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Development officials: Caterpillar could haul more companies to Tucson

Since Caterpillar Inc. announced plans in May to locate a major division and bring 600 employees to Tucson, about 10 companies of the same size have expressed interest in also moving here, said Fletcher McCusker, chairman of the Rio Nuevo Board.

"I think by Christmas we will have something," he said, referring to another company relocation announcement.

"I would be shocked if we didn't have something big by Christmas."

McCusker made those comments after addressing about 600 business and elected officials at the Sun Corridor annual lunch Wednesday at the Hilton Tucson El Conquistador resort.

"There is more buzz about Tucson than any time I can recollect in the 65 years I have lived here," the Rio Nuevo chief told the group.

Dennis Minano, chairman of Sun Corridor, Inc., said the economic development organization is seeing its strongest pipeline of new prospects ever.

Caterpillar is moving its Surface, Mining & Technology Division from Milwaukee to Tucson's Downtown and West Side and expects to import about 600 jobs over the next five years. It will move to a temporary location in Downtown while a permanent building is built over the next two years just west of Interstate 10, near Cushing Street and Avenida del Convento.

Minano said afterwards that when a major company like Caterpillar selects a location for such a major division, many of its suppliers also want to locate near them.

"Caterpillar is a magnet because they are known, they have done (manufactured products) a long time, they are a company with character and depth of management and they are very strategic in every step they take. And that's why they have been so successful. And that's why it's important for Southern Arizona to have this kind of presence," said Minano, a former General Motors vice president.

Neither he nor McCusker would identify any companies looking at the Tucson area because of confidentiality agreements signed with those firms.

Sun Corridor is an economic development organization, known as Tucson Regional Economic Opportunities until a 2015 rebranding, that attempts to lure employers and jobs to the region.

Tom Bluth, vice president of the Caterpillar division moving to Tucson, told the crowd that although mining is in a downturn, the company is looking at the long term. Shipments of mining equipment have fallen 80 percent since peaking in 2012, Bluth said. But prospects look bright for mining because of because of population growth, increased urbanization, and a growing need for infrastructure around the world.

His division will help Caterpillar provide equipment for the future by researching and investing in analytics, automation and safety, he said. The company has been making driverless autonomous mammoth mining trucks since 1985.

The company chose Tucson region because of the engineering talent, quality of education, proximity to an existing Caterpillar proving ground where equipment is tested, the presence of mining businesses in Southern Arizona and expertise at the University of Arizona, Bluth said. It has already joined with the UA to create a professional development program for people in the mining industry that has attracted students from as far away as Brazil, Peru and Canada, he said.

Another strong factor was positive recommendations from company workers who already lived here. One Caterpillar employee, who likes to bicycle in Tucson, told the company, "I've got 60- and 70-year-olds kicking my butt."

And to the nonprofits represented in the crowd, Bluth said Caterpillar contributes a lot to the communities it works in, particularly through the United Way.

"We want to be very involved and have an impact," he said.

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A truck at Caterpillar's Tinaja Hills Demonstration Center south of Tucson.