Pima County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry told more than 300 Rotary Club members and their luncheon guests Wednesday that our community “is on the verge of doing many things that are very good.”
Huckelberry joined Tucson Mayor Jonathan Rothschild; Tucson Metro Chamber of Commerce President Mike Varney and Tucson Regional Economic Opportunities President Joe Snell in a panel discussion on “The Future of the Tucson Economy.”
The luncheon discussion was hosted by the Rotary Club of Tucson and moderated by KOLD news anchor Dan Marries.
Large private employers – those that employ more than 1,000 people – employ a greater percentage of working people in Pima County than they do in either San Diego or Huntsville, Ala., two communities that Tucson-area leaders have visited to assess economic development opportunities, Huckelberry said.
Among those large employers are aerospace and defense companies.
“We need to build on those strengths and give the opportunity to the existing employers in those industries who have the option to expand and not be constrained,” Huckelberry said. “We need to make those strategic investments that give existing companies the opportunities to expand when they can and at the same time attract new companies.
“That’s what our investment should be focused on in this particular economy for the short term as well as the long term.”
Huckelberry invited the audience to take a look at the County’s Economic Development Action Plan on the County’s website, www.pima.gov. The plan, which is subject to approval by the Pima County Bond Advisory Committee and the Pima County Board of Supervisors, proposes asking voters to approve $197 million in investments to give “this community a competitive advantage.”
The Board will be considering the plan at its Nov. 13 meeting.
The plan includes road and other infrastructure improvements that would connect and strengthen Raytheon Missile Systems, Tucson International Airport, Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, the University of Arizona Bio Park and Tech Park, and other employment centers along Interstate 10. It would also provide funds to expand other regional employment centers and tourist attractions.
Huckelberry said the proposal would go to Pima County voters no sooner than November 2013 and possibly as late as 2015.
The panel was asked to talk about the possibility of combining city and county governments, the role of education, and Rio Nuevo.
“The County has absolutely nothing to do with Rio Nuevo,” Huckelberry said. However, because so many County employees work downtown – “They need a place to shop, to live, to work, to recreate,” he said – “we want downtown to be successful, no question about it.”
As for metro government, Huckelberry explained that the County already provides several regional services: the Pima County Public Library system, flood control, wastewater reclamation and courts.
Whether regional government should be pursued “is a decision all of the jurisdictions really have to make,” Huckelberry said, noting that shortly after a study a few decades ago recommended metro government, “Oro Valley incorporated, Marana incorporated, followed by Sahuarita.”
Huckelberry urged the audience to focus on the good things in the community and resist negative harangues.
Economic development is “an attitude issue,” he said. “We all need to talk about the positive things in this community and not dragging it down at every turn.”