Posts Tagged ‘Marana’

6th May
2011
written by JHiggins

Posted: Friday, May 6, 2011 9:00 am | Updated: 9:50 am, Thu May 5, 2011.

By Joe Higgins and Chris DeSimone, Inside Tucson Business | 0 comments

Has Tucson’s Democratic machine overplayed it’s hand? Are moderate Democrats and the growing number of independents ready to make some changes in this year’s Tucson City Council races or next year’s Pima County Board of Supervisors races?

Will the business community show up with their dollars and their support? Have we hit the tipping point?

Here are the facts:

1. Rio Nuevo gets new board to wrest control away from the Tucson City Council.

State Attorney General and FBI investigations have been launched find out what happened to $230 million of taxpayers money spent on downtown redevelopment with little to show.

2. Buses and light rail priorities.

The city council panics over 10-cent low-income bus fare while at the same time prepares to build a $196 million streetcar system that will cost millions per year to run and will need dense development in old neighborhoods to sustain any ridership. To build a much-needed student housing project in the hole that was an old YMCA at Fourth Avenue and Sixth Street, the developer pays $15,000 and monthly payments of $2,500 for 15 years to the surrounding neighborhood in order to get the council’s approval. How much longer will developers pay to play to invest with uncertainty or skip by Tucson?

3. The City Council refers a half cent sales tax to voters only to be defeated by 20 percent margin.

Voters have lost confidence in city government and the Mayor and Council. Did the council get the message that it’s time to tighten belts and reprioritize? Tucson moved $13 million in federal money for pothole repairs to build a bridge over the Santa Cruz River to qualify for other federal money for the four-mile streetcar. Priorities?

4. University of Arizona versus University Medical Center.

The UA makes a public power play to bring UMC back under its control. The hospital was spun off in 1984 to keep if from folding. Today, UMC generates $90 million per year to support future nurses, doctors and pharmacists. Follow the money. And yet just two weeks ago, Inside Tucson Business’ 2011 List of Largest Employers showed the UA surpassing Raytheon Missile Systems for No 1. This despite state budget cuts, tuition increases and a hiring freeze.

5. Where are the jobs?

A 300-acre solar farm in an old cotton field near Marana gets caught in the political buzzsaw of neighbors and paybacks for old political scores. Supposedly, Tucson is a top 25 Solar City in the United States yet we continue to delay and politicize an investment in green technology? County Supervisor Sharon Bronson and her colleagues are delaying the project by Fotowatio Renewable Ventures, the Spanish firm that is one of the world’s leading solar power operators, may look to go elsewhere. We already know about the supervisors trying to block the Rosemont Copper mine. And now a solar farm?

6. U.S. Rep. Raúl Grijalva.

The five-term congressman’s call for a boycott of Arizona over passage of SB 1070 almost cost him re-election from previously unknown Ruth McClung. Are voters tired of the rhetoric?

7. Back-room deals.

The city council votes on a land deal to sell downtown redevelopment property in Rio Nuevo to the Gadsden Company for $250,000, which resells the property to a low-income housing project for $1.43 million, according to the Arizona Daily Star’s Rob O’Dell (March 22). Councilwoman Shirley Scott joined the majority after she received a letter from Gadsden’s attorney, Larry Hecker, detailing the $1.5 million Gadsden said it put into the project. “I think that speaks well for this group,” Scott said, adding Gadsden is not asking for any special treatment. And, it just so happens, Hecker is Scott’s campaign chair for re-election. He was also campaign chair for City Councilwoman Nina Trasoff’s unsuccessful 2009 campaign and Bronson’s 2008 campaign. When will Tucsonans say enough is enough?

8. Marana wastewater fight.

Pima County’s heavy-handed clout using its wastewater management system as awakened Marana and now the town’s voters may be ready to change find a supervisor in 2012 that is more in turned with their goal of becoming a world-class municipality.

