In an effort to engage the talent of Arizona’s top-tier university system in creatively solving community challenges, the Town of Marana has embarked on partnerships with both The University of Arizona and Arizona State University.

The UA partnership focuses on workforce issues for Marana’s major employers, while the ASU partnership is aimed at developing a comprehensive tourism plan for the northwest area.

After conversations with some of Marana’s largest employers in the high-tech and manufacturing sectors, it was revealed that almost all shared a common concern: finding quality employees with appropriate experience and education to meet the companies’ growing demand for talent. In response, the Town reached out to the UA, a premier research university and major driver of Southern Arizona’s economy, for help in devising a talent acquisition program unique to Marana employers’ needs.

In late January, a kickoff meeting for the new UA-Marana partnership was held at the Marana Municipal Complex. Four of Marana’s largest employers – Sargent Aerospace & Defense, FLSmidth Krebs, Lasertel and KD Engineering/METCON Research – participated in the meeting, along with representatives from eight UA units. Each UA group that attended gave a presentation showing how they could be of service to the employers, while each company talked about its products and needs from a relationship with UA. The meeting concluded with a commitment from all parties to continue moving forward in developing individualized partnerships.

Chris Malone, vice president of operations for KD Engineering/METCON Research, called the meeting “a step in the right direction toward building tighter alignment between industry, academia and government in Marana.”

The kickoff meeting is already paying dividends, with Marana employers talking directly with UA representatives about internship and employment opportunities, sponsoring student projects and sharing resources and research.

The ASU partnership is a joint effort between the towns of Marana and Oro Valley, both of which are interested in maximizing tourism resources and investment in the northwest region. In early February, the town councils of both jurisdictions held a joint study session that resulted in a commitment to work together on economic development and tourism, using the northwest’s unique combination of high-end resorts, outstanding outdoor recreation and ease of access to all of Southern Arizona as cornerstones of the program.

In response, Oro Valley and Marana staff engaged ASU’s Center for Sustainable Tourism and its director, Dr. Tim Tyrrell, who offered to make Marana/Oro Valley the subject of an undergraduate class project on tourism and community development.

In late February and after weeks of study on both communities, nearly 30 students from Dr. Tyrrell’s class made the trip to Oro Valley and Marana to do firsthand research on opportunities for partnership in a future tourism development plan.

The students are compiling their research and will be presenting a final study to the towns at the end of the semester in May.

The Town sees this as the beginning of a long partnership with our state universities. We must make full use of the resources available in Arizona, and there are none more valuable than the faculty, staff and students at our universities. This is clearly a case where everyone comes out a winner.

Gilbert Davidson is the town manager of the Town of Marana.

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