In the next two weeks, a "major announcement" is expected about a new employer bringing an estimated 500 new biotechnology jobs to greater Tucson, according to Joe Snell, president and chief executive officer of Tucson Regional Economic Opportunities.

The firm will pay its employees wages averaging $75,000 a year, with a $600 million estimated impact, Snell told a crowd of more than 750 at TREO's fifth annual meeting Friday at the Westin La Paloma.

There have been hints the firm may locate in the Northwest. Gov. Jan Brewer is expected to make the announcement during the week of Oct. 11, sources indicate.

Friday's gathering, featuring Admiral Michael G. Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was "the fifth and largest" annual meeting in TREO's history (for more, see pages 13 and 14). Snell said five years represents "an important milestone." It marks "the start-up phase to a much more sustainable phase as an organization." Now, it's time to "find our stride."

TREO's specific role is to serve primary industries, those that "export a product, and import new wealth from the outside." It has expanded its board to 54 members, and diversified its funding away from solely-public financing. The Town of Oro Valley has recently entered a $40,000 annual commitment to TREO.

Over these five years, TREO has helped 37 companies expand in or relocate to greater Tucson, Snell said. They represent 9,200 new jobs and $1.4 billion in economic impact.

"Most importantly, we have changed perceptions of the Tucson region as a center for business," Snell said. "Tucson was not on anybody's radar screen as a place to do business." That's changed, he believes.

Analysts have concluded mid-size markets such as Tucson, Albuquerque, Oklahoma City, Salt Lake City and others are in "a position to capture significant growth" over the next several years. It's due to the "Goldilocks effect," Snell said. "Workers want the community that's just right. Big is too big. Too small is too small. The talent of tomorrow is looking for the communities that are just right," in the range between 750,000 and 1.5 million people.

"Tucson is poised for an economic windfall that's truly within our grasp," Snell said.

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