9. Pima County property taxes keep going up.

The Pima County Assessor’s office actually increased the values of most of the commercial property in the county, despite three years of the most depressed real estate market in generations. Now, the supervisors are looking at raising the county’s property tax rate by 17 cents per $100 of assessed valuation. Pima County government had 8,396 full-time equivalent employees in 2008 and has 8,132 today. Take out a loss of 450 positions through a contract shift at Pima Health Systems and the number of Pima County employees actually grew.

10. Democratic party primary endorsements.

Typically, political parties don’t weigh picking favorites until after their electorates choose candidates in the primary election. But Pima County’s Democratic Party already has picked its slate for the Tucson City Council and the primary isn’t until Aug. 30. The endorsements brought a sharp letter of rebuke from six Democratic state representatives, including Tucsonans Sally Ann Gonzales, Matt Heinz, Bruce Wheeler and Macario Saldate.

11. All mail elections.

Under the guise of trying to “save money,” the Tucson council changed the rules of the election game just as its Democratic incumbents face tough re-election campaigns. An investigation is underway over irregularly marked mail-in ballots in South Tucson and now mail ballots have gone missing in this month’s Sahuarita council elections. The “save money” argument is a smokescreen.

12. Tourism in the toilet.

As reported in Inside Tucson Business, passenger traffic at Tucson International Airport for March, normally the busiest month of the year, is at 16-year lows. Tucson didn’t have Major League Baseball Spring Training this year for the first time since 1947. Now the economy is beginning to feel the negative impact of mismanagement of the tourist assets that have been taken for granted. Last month Travel+Leisure called Tucson one of their top 25 “most under-rated cities in the world” – not just the United States, the world. That’s not a good thing for the Metropolitan Tucson Convention and Visitors Bureau whose job it is to get the word out.

13. Arizona is projected to add jobs, but not Tucson.

State economic development officials are projecting Arizona will add more than 17,300 jobs in the next year but the Tucson region won’t see any of them. To accentuate the point, tourism is expected to grow by 3.1 percent statewide but will drop 0.2 percent in the Tucson region.

14. More low-wage jobs.

When Intel announced earlier this year it was spending $5 billion to expand and build in Chandler, it included a projection of 1,000 high-paid new jobs. Within days of that announcement Tucson, landed its expansion that will be bring us another 400 call center jobs. This on top of the announcement that Tucson-based Raytheon Missile division decided to build its newest plant in Huntsville, Ala., not here.

15. Mexican-American Studies.

A student demonstration prevented the Tucson Unified School District governing board meeting from taking place April 26 because the board was due to vote on moving the program to an elective instead of allowing it as a substitute for the core subject of American History.

Moving Mexican-American Studies to an elective would put it in line with African American Studies, Native American Studies and Pan Asian Studies as well as art, music and some foreign languages among other important options students can choose. Mexican-American Studies serves 5 percent of the district’s approximately 53,000 students, yet it has taken an inordinate amount of the attention.

Meanwhile, there are issues with procurement irregularities, school closures and students’ low achievement scores on standardized tests.

Tucson is not a shiny liberal city on the hill. The so-called political progressives like to look up to cities like San Francisco or Portland, Ore. They admire the environmental commitment of Boulder, Colo., and dream of being the Berkeley, Calif., of the desert.

But Tucson’s city core crumbles while suburbs flourish. This region’s vision and planning is taking place in Marana, Oro Valley and Sahuarita.

Lately, people including Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show” have had some fun over Democratic leaders’ idea of Southern Arizona becoming a 51st state. It’s just a diversionary tactic from Democrats trying to gloss over the facts we’ve presented here.

Tucson may be the butt of jokes but those who are struggling to run businesses and earn a living here aren’t laughing. It’s time for a change starting with this year’s city elections.

Contact Joe Higgins and Chris DeSimone at wakeuptucson@gmail.com. They host “Wake Up Tucson,” 6-8 a.m. weekdays on The Voice KVOI 1030-AM. Their blog is at www.TucsonChoices.com.

15th April
2011
written by madge

UofA President Robert Shelton is making a big dollar power play to gain control of over $150 million sitting on the balance sheet in the University Medical Center. After running the medical operations to the brink of disaster, the medical operations were spun off to run more like a private sector operation. University Medical re-calibrated and became a successful part of our community and a leading teaching hospital that graduated thousands of pharmacist, nurses and doctors.

