Pima County is making bold strides toward building a more robust local economy, evident with the recent release of its new Economic Development Plan. 

At a recent gathering of business owners and marketing agencies, Pima County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry presented the new plan, which he says will further develop the fundamentals already in place. 

“In many ways, while this is an ambitious plan with new elements that will provide more definition to the region’s strengths, it also builds on what we’ve already been doing,” he said.

In one example, the county will continue to fund Tucson Regional Economic Opportunities (TREO), the “region’s recruitment arm,” as Huckelberry calls it, but will actually increase its contribution to $500,000 for the 2012-2013 fiscal year. 

“This is no time to scale back regional visibility, given the continuing economic challenges on the national front,” said Huckelberry.

TREO is responsible for attracting new businesses and retaining current businesses in the region.

Additionally, the new plan will further develop workforce training and education, which saw excellent results last year.

“In the 2011-2012 fiscal year, more than 770 businesses hired clients from the Pima County One-Stop Career Center,” said Huckelberry. “But more than that, we also serve as a resource for business by helping to pinpoint gaps in local workforce needs, whether that be working to develop training programs for solar installation, addressing training needs for machinists or helping mechanics learn how to work on hybrid and biodiesel technology.”

As businesses consider where to locate or expand, many could look at Pima County for its declining property tax rate. In the last 10 years, the tax rate has declined 12 percent, while Huckelberry said the County is holding the line on fees and even reducing them in some key areas.

“We continue to streamline our processes and are developing a one-stop model to serve a myriad of business needs,” he said. “While these are ongoing efforts, what this plan does now is give shape to efforts to protect our existing employers, build new opportunities for growth, and enhance tourism.”

The county will continue to look at the development of a new aerospace/defense industry and research park, which will depend largely on voter-authorized transportation improvements that would provide additional capacity and pivotal connectivity, according to Huckelberry, who added that the county will continue to capitalize on its growing fields of biosciences, medical services, and technology.

“We’re on the radar,” he said. “Heavyweights like Roche and Sanofi already recognize the advantage of this area and we similarly have had success bringing in new start-ups. Expanding public infrastructure, from roadways to land acquisition and incubator building space could help us capitalize on these opportunities.”

But, just as the county intends to attract new businesses, it will also work to maintain its existing employers, like Raytheon Missile Systems and Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, and will do so by making sure those facilities are competitive for new contracts and functions.

As another driving factor in economic prosperity, the county aims to remain competitive in the tourism industry.

“Suffice it to say, Pima County must not only make sure our prime tourism locations remain competitive, but that we also tap emerging tourism markets, from major league soccer to cycling,” said Huckelberry.

Along with its Economic Development Plan, Pima County became the first local jurisdiction to support a series of objectives to stimulate business.

The county worked closely with the Tucson Metro Chamber of Commerce to draft the objectives, which are designed to build a cooperative working relationship with the private sector.

Among them are: ensuring a simple, predictable regulatory environment that is both efficient and non-cost prohibitive, maintaining a fair system of taxation and fees that encourage businesses to start, establish, grow and remain in the county, and providing prompt, accurate and courteous requests for information needed to assist businesses.

Tucson Metro Chamber Vice President Mike Varney said the county has been a receptive partner in the effort, and Amber Smith, the executive director for the Metropolitan Pima Alliance applauded the county for being the first jurisdiction to accept the objectives.

“I want to commend (Pima County) for leading the effort and trying to strengthen the relationship between the business community and Pima County,” she said.

The Pima County Economic Development Plan will be taken to the Pima County Bond Advisory Committee for review soon.

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