I began working for the Town of Oro Valley in late May, and I am thrilled to serve the Oro Valley community as the new director of community and economic development. It hasn’t taken long to validate my initial positive impressions, having already met with hundreds of people who have helped shape Oro Valley over the years. I quickly learned that there is a strong foundation to further transform the town into a world-class community with support from a broadened economic development program. As a result of the voter-approved 2016 Your Voice, Our Future General Plan and supporting town council-adopted 2017 strategic plan, I believe Oro Valley is heading in the right direction, and I am committed to strengthening the community and economic development platforms within the town.
I bring to the community a broad background in economic development and executive leadership, having served as president/CEO of six regional economic development organizations/chambers of commerce in Texas, Colorado and New Mexico. I have led successful efforts to expand and attract hundreds of employers into client communities, adding thousands of jobs and generating billions of dollars of new capital investment. Much like Oro Valley, the previous communities I served also value sustainable growth through a healthy balance of economic, environmental and community development. I am eager to share my skills and expertise to help usher in the next phase of business attraction, retention and expansion.
Oro Valley is growing less than two percent per year, a fact compounded by the unfortunate reality that a majority of Oro Valley working residents commute to and from our community to other areas of the region. Bringing more primary jobs to the community continues to be a top priority for the town, which is why it is particularly exciting when home-grown talent chooses to come back and set up shop right here. We saw this recently with the founders of Simpleview, who chose their hometown of Oro Valley for their expanding enterprise. We intend to build upon this success.
Another significant future opportunity is implementation of the Oro Valley Main Streets Concept Plan, which seeks to attract more family activities and leverage new business development into the two targeted Main Streets areas. Through a holistic approach of attracting developers to help fill empty buildings and stores with alternative uses while improving public spaces by promoting art, culture, health and well-being of residents and visitors, we can transform these areas into vibrant, walkable spaces.
Attracting new business is important, but first we must work to protect and expand other successful primary employers such Securaplane, Icagen, Ventana/Roche, Honeywell and others. As the University of Arizona begins renovation of its planned Veterinary College in Oro Valley later this year, we will evaluate and explore opportunities to bring companies that can benefit from the proximity of this new area of study and the students who will eventually graduate with a veterinary degree. We will develop a plan to target entrepreneurs and major corporate executives to Oro Valley to fill empty buildings as well as construct new facilities.
Oro Valley is poised to expand and diversify its primary industry and technology pipeline. The town’s Innovation Park and other tech park-planned land is ready for future business development. Successful efforts to date attracting bio-tech firms and other technology companies like Simpleview open the door to other complementary business sectors. The presence of Honeywell as well as the regional emphasis on growing aerospace and defense jobs means Oro Valley is well positioned to attract corporate expansions of the sector in our area. Bioscience and biotechnology firms continue to be a key target, with opportunities for complementary sectors such as energy, engineering and environmental services, geographic and imaging technologies, software development and healthcare and medical sciences, among others.
Targeting these industries and technologies aligns with the town’s current and projected workforce. The overarching goal is to create and expand new opportunities that diversify the local economy, increase salaries and wages, and drive new capital investment and tax revenues into the community. National economic development data indicates that 90 percent or more of the new job opportunities these future employers will create are typically filled by area residents. The result is more local and regional economic vitality.
Success is dependent upon strong partnerships with agencies and organizations that also support business attraction and expansion, as well as a predictable planning and permitting process that moves at the speed of business. I intend to foster and grow Town partnerships with the Arizona Commerce Authority, Greater Oro Valley Chamber of Commerce, Pima County, Sun Corridor Inc. and other community and economic development allies located in neighboring communities. By actively collaborating and cooperating with others while sharpening our focus on attracting the highest quality new employment opportunities for Oro Valley residents, we will help improve the quality of life for everyone who lives, works or shops in our community. The residents of Oro Valley can expect excellence in our team approach as we evaluate and make improvements in how we work with and support businesses.
On a personal note, my wife, Beverly, and I moved from central Texas to Oro Valley last year to be closer to our family. In the process, we evaluated multiple communities in Arizona and New Mexico, and selected Oro Valley as our permanent home. Like many residents who choose this town, we sought a community that values environmental stewardship, fitness, education, innovation, public safety — all of the components of Oro Valley’s vision for a “complete community.” We also sought a community that is progressive, fiscally solvent and visionary in its land use practice. No question we found that community.
Beverly and I feel beyond blessed to be a part of this great community, and we look forward to sharing a long and prosperous journey with you.
JJ Johnston is the Town of Oro Valley Community and Economic Development Director.