Estrella Gin ‘most exciting project’

The Estrella Gin Business Park needs to be 60 percent leased for the developer to break ground. Photo by Raquel Hendrickson

By Yvonne Gonzalez

Maricopa is headed toward a year of growth, with unemployment down and consumer spending up.

Economic Development Director Denyse Airheart said Maricopa, like the rest of the state, is growing continually.

“If you’re looking at the economic factors across the state, you’re noticing that there is no one city that is booming, but every city is growing at a steady pace,” she said.

The city just participated in the mid-decennial census, and Airheart said officials are hoping the data shows a population that gets Maricopa very close to the 50,000 mark. That would do quite a few things for the city, she said, like showing growth and bringing additional revenue.

Pinal County Economic Development Director Tim Kanavel said the county’s economy will pick up in 2016, a continuation of the current trend he’s seeing.

The unemployment rate is 6 percent, down from a record-high 13.2 percent in 2009.

He said the county is working to keep job creation at pace with workforce growth, but it’s falling slowly behind.

“We gain 8,000, 9,000 people a year that we can count,” he said.

The workforce of 128,000 in 2009 has grown to 156,000 people.

“That is tremendous growth,” he said. “Even though we are gaining all these new people, our unemployment rate keeps going down. We’re doing a pretty good job of job creation in this county.”

Kanavel said Maricopa is among the communities he expects to play a large role in Pinal’s growth.

“They wanted to be simply a bedroom community, but that’s changed within the last few years,” he said. “They’re beginning a lot of economic development that they probably wouldn’t have before.”

Airheart said Economic Development is “truly pursuing those high-wage jobs” that will allow people to live and play in the city.

“While retail is aggressively growing in Maricopa, that’s not necessarily the stuff that we are actively pursuing,” she said. “We’re really pursuing industry that will be able to provide salary wages.”

Retail growth is tied to attracting employers that add high-wage jobs in the city, she said.

“People move for quality of life, and that’s a big, big deal,” she said. “Overall, while it’s not our main focus today, it truly is a complement for the overall economic development of the entire city.”

Salt Lake City-based Boyer Group is recruiting businesses to move into space in the Estrella Gin Business Park, which needs to be 60 percent leased for the developer to break ground.

Airheart said the park would be a place for industries looking to enter Maricopa as well as home-based businesses looking for more space to boost growth.

“Because of our workforce, because of our location, this is going to be the most exciting project I think in 2016,” she said.

A timeline from the project is made uncertain, Airheart said, with tenants needed before construction can start.

“It all just depends on the businesses that sign a lease,” she said.

She said Maricopa is working on a new five-year strategic plan intended to be in place for 2016.

The city’s current strategic plan defined goals and industry clusters to focus on.

“The new strategic plan is going to be economic development 2.0,” she said. “So we have the foundation laid down.”

With the next strategic plan, the city is asking what else can be done.

“It’s really going to outline our success for the next five years,” she said.

Chipotle’s opening last summer signifies growth in the fast-casual concept, according to Airheart.

“For Chipotle to enter the market, it just says that the time is right for Maricopa,” she said. “Now we have other high-end restaurants, while they might still be fast-casual, looking at Maricopa.”

In mid-December, Maricopa Planning & Zoning commissioners gave the go-ahead to a development review permit for the proposed Edison Pointe retail shopping center. Airheart said the project will bring 130,000 more square feet of retail space.

“Retail across the state is doing well,” she said. “Consumer spending is up, and we’re able to see that in Maricopa.”

Airheart said it’s extremely exciting working with a city council that is pro-business and knowledgeable about the community and its needs. Officials are committed, she said, to aiding businesses joining Maricopa’s market.

“The biggest thing to remember is that the city is young,” she said. “It’s 12 years old, and while the community members need and want all these amenities as well as opportunities, they’re coming and it takes time and it takes diligence and it takes dedication.”

The story was published in the January issue of InMaricopa News.

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