A Rich Heritage and Strong Entrepreneurial Spirit

Pinal County, AZ

Equidistant from Phoenix to the north and Tucson to the south lies Pinal County, Arizona, a vibrant community of 430,000 residents that boasts unique scenery, a rich cultural heritage, and business friendly policies.
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“Geographically, we are very diverse. We have a lot of desert, but we also have many mountains,” says County Manager Greg Stanley.

Explore the beauty of the Southwest
On the northern end of the county are the breathtaking Superstition Mountains, the second most photographed mountain range in the world (the first being the Grand Canyon, located just a few hours away in northern Arizona).

The Superstition Mountains are a landmark mountain range in the federally designated Superstition Wilderness Area, which has many hiking trails and natural springs. Aptly named, the Superstition Mountains are the fabled location of the Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine, arguably the most famous lost mine in American history.

In the southeast region of the county, the Aravaipa Canyon Wilderness area is a 19,410-acre area with a creek that flows through it. About 7,000 acres of the area is a preserve protected by the Nature Conservancy. While the canyon is a great spot for tourists to hike, horseback ride, or relax at a bed and breakfast, visitors require a permit, which can be obtained via the Bureau of Land Management website, to enter the beautiful wilderness area. If this seems too exclusive, note that there are five different state parks in Pinal County, providing ample opportunities for hiking, biking, bird watching, and just relaxing in the sunshine and fresh air.

History buffs may also enjoy observing the Casa Grande Ruins, a national monument in Coolidge that preserves a group of Ancient Pueblo Peoples’ Hohokam structures of the fourteenth century.

Impressively, Pinal County’s deep history dates back even further. “We have culture that dates back to 400 A.D.,” Stanley adds, referring to old Native American villages along some of Pinal’s rivers that have since become dry.

A spirit of innovation
But the modern county is far from stuck in the past. Also close to the Aravaipa Canyon Wilderness is Oracle, Arizona (the place where Buffalo Bill briefly owned the High Jinks Gold Mine). More recently, the community is known for Biosphere 2, an Earth system science and research facility owned by the University of Arizona. The science center is the largest closed ecological system ever created.

Biosphere 2 is a county asset that attracts tourists, students, and researchers all in one. Offering daily tours, the monumental glass-walled facility’s mission is to “serve as a center for research, outreach, teaching and life-long learning about Earth, its living systems, and its place in the universe; to catalyze interdisciplinary thinking and understanding about Earth and its future; to be an adaptive tool for Earth education and outreach to industry, government, and the public; and to distill issues related to Earth systems planning and management for use by policymakers, students and the public.”

Another shining example of the innovative county spirit is Arizona Zipline Adventures, located just outside of Oracle. It offers guests a unique perspective of the Sonoran Desert and Mountains with Southern Arizona’s fastest zipline eco-tour, near the “backside” of Tucson’s Mount Lemmon. The backside is an unpaved road popular with off-road drivers that starts in Oracle and ends at the summit, which is high enough to receive snow and serve as a winter ski valley. Even operating in one of Pinal’s smaller communities, Arizona Zipline Adventures quickly went from a small startup to a year-round, mid-sized business with a five-star rating on TripAdvisor.

“A couple of years ago I found out that we are also a great place to see tarantulas,” adds Tim Kanavel, Economic Development Manager. “There is a group that hosts a tarantula convention every year, and at night they visit Pinal County and search through the rocks looking for tarantulas! Pinal is a very active, get-out-and-see-it county.”

And although the Dutchman’s Gold Mine may forever remain a mystery, in the east of the county, road trippers and commuters can look down from the State Highway to find a huge, open pit copper mine. The awesome sight contains 400-ton trucks bigger than a house working in the mines. But to someone looking from above, they appear like miniature model cars. Copper mining continues to be a county economic mainstay throughout the years, as the industry makes leaps in technological advancement.

Embracing industry-leading technology
While Pinal offers residents eclectic things to do and hosts many varied businesses from startups to Fortune 500s, the county is actively recruiting six sectors, and has its sights set on a seventh.

Pinal County’s six targeted sectors are: transportation and logistics, manufacturing, health services, natural renewable resources, aerospace and defense, and tourism. A new sector it is currently in the process of asking the board to approve is advanced technology.

Advanced technology covers many sectors, with applications in automotive, agribusiness, mining, and more. For example, in the automotive industry, advanced technology includes autonomous (self-driving) cars, as well as sustainable solar or hydrogen fuel cell technology. Lucid Motors, a Californian electric car company, is planning a 500-acre manufacturing complex in Pinal County, creating 2,200 jobs. Even sooner, Attesa aims to break ground on its 2500-acre transportation design, testing and motorsports entertainment park in Casa Grande this year, creating 10,000 jobs. Attesa will also include a hotel and conference center, industrial and residential developments and a private air strip.

Meanwhile, agribusiness is now using automated tractors, and computers that monitor dairy productivity. Agriculture is a multibillion dollar business in Arizona and Pinal County hopes to work with the University of Arizona’s agricultural research station to encourage implementation of advanced technology within the agricultural sector.