Now UofA President, Robert Shelton, wants to take hundreds of millions of cash reserves and all future profits from UMC out of Health Sciences and use them to make up his own black hole deficits at the UofA. This is wrong.

Shelton’s dash for our cash is a political play dictated by the Arizona Board of Regents and encouraged by Fred DuVal to curry favor amongst the academics so he can run for office in 2012.

Regent Rick Meyer is the CEO of C-Path which is in the medical research industry.  Meyer is seeking the good favor of Shelton and the potential research business it could mean to his company. If you remember c-path has been supported by Oro Valley (Explorer News 2009), Marana, Tucson, Pima County and of course The University of Arizona (funding sources HERE).  Guess where c-path built their first medical lab with all the financial support from Southern Arizona?  If you answered Tucson, Oro Valley or Marana you would be wrong – the $2.2 million grant opened a $2.2 million lab in Phoenix.  How’s that for a return on investment?

The only public source of funding mentioned on their web site with a Phoenix presence is……you guessed it, the UofA.  Shelton sites more medical research if he’s in control of UMC, cpath works in the medical research field, coincidence?

Is Rick Meyers deeply embroiled in the middle of a big fat conflict of interest?

If I were a taxpayer of Marana I’d be upset.  If I were a taxpayer of Tucson I’d be upset. If were a taxpayer of Pima County I’d be upset.  As a taxpayer from Oro Valley…..I’m down right pissed off.  We may have tax increases to pay for cops while we’ve invested for years  in c-path only to see them open a lab and create jobs in Phoenix! Loomis and KC, thanks.

Meyer and DuVal are all over this mess and someone needs to reign them in or kick them off the board. Shelton has overstepped his authority and should be ousted as the President. How does the legislature real in or hold Shelton accountable? Through none other than the Board of Regents.

Would a freedom of information request show any email trails between any of these players?

What grants or contracts does c-path and the UofA have in the hopper?  Follow the money and drop a line over to The Goldwater Institute for me  would you.

Call your legislator at the Capitol today and tell them to support community based medicine at UMC — not Shelton’s money grab.

Don’t allow Robert Shelton soil our community with his bad policy.

Here’s the story and Meyer’s quote;

…….

It makes sense, Myers said, to step back, talk and figure out how to move forward together, as opposed to continuing with a potentially harmful power struggle.

He had a “cordial discussion” with UA Healthcare’s board chairman, Granger Vinall, on Thursday, Myers said. Vinall did not respond to requests for comment Thursday.

But the regents’ repeal may not be enough to stop legislators from pursuing their own plan.

“So as soon as we back down, they’ll do it the day after?” asked Sen. Andy Biggs, R-Gilbert. It was Biggs who successfully engineered a vote Wednesday to statutorily override the regents’ plan.

That’s also the concern of Rep. David Stevens, R-Sierra Vista.

“They (regents) could come right back after we’re out of session,” he said, noting lawmakers hope to adjourn by the end of the month. “And then we’ve got eight months where we couldn’t do anything.”

Regent Myers said that’s not the intent.

But he said that doesn’t mean the regents are scrapping the idea of ever approving a plan just like the one that caused the legislative dust-up in the first place.

“Nothing is precluded,” Myers said. “But nothing is preordained.”

Everyone in state government has a role to play in the future of the hospital and medical school, Myers said. “Our role is to do what’s best for the university and the people of Arizona.”

But regents Chair Fred DuVal said the concerns of Biggs and Stevens are unwarranted and that the regents won’t try to pull a fast one on legislators.

“Having just taken $198 million in cuts, we do not in any measure underestimate the power of the Legislature to express themselves in ways that matter to us,” said DuVal, referring to the just-approved state budget for the coming fiscal year.

Stevens remains skeptical of both the board and its president.

“Fred DuVal’s trying to run for the U.S. Senate,” Stevens said. “This is a ploy to get his name out in the press, to get him notoriety so he can run for (retiring Sen. Jon) Kyl’s seat.”

