic development group.
That's the analogy Snell uses to explain Tucson Regional Economic Opportunities' first-year plan for attracting and retaining business in the greater Tucson area. Snell is president of the nonprofit group known as TREO, which formed in July as a cure-all to the region's fragmented approach to economic development.
While bringing new employers to the region will be a goal - such as it did with Iowa-based Pella Corp. - TREO's plan this year revolves more around "blocking and tackling" for companies already operating in the region, Snell said.
"One of our key goals as we move forward will be a balanced approach to economic development," he said. "We've gotten a lot of recognition lately for the Pella relocation, but the reality is that most of our efforts - staffing and money - are really geared around growing companies within."
That's the best way to ensure the economic future of the region, said Snell, who revealed the plan Nov. 17 during an evening reception inside the organization's brand-new office on Stone Avenue.
TREO has received applause lately with the announcement that Pella Corp. plans to open a door and window manufacturing plant in Tucson, which could mean 450 new jobs. And while it may be an impressive start for the new organization - a home run by Snell's own analogy - TREO's primary focus this year will be retention and expansion of existing companies, Snell said.
TREO, by both mission and mandate, is an economic development entity with a focus on regionalism. In years past Snell said, many economic development programs coming out of Tucson were designed to the benefit of city taxpayers: helping local companies and, in many cases, stopping at the city limits.
"If a company in Oro Valley needs assistance with a work force grant now, we write the work force grant," Snell said. "We are already working very closely, for example, with the town of Marana, the town of Oro Valley, developing good strong relationships with them. At the end of the day, we want to be, regionally, a one-stop shop for economic development."
Marana Town Manager Mike Reuwsaat, who attended last week's gathering, said he liked TREO's emphasis on retention and expansion of existing industry and he's interested to see the impact it can have on Marana.
"I think it's a good focused approach," he said. "Now let's see how many jobs we get."
Snell said part of TREO's marketing plan will include Marana, whether that means helping companies relocate from other areas of the country or helping companies in Tucson expand to off-site locations as they outgrow their facilities.
"Our real objective is to get you interested in Tucson, or help you in Tucson, and then don't worry about where they go," Snell said. "Definitely Marana, it's a growth corridor we're going to have to promote and work closely with."
Snell moved to Oro Valley in August after living in Denver, where he helped establish the Metro Denver Network, a similar but larger body that included 49 economic organizations throughout 52 cities.
TREO hopes to become the leading economic research group in Southern Arizona within five years, providing consistent marketing data to companies looking to call Tucson home. That may very well happen for TREO, which went from concept to reality in a relatively short period of time. In March 2004, a blue ribbon committee formed to analyze economic development in the region. Pima County and Tucson kicked in initial funding to form TREO, which was founded July 1.
"At the end of the day, we want to establish TREO as a competitive, recognized economic development entity," Snell said. "Year One is going to be a lot about establishing credibility: good blocking and tackling, good execution, doing what we're saying we're going to do and making sure that we are doing a lot more listening than telling when it comes to local businesses."
Snell said TREO won't be all things to all people, but it hopefully will be the glue that holds everything together.
"We're going to be a one-source approach to economic development," he said. "And that doesn't mean my good friend Mike Reuwsaat in Marana doesn't have his own economic development efforts. We respect that, but what we're going to make sure is we get together and brainstorm to make sure we have one clear response from the region."
Oro Valley Mayor Paul Loomis, a representative on the nine-member TREO board, said he was optimistic the plan will help both his town and the region economically. Under TREO's plan, he said, Oro Valley will benefit whether a company relocates or expands anywhere within the region.
"The short-term schedule looks good, the goals are good, and I'm extremely optimistic that this is the right way for us to work together for economic development everywhere," Loomis said.
While Oro Valley doesn't have the same degree of developable land as Marana, the town still has a site near Ventana Medical Systems set up for light-industrial, and about 40 acres at the northwest corner of Tangerine Road and La Canada Drive that is intended for corporate-type development, Loomis said.
TREO's plan acknowledges the greater Tucson area as one of the fastest growing communities in the Southwest, with a population nearing 1 million. Its plan calls for bringing more high-quality jobs to the area and strengthening the region's ability to compete in the global marketplace.
"We are going to be aggressive in this business of development and attraction," Snell said. "We're not going to get out-hustled by anyone and lose those deals."
It appears TREO might be one part of a larger focus on regionalism that has been taken up by Southern Arizona's economic leaders. The region's chambers of commerce joined forces last week by forming the new Southern Arizona Chamber Alliance, said Ed Stolmaker, executive director of the Marana Chamber of Commerce.
Stolmaker said the new alliance is modeled after similar alliances in the Metro Phoenix area, and will represent chambers in Marana, Northern Pima County, Metro Tucson, Sierra Vista, Benson, Rio Rico and Nogales.
"We all need to work together because, as a whole, we can really make a difference," Stolmaker said, adding that the Tucson and Sierra Vista chambers have lobbyists, which can help further the region's efforts. "For the Marana chamber, it's a great opportunity to be involved where we can have a larger voice on regional issues and legislative issues."