Pinal County’s proposed Resolution Copper Mine is going to be an estimated $10 billion dollar capital investment, creating 4,000 jobs. The mine of one of the world’s largest untapped copper deposits will be 7,000 feet deep—too hot for humans to work in. “A lot of it will be robotic. The new set of miners operating this equipment will be sitting in a cubicle above ground with flip flops, t-shirts and Bermuda shorts,” says Kanavel.

Finally, a Florida group has submitted plans with Casa Grande for a 618-acre state-of-the-art extreme sports park, resort, indoor water park, and retail complex called Dreamport Villages. Branded a “millennial theme park” in likeness to the X Games, the $4.4 billion-dollar project will add 5,000 to 6,000 jobs and provide a boost to the county’s tourism sector.

Due to Pinal County’s location as a midpoint between the Phoenix Metropolitan Area of 5.5 million people and the Tucson metropolitan area of about 2 million people, its access to freeways I-8 and I-10, and its connection with the Union Pacific Railroad line, it is well suited for manufacturing and distribution centers. Many businesses are either coming into the county or expanding the facilities already here. Frito-Lay, Abbott Nutrition, Hexcel, Walmart, and Stinger Bridge & Iron have all expanded their facilities, LKQ Corporation has broken ground on its new 107,000-square-foot warehouse, and the county is now in the permit process with the largest manufacturer of movie screens in North America.

“In our pipeline, what we have represents around 22 to 23 billion dollars’ worth of brand new projects and thousands of brand new jobs. We may not get all of them, but that’s the pipeline we have coming into the county. We take second place to no one in the United States,” remarks Kanavel.

Building careers, not jobs
Just over two years ago, Pinal County created its own Workforce Development Board and implemented the Workforce Investment and Opportunities Act. Now, the Board is focused on meeting with businesses to find out what they need, as well as meeting with individuals out of work to connect people with jobs and encourage apprenticeship programs. The Workforce Development Board is composed of county staff as well as integrated agencies that come together under one rooftop to help employees and employers.

Central Arizona College has been instrumental to the success of the Board’s goals with its extensive business outreach program. The community college collaborates with workforce agencies to meet the needs of new companies coming in, guide entrepreneurs and small businesses, and train employees. “The focus is not on jobs, but careers,” says Kanavel. Innovation Pavilion, a Colorado-based business incubator, is regularly meeting with county staff in order to open a new campus, which would further drive the county’s robust entrepreneurial community.

In order to make Pinal County an even better place to work, county voters have recently approved a half-cent sales tax to help construct regional transportation – not only future parkways and potential freeways, but also the arterial roads to get to some of the industrial areas under development. “The voters in the county have recognized that we needed this new transportation system in place if we are going to meet our future demands,” Stanley tells us.

As many residents of Pinal County commute to Phoenix or Tucson for work, the measure will also encourage businesses and thus lead to more jobs—and fewer commuters—in the county.

“The board is also very much focused on trying to drive down our property tax rates and do anything we can to make Pinal County a favorable place to conduct business and to work,” Stanley continues.

An entrepreneur’s first choice
Pinal County, as well as the State of Arizona, offers good incentive programs and business assistance programs to help new business owners take off. The county has also streamlined its permitting process, removing any red tape. It has eliminated inventory tax, and, to the benefit of multinationals, much of the county falls within an FTZ (Foreign Trade Zone). “Anytime that we can reduce regulations, it always spurs development. We are here to help. As one of our supervisors says, we facilitate; we don’t regulate,” says Kanavel.

Equally importantly, the county is more than a desirable place to set up shop; it’s also somewhere people want to live and set down roots, with its natural beauty, parks, warm weather, and high quality of life. The county’s housing market is strong, with a diversity of choices. Typically, Pinal County homes start at $150,000 and increase depending on the type of home desired.

“I would say most of the houses are single-family residences. We have seen some growth in apartment complexes, especially in the Casa Grande area, but most people move here because they want to have a backyard, somewhere for the kids to play, so we have a lot of that type of house,” Stanley states.

Part of the reason the housing market is doing well is because of the net migration into the county, which is estimated at 15,000 people a year. “The market is also an indication of the job attraction work that we’re doing. The more jobs we bring in, the more it attracts other people to move here,” Kanavel adds.

Pinal County is open for business, and open for people.

May 24, 2018, 11:49 AM EDT

The Robotic Workforce

For generations, television and Hollywood have taught us to believe that robots are usually one of two extremes: cute and harmless, or potentially destructive and deadly. From the flailing-armed robot in the 1960s TV series Lost in Space metallically yelling, “Danger, Will Robinson, Danger!” to the unstoppable cyborg assassin in 1984’s The Terminator and its many sequels, to the film adaptation of Science Fiction writer Isaac Asimov’s I, Robot in 2004, robots are charming and clunky, downright menacing, or in the case of the creations in I, Robot, benign – that is, until they defy The Three Laws of Robotics, namely to follow specific orders and never allow humans to be harmed.