DuVal said he’s not looking for publicity and not running for the Senate. He also said the changes being considered are not partisan, noting they date to when a Republican was regents president.

What won’t happen, DuVal said, is what many interpreted as a last-minute and secretive process about the change.

4th August
2009
written by Arizona Kid

From AZ Star 7/13/08 – Fix the LAND USE CODE -

Mike Hammond of Picor Commercial Real Estate said he had a client who was tripped up by a rule saying that if the flush handle on a toilet is not on the side away from the wall, you have to replace the toilet. Cost: Six toilets times $500, plus labor. Reason: Unclear.

This is absurd and bad for business.It must be fixed. Thankfully, various elected officials, city workers and citizens like Hammond and Warne are working to get that done.

Hammond says Tucson’s land-use code has become so byzantine that “quality developers that we want in our city can spend $15,000 on a project and then discover they can’t do what they want to.”

Because of such hassles, many of them borne of confusion among city workers about what the code means, commercial developers like Warne and Hammond warn that Tucson is losing new businesses, and thus jobs, to competitors like Marana, Mesa and Chandler.

As for revitalizing the central city in the face of such bureaucratic hassles? “That’s just a myth,” Hammond said.

Then from Feb 17th 2009 – after much work, many meetings with planners, development services, neighborhoods and business the vote finally gets to council to once and for all FIX THE TROUBLESOME land use code….but only for 1 year:

The land-use code requires owners to meet standards on parking, loading zones, trash collection and landscaping if they want to increase the size of their buildings, parking areas or property by 25 percent or more, according to a story by the Star’s Adam Curtis.

Trasoff’s plan would suspend those sections of the land-use code for one year. It would allow owners to expand their properties by 40 percent or 50 percent before having to meet the standards. Encouraging property owners to invest in their properties could spur construction jobs, which could have a ripple effect throughout the economy.

While we advocate revamping and updating the entire land-use code, this one-year suspension could be an economic boon.Trasoff told the Star that, depending on the size of the property and project, the move could save small businesses possibly tens of thousands of dollars — an incentive to do work now, rather than later.

The trick will be to balance the reasons for the code, to protect neighborhoods from overflow parking linked to businesses, with the need to make it easier for small businesses to expand.

 

If the LUC is a known problem why fix it for only 1 year or 18 months? Why not take care of the problem for good?  Could it be that our elected council is more concerned about the neighborhood voting block that put them in office than the business community that ultimately pays the bills?

Time to move to Marana folks – then maybe, just maybe the council will start to get the point.

 

 

3rd June
2009
written by Arizona Kid

Reading May’s political tea leaves

By Emil Franzi, Special to The Explorer
Published:

June-03-2009

We’ve had local elections, and some further away, along with enough positioning and posturing to give us some hints about our political futures.

Californians of all stripes overwhelmingly told their government “no” to higher taxes in the multiple forms they were presented. Those supporting a statewide election to raise the sales tax to bail out Arizona should note that if you can’t pass any tax increase in a lefty state with bigger budget troubles than ours, good luck here.

Early on, I called for a sales tax election combined with constitutional amendments repealing all the spending ballot props that voters suckered for that the legislature is banned from modifying. Give them an “either – or,” but it’s too late for that. Republicans should not have been afraid of the voters. They even figured it out in San Francisco.

Up the road in Casa Grande, voters rejected a sales tax hike for a new spring training stadium by 77 percent. I hope the local Sports Authority noticed and will quit lobbying the legislature to enable Pima County to waste money on an election that will get the same result here. File that Marana Stadium next to the Rainbow Bridge over the Santa Cruz.

Two local elections gave local Democrats mostly negative results, who are attempting to breed future partisan legislative candidates by electing them to non-partisan school boards and town councils. I find no fault with this — the GOP should quit being onlookers and do the same.

In Sahuarita, the Dem pick was Rosanna Gabaldon. This partisan activity created a backlash and partly motivated Republican Kara Egbert’s candidacy. Both Gabaldon and Egbert won the two seats, making it a push.

