Marana councilmember Patti Comerford asked her colleagues a simple question at the June 11 council study session: “How far north do we need to go, gang?”
The Town of Marana is looking to incorporate parts of southern Pinal County into its jurisdiction through annexation. Mayor Ed Honea, who described this region as “Marana’s future,” sees big potential in the companies that plan to set up shop there.
As punctuated by Comerford’s question, the discussion over how much land to the northe to annex was casual, but focused on opportunities for economic growth.
Councilmember Roxanne Ziegler wants to see the town annex only up to the Pinal Airpark, not past. She seemed hesitant to believe there is economic potential further out, saying that development wouldn’t happen “within our lifetimes.”
“Pinal Airpark houses several businesses all centered around aviation-related activities,” said Heath Vescovi, Marana’s economic development specialist. “Three of the major ones out there right now are Ascent Aviation, Jet Yard and Logistics Air, they provide a range of services and they all have approximately 200 to 275 employees each.”
The airpark has major utilities available including water, wastewater, electric and fiber, but needs repairs to its aging facilities. Honea reasoned that since the airpark is owned by Pinal County, those repairs will be done on the county’s dime.
The area also has potential for the development of what is now a racetrack and shooting range.
“The Pinal Airpark could be a goldmine for us,” Honea said. “Pinal County is looking seriously at trying to do some expansions and bring some more jobs into Pinal Airpark.”
Honea said that virtually no one lives in this area; it’s all designated industrial and commercial purposes. But he thinks it’s important for the town to have an impact on the type of development that occurs there, which could entail job opportunities for Marana’s residents.
At the meeting, Vescovi described six noteworthy companies that are expanding into southern Pinal County. He said about 30,000 jobs would be created if all these projects began at the same time and billions would be invested in capital.
Town staff focused in on Nikola Motors and Lucid Motors as the two most promising companies. Nikola is a hybrid semi-truck manufacturer based in Phoenix that uses renewable energy resources. In March, the company bought 389 acres in Coolidge for $23 million. The factory is expected to start construction in 2020, with capacity for producing 35,000 to 50,000 trucks annually slated for 2023.
Lucid is an electric vehicle startup company from Newark, California known as the upcoming competitor of Tesla Motors. The factory in Casa Grande is expected to break ground this summer and be functional by 2021. Lucid’s first luxury vehicle will have a starting price of $100,000 but later a model is expected to be in the $65,000 range.
Vescovi and the Pinal County economic development team estimate that Nikola and Lucid would create about 4,000 high-skilled jobs.
If the town went through with annexation, Marana would have the ability to offer their own economic incentives to companies like these, on top of Pinal County’s existing incentives.
“It expands our toolbox for economic development opportunities for attraction,” Vescovi said.
The specific area proposed by town staff for annexation is a rectangular parcel of about 3,000 acres that sits northwest of the town’s current boundary. It includes the Pinal Airpark and public state land, with a section of I-10 cutting through diagonally.
“If you do decide to continue going north up into the Red Rock area in the Picacho State Park area, (this annexation) would act as a very important stepping stone allowing us to get there,” Vescovi told the council.
Red Rock Village, a small unincorporated community just south of Picacho Peak State Park, currently has 873 homes with capacity for about 3,750 total before reaching build out. The neighboring Red Rock Business Park is comprised of 367 acres zoned for light and heavy industrial uses. It falls within the county’s Foreign Trade Zone, which allows for exemptions from several U.S. Customs fees and regulations.
The parcel also falls within an “opportunity zone,” a distinction the federal government created to allow individuals investing their capital gains to get deferments on their capital gains taxes. Vescovi pointed out that southern Pinal County has a much larger opportunity zone than Marana, making it more appealing to new businesses.
The Arizona Commerce Authority describes these opportunity zones as an “eagerly anticipated set of proposed regulations” from the US government. The annual program was created as a provision of the Trump administration’s Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017.
The Economic Innovation Group, an economic policy organization in Washington, D.C. that drafted the provision, said it’s intended to promote long-term investments in low-income urban and rural communities across the US, in response to the dwindling effects of the great recession, which show economic growth happening in major cities and stalling in other areas.
It allows companies with 10 year investments to receive a 15 percent reduction on their taxable amount of capital gains reinvested with no taxes imposed on appreciation, and gives relatively smaller tax breaks to 7 and 5 year investments. The New York Times called it “first new substantial federal attempt to aid those communities in more than a decade.”
“This has been a dream of mine for a long time,” Honea said of the possible annexation. “I would hope we could get some support to look forward toward this rectangular piece.”
The other council members agreed that the northern region is the future of Marana’s development. They voted unanimously to direct town staff to begin preliminary steps toward annexing the 4.7 square-mile parcel.
“You have I-10 as your main street, which is maintained by the state, and opportunities for our community follow that freeway,” Honea said. “With Phoenix and Tucson pushing toward each other, and those of us in between whether it’s Eloy or Casa Grande or Marana, are going to be the beneficiaries of a lot of that growth.”