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Guest opinion

Pima County: Amazon a great addition to growing logistics hub

By now, you've probably heard about retail giant Amazon's massive distribution center in Pima County.

The company broke ground on an 857,000-square-foot fulfillment center earlier this year that eventually will employ an estimated 1,500 full-time employees.

Read more: 'Project Wildcat' to bring massive Amazon distribution center to Tucson

The announcement marked the culmination of efforts by the Levin family, who owns the Port of Tucson where Amazon will be located, Pima County Development Services, Pima County Economic Development, and our economic development partners at Sun Corridor. The Port of Tucson, in particular, deserves a lot of credit for this accomplishment, as it was the foresight, planning and substantial investment by the Levins over the years that made the property "Certified Shovel Ready" for development and smoothed the path for companies like Amazon.

Development Services was instrumental in working with the company and its site selector to address the myriad issues in making such a large and complex development come to fruition in order to meet a very aggressive timeframe established by Amazon.  The developer was amazed at Development Services' ability to review electronic plans collaboratively with remote architects, engineers, and consultants and turn the entire plan set around in 4 ½ days.

Pima County Administration, working at the direction of the Board of Supervisors, has for several years been preparing the ground for the businesses like Amazon that have begun to open up shop in our area. Our Economic Development Plan identifies these logistics businesses as one of many key industries we need to attract in an effort to diversify and improve the regional economy.

As the Economic Development Plan notes: "It is important to facilitate the development of distribution, logistics and other corporate expansions in the vicinity of TIA (Tucson International Airport) and in the jobs corridor connecting Rita Road at I-10 to the Old Nogales Highway or I-19."

Amazon certainly met these criteria, but the company represents just the most-recent example of an employer to find an advantage in locating to our developing logistics hub, an area flanked by interstates, rail and air transportation. Over the past few years, we've welcomed Target Fulfillment Center, HomeGoods, FedEx Ground and Old Dominion Freight Lines, all of whom have either expanded or relocated to this area.

These developments have been good for the region, and Pima County's planning efforts with Pima Association of Governments and Arizona Department of Transportation will surely produce a future with many more logistics-based businesses.

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County leaders demonstrated great vision over the years in moving forward with the road realignment that created Aerospace Parkway – a connection between Old Nogales Highway and Alvernon Way south of Tucson International Airport. This project allowed our largest private-sector employer, Raytheon, to expand its workforce by over 2,000 employees. The road realignment also paved the way for companies like World View Enterprises and Vector Space Systems, whose research and products have helped start a revolution in stratospheric research and orbital satellite delivery systems.

County leaders also have made advances in the Sonoran Corridor project – a proposed auxiliary interstate-class highway to connect Interstates 10 and 19 south of the airport. The plan has the support of local, state and federal agencies and was included in the most recent Congressional "FAST – Fixing America's Surface Transportation" Act as a high priority, international trade route. In anticipation of this highway project and the resultant logistics and employment center growth, Pima County has begun working with regional utilities to plan for adequate infrastructure as well as engaging Union Pacific Railroad about constructing a rail connection through the area, all of which are needed to attract new employers.

As the Sonoran Corridor proposal moves forward, it will create even more opportunities for the type of logistics businesses we aim to attract. In addition, the project holds the potential to facilitate a great increase in regional defense, aerospace and manufacturing industries.

As regional growth patterns shift to the southeastern portions of Pima County, the County also has sought to expand employment opportunities in that region. Our master plan for the Southeast Employment and Logistics Center (SELC) at the Pima County Fairgrounds focuses on attracting additional export- and logistics-based employers. SELC sits about a mile from Interstate 10 and just a couple of miles from the proposed Sonoran Corridor connection to the interstate. With nearly 2,000 acres of developable property, we have great hopes that this area will grow into a regional job center.

We welcome Amazon to the region and are grateful to our private-sector partners who made the move possible. But let's also give credit to Pima County's leaders who had the vision over the years to work with the private sector to help make our region ready to compete for these businesses and hope we continue to welcome more to our community in the years to come.

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1 comment on this story

Jul 22, 2018, 12:35 pm
-2 +1

The promised new Amazon distribution center is a “lucky” hit due not to any deliberate strategy on the part of local governments or private actors, but rather to the geographical location of Pima County, which is becoming something of a trade entrepot. 

However, the Internet is full of descriptions of these centers as offering jobs that are (1) low-paying; (2) repetitive, without significant on-the-job learning or career advancement; and (3) managed under what first-person accounts describe as “grueling conditions.”

Maybe I’m jaded, but providing near-poorhouse opportunities for Tucsonans may count as economic development—they generate a lot of sales for Amazon, and some taxes for local government—but not holistic community development. 

But Tucson and Pima have been here before, more than once or twice….

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