In Marana, Dems supported Kelle Maslyn, one of four finalists for two council seats including Republicans Jon Post and Larry Steckler and Democrat Carol McGorray.

Local GOP types were mostly onlookers in both towns with the exception of GOP National Committeeman Bruce Ash, who formed an independent committee whomping on Maslyn for raising almost all her funds from outside Marana. Post led the ticket followed by McGorray, with Maslyn third. Ash-GOP 1, D’s 0, even though some Dems have attempted to spin and claim McGorray, whom they didn’t support.

Spin will be high on the Dem agenda next year. You can tell by the almost insane rhetoric in the letters columns and elsewhere about education spending. With all the intellectual depth of the last Banzai Charge, the Democrat / public employees union coalition wants us to believe Republicans hate schools and teachers and keep our children ignorant so they won’t be smart and educated enough to vote for Democrats.

Is there anybody out there who actually believes this slop?

Typical is the recent letter about the GOP violating “teacher’s First Amendment rights” from Robert Cozad, who failed to note that he is the founder of the Oro Valley Democrat Club. Cozad claims a bill passed by the GOP legislature bans public school teachers from lobbying. No, it makes them reimburse taxpayers if done on school time.

As a former public employee, the husband of a retired one, the past vice-president of AFSCME local 449, and a former member of the Pima County Merit Commission, I realize public employees may apply for time off they have earned to do whatever they want. They have no constitutional right to lobby legislators on the taxpayer’s dime.

One final May item, the headline in the remaining daily informing us that the TUSD Superintendent Elizabeth Celania-Fagen was hiring seven new administrators while laying off teachers because they were needed for her “vision.” That exposes the real agenda and mindset of the Democrat / union / administrator coalition. It isn’t about the children, it’s about the power.

1st April
2009
written by Mike

As the  leaders in Tucson continue to run in circles around the major issues like baseball, downtown redevelopment, convention centers, gem shows and the like there is a larger drumbeat going that says write off the City of Tucson and focus on areas and other assets that are easier to work with. Marana has the land and the forward thinking, Oro Valley has the tech focus, great schools and high end neighborhoods. Even Sahuarita is cultivating a family friendly community that is planning beyond the bedroom community lable it has today.  Should we put a virtual fence around the City of Tucson and focus on municipalities the get with the program?

Plans are percalating as we speak for baseball and much much more. These plans are being discussed and thought through by communities other than Tucson.  Here’s a concept for amature and pro baseball the Musuem of Art and BioTech clusters;
A 600-acre parcel now dominated by two gravel pits is the proposed site for a mixed-use development that would include a new baseball complex for spring training.
(photo: Jim Davis / Arizona Daily Star)

Site of 2 gravel pits in Marana area proposed for spring-training complex
Development could have 2-team stadium, 16-field practice facility, hotel, golf course

By Brian J. Pedersen
ARIZONA DAILY STAR
08.07.2008

The impending departure of the Chicago White Sox has left spring training baseball in Tucson in a hole. But a local developer is proposing to use an actual hole in the ground to stop the major-league migration out of town by building a new baseball complex on the Northwest Side. A 600-acre parcel west of Interstate 10, between Orange Grove and Sunset roads — now dominated by two gravel pits — could be the perfect spot for a mixed-use development that would include a two-team baseball stadium and a 16-field practice facility, developer David Graham said he believes. The development would also include a resort hotel and an 18-hole golf course built into a pit that is still being mined by property owner CPC Southwest Materials Inc.

Local officials and community leaders would like to recruit more teams to Tucson, but their efforts have been hampered by the lack of facilities. “I’m a great believer in turning something ugly into something beautiful,” said Graham, who is operating under the name of Orange Sunset Management LLC. “Both of those pits are not the nicest things to look at. The owners would like to do something with those two holes in the ground. ” Graham, who was the creative force behind converting a former gravel pit at Continental Ranch into what is now the Pines Golf Club at Marana, said building baseball fields in a 20-foot-deep pit will allow the slopes of the pit to be incorporated into the design as natural viewing areas for spectators.

