The Marana Town Council has unanimously decided to rejoin Sun Corridor, Inc. after seven years apart.
Sun Corridor is a nonprofit organization focused on coordinating economic development within the Southern Arizona region. Covering Pima, Pinal, Cochise and Santa Cruz counties, the organization specializes in promoting STEM industries: aerospace and defense, automotive, bioscience, healthcare, renewable and mining technology and transportation and logistics.
Marana was a member of the organization when it was previously known as TREO. Back then, there was a $35,000 membership fee that the town had to pay, along with regular performance measurement contracts.
Curt Woody, Marana’s director of economic development and tourism, recently told the council that TREO was 85 percent publicly funded and only 15 percent privately funded, which forced the organization to focus more on pleasing municipalities rather than pleasing prospective clients.
“That did not work for anyone, it did not work for TREO, it did not work for the municipalities,” Woody said at the March 26 council study session. Marana ended its membership with TREO in 2012.
Today, Sun Corridor is 75 percent privately funded and 25 percent publicly funded, with no performance measurement contracts. The membership fee has been reduced to $10,000.
As a partner with Sun Corridor, Woody told council they could receive access to top elected and business officials through exclusive meetings and updates; be presented with opportunities to weigh-in on development issues and attraction strategies; receive invitations to site selector road shows, media tours and business leadership trips; receive recognition at sponsored events; marketing services and inclusion in “confidential attraction projects.”
“This would give us the opportunity to participate as a regional partner,” Woody said at the meeting. “It would give us the opportunity to help drive the discussions and strategies to help shape the economic development for not just the town of Marana, but for the region as well.”
The Town of Marana was the only Arizona municipality without a membership to the regional economic development organization. Woody said this doesn’t necessitate that they join, but the town was disadvantaged because of it.
In 2017 the National Site Selectors Guild conference was held in Tucson. Woody said about 150 to 200 site selectors from across the country attended. A year after that event, Sun Corridor brought five national site selectors back and gave them a tour of the Southern Arizona region.
“We did not hear about it, we were not at those meetings, we were not at those dinners,” Woody said. “I don’t even know if they toured Marana. But if we were a member we would be involved in those meetings.”
Council member Roxanne Ziegler made it clear that she was not a fan of the organization during their previous partnership. She said before TREO they were GTECH, which came with a $50,000 membership fee.
There was a very little return on investment with their previous agreement, according to Ziegler. How ever, she acknowledged the amount of economic growth in places like Tucson, which is a member of Sun Corridor.
“I think $10,000 is a pretty nice price,” Ziegler said. “We were paying $50,000 and got nothing, so maybe if we pay $10,000 we’ll see what we get.”
Ziegler said she was cautious about rejoining, and wants to make sure that this time around it’s not just about “trips and dinners.” She hopes to see Sun Corridor make Marana a priority for economic development.
Council member Herb Kai felt it was important the council be updated of prospective companies that could set up shop in the Marana region. However, Woody said that in the industry of economic development, 95 percent of projects are presented in code.
“We do not know who the company is, we might know what the industry is so that we can plan for zoning whether it’s industrial or commercial back office operations,” Woody told the council. “They’ll give us just a scant list of the requirements by the client, which might include building size, acreage size, utility requirements, and then we propose on that. But we can at least tell you how many contacts there are that are coming in across our desk for proposal and what those industries are.”
Council member Patti Comerford was on board with rejoining Sun Corridor, so that town staff could have more resources at their disposal.
“I think it’s time for us to take a seat at the table so that you have all the tools that you can possibly have at your ability,” Comerford told Woody at the meeting.
Mayor Ed Honea said he was happy to see the effort come to fruition, since town staff has been talking about rejoining the organization for a year. He added that Vice Mayor Jon Post has volunteered to be a representative on the Sun Corridor board and advocate for Marana’s economic needs.
Sun Corridor Senior Vice President Laurie Shaw declined an interview, but released the following statement in response to Marana’s decision:
“We’re thrilled to welcome the Town of Marana as a member of the board of directors. The Town of Marana will add its voice and expertise along with 71 other Board members (including the Towns of Oro Valley and Sahuarita, as well as the cities of Tucson and Sierra Vista) to aggressively attract and expand primary companies in Southern Arizona.”