Nothing like the withholding of cash to get someone’s attention.

So it is in Marana, where the town council said “no” to a one-year, $50,000 extension of its relationship with Tucson Regional Economic Opportunities, the economic development organization.

Marana’s complaint with TREO is several fold.

It can’t point to a specific commercial activity that results from TREO’s efforts. Councilwoman Roxanne Ziegler asked staff to identify what TREO has done for Marana, and the result was a blank sheet of paper.

It feels ignored. “I don’t think we matter unless it’s this (renewal) time of the year,” Councilman Russell Clanagan said.

It literally wants a seat at the table, namely a seat on the TREO governing board, according to Mayor Ed Honea.

While Honea is frustrated, he thinks severance of ties with TREO would be a “grave error” for Marana. He’s right, and this could be one of those moments where forces can align for something better.

Economic development is hard work, and its results are very difficult to measure. Even if Marana cannot identify direct benefits from TREO’s efforts, does that mean there are no benefits? No. “We understand if 200 jobs come to Tucson, 15 or 20 peel off to Marana,” Honea said.

Likewise, if more jobs come to Oro Valley, which is establishing its biotechnology and pharmaceutical sectors and is seeing growth from companies like Ventana Medical Systems and Sanofi-Aventis, Marana benefits as well. We’re all in this together.

Oro Valley’s experience can be further instructive for Marana, because Oro Valley has identified what it wants, and is trying to get it.

Everyone agrees Marana has terrific possibilities. Take a look at Marana’s 2008 economic profile, and the resources are apparent, among them raw land, water, air and ground transportation, 18 miles of major highway frontage, an educated work force, relatively inexpensive housing, growing retail opportunities, access to outdoor recreation, proximity to Mexico, a location between Tucson and Phoenix … on it goes.

Joe Snell, president and chief executive officer of TREO, observes that Marana needs to decide what it wants to be. Marana has made admirable inquiries with spring training baseball, an art museum, the concept of an intramodal transportation hub, tourist attractions and more. It has a rising Ritz-Carlton resort, and a world-class professional golf tournament.

But what’s the focus? What industries does it want? Where? What sorts of occupancy-ready infrastructure does Marana offer? What can it develop? TREO can help Marana’s leadership answer some of these questions, and create a direction. Oro Valley can’t say TREO single-handedly brought the Sanofi-Aventis expansion to the community. It’s clear, though, that TREO didn’t harm the cause.

With this wake-up call, TREO is certainly going to do a better job communicating with Marana. When government provides funds, it has every right to inspect performance and receive regular communication. What’s wrong with a quarterly appearance by TREO before the Marana council?

The Marana council, which recently committed $40,000 to the Marana Chamber of Commerce, recognizes the importance of relationships with business organizations. It’s time to mend the TREO relationship, clearly identify the expectations and move ahead. There is work to be done, and work to be created.

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