The site is on land currently within Marana, unincorporated Pima County and Tucson, going from north to south respectively. Graham said he believes this is a plus for the project because it would require all three entities to be involved in the planning. “This is a regional problem that requires a regional solution,” said Graham, noting he has had informal discussions with officials from each government. “All three jurisdictions are aware of this project at varying levels,” he said.

A regional effort to keep spring-training baseball alive in Southern Arizona has been under way since November 2006, when the White Sox announced they were breaking their lease at Tucson Electric Park to move into a new two-team complex in Glendale in 2009 or 2010. In April, the Pima County Board of Supervisors approved the formation of the Pima County Sports and Tourism Authority. The group, made up of local business and community leaders, has been looking for ways to keep the Arizona Diamondbacks and the Colorado Rockies from following the White Sox out of town, in addition to seeking additional major-league teams to train here. That group is trying to get the state Legislature to pass a bill authorizing a county election on a sales tax to fund renovations to TEP and Hi Corbett Field and for the construction of new facilities.

A bill was introduced late in the last legislative session but was not brought up for a vote. The gravel pit location is the second potential stadium site proposed by private developers. The first, identified in March, was suggested for northwest of the I-10/Tangerine Road interchange on land owned by Colorado-based MSP Properties, though owner Marcus Palkowitsch said no formal plans for a stadium exist. “We haven’t put any pen to paper,” Palkowitsch said. Although both proposed sites fall either partially or entirely within Marana, that doesn’t mean Marana is the only place with options for a new stadium, Sports and Tourism Authority Chairman Tom Tracy said. It just means private landowners in that area have been the first to come forward with ideas.

“At some point, after our funding is in place, we’re going to reach out to any and all people who would like to make a proposal,” said Tracy, who spoke to the Marana Town Council Tuesday night during a special meeting to discuss spring training. “We are excited that Marana wants to be a part of the solution.” Marana’s extensive freeway frontage, much of which is still undeveloped, makes the town an ideal spot for a baseball complex, Marana Mayor Ed Honea said. “It’s really about location,” Honea said. “Spring training teams like the idea of being on I-10. You can drive from Tempe to Tangerine Road in an hour and 15 minutes.” The Orange Grove/Sunset project could be done as early as 2011, Graham said, assuming all agreements needed for the development were in place by the end of this year or early in 2009.That includes getting the Regional Transportation Authority to move up its timetable for extending Sunset west from I-10 to Silverbell Road and building a bridge over the Santa Cruz River. That project is currently slated to begin no earlier than 2017.

Graham’s development would also likely require bank protection work to be done on parts of the Santa Cruz and Rillito rivers and the Cañada del Oro Wash, all of which run through the property. Graham said no formal talks have occurred on that subject. “That’s one of the items on the list,” he said. The county is aware of the gravel pit idea, but no formal presentation has been made to county officials, County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry said. Huckelberry said he doesn’t know whether the project is a viable option. “Anything is possible,” Huckelberry said. “I just view it as another development proposal right now.” City of Tucson officials did not return calls made by the Star for comment.

Oro Valley courts Tucson Museum of Art
By Lourdes Medrano
ARIZONA DAILY STAR
08.07.2008

Oro Valley officials are working on an incentive package that might entice the Tucson Museum of Art to expand to the town. “We’ve identified six sites, some public, some private,” said Town Manager David Andrews, who declined to divulge the locations. “We just need to look at the feasibility of those and determine what the museum of art’s level of interest might be.” On Friday, Mayor Paul Loomis, Andrews, other town officials and area business leaders met with Robert Knight, the museum’s executive director. Knight plans to make a formal presentation to the Town Council at its Sept. 3 regular meeting, said Oro Valley spokeswoman Mary Davis.

Museum officials also have visited Marana, but the town does not have a proposal in the works, said spokesman Rodney Campbell. Although it’s premature to talk about specific plans to attract the museum, Andrews said, one option may be for the town to provide land to the museum while the private sector makes its own contribution. “It could be that the private sector might want to put together some funding and then buy a private parcel,” he said. The museum would be a great community entity and a boost to preservation arts projects such as Steam Pump Ranch, he said. The private sector would benefit, he said, because the more amenities a community has, the greater its chances of recruiting and retaining employees.

Knight was traveling and could not be reached to comment. But museum spokeswoman Meredith Hayes said Oro Valley is one of several sites museum officials are considering. The museum has outgrown its Downtown location, where parking and directional signs have been long-standing concerns, Hayes said. “What we’ve been doing is looking at expansion opportunities,” she said. “We’ve got opportunities with a number of major collections that could be given to the museum, and we need space to display those.”

Hayes said that in May the museum’s board of trustees directed Knight to continue working with the city to resolve some of the issues affecting the Downtown location, as well as look toward long-term expansion. “There could be even a satellite location out there,” she said of expanding to the Northwest Side. No immediate decisions are expected in September, when Knight reports his findings to the board, she said. “We’ve got so many options on the table that it behooves us to really look at each one of those options and find out what is best for the museum and for the community as a whole,” Hayes said.

 

Biotech flourishes in Oro Valley

Led by Ventana Medical, firms create industry cluster

Sept. 2nd 2008

A key goal among Phoenix bioscience interests is to create a cluster of research companies that offer high-wage jobs and discover important breakthroughs.

That idea is that a critical mass of companies located near one another would draw batches of smart, talented workers who seek out those employers for challenging and lucrative careers. Such an achievement would spur the type of wealth and innovation that could drive the region’s economy.

But some biotech observers believe such a cluster may be emerging in Arizona, just 90 miles south of the Valley in the growing southern Arizona bedroom community of Oro Valley.

The freshest evidence of that is Ventana Medical Systems’ recent purchase of a 17-acre site next to its existing campus. About six months after Swiss drug giant Roche plunked down $3.4 billion to purchase Ventana, the company acquired a large chunk with an eye toward a major expansion of its tissue-diagnostics business.

Ventana isn’t the only company that has planted its biotech roots in the Tucson suburb. French drugmaker sanofi-aventis is building a new research lab in the same technology park where Ventana is headquartered, and the small-but-growing tech firm Integrated Biomolecule Corp. also is expanding its work force.

All companies have ties to the University of Arizona, and all the companies have big growth plans.

“This is a good model of what you want to happen in Phoenix and Flagstaff,” Walt Plosila, a senior adviser to Ohio-based Battelle Technology Partnership Practice, said of the emerging Oro Valley cluster.

Science Foundation Arizona President and Chief Executive Officer William Harris also has taken note. The foundation’s charge is to improve the state’s science and technology initiatives through strategic investments in companies and education.

“It shows how you can diversify the economy,” Harris said.

Similar efforts are under way to foster such bioscience growth in the Phoenix area.

The state of Arizona and city of Phoenix has invested tens of millions on a downtown biomedical hub anchored by the Translational Genomics Research Institute and a new medical school. And Arizona State University’s five-year-old Biodesign Institute is beginning to churn out companies in research areas as alternative energy.

But Plosila and others believe that the Phoenix-area’s growing biotech scene has not reached a critical mass of private bioscience companies yet that rivals such clusters as San Diego, San Francisco or Boston.

Phoenix and Flagstaff have made some biotech niches, particularly in medical-device manufacturing. The keys to attracting more research jobs and company clusters are sustained, targeted investment to nurture good ideas and attract private capital.

“It is sort of the entrepreneurial hotbed of Arizona in terms of research and development,” Plosila said of Oro Valley.

 

University of Arizona roots

 

Ventana, in particular, shows the potential for one idea to have a major impact on the community, Harris said.

Dr. Thomas Grogan, a UA pathology professor, started the company in the mid-1980s over his frustration with the accuracy of cancer tests. He developed his own testing methods, arranged findings and built a company that went public in 1996 until its purchase by Roche this year.

“It’s the genius of one person who created an idea that has been purchased by Roche and has created a lot of wealth,” Harris said.

Today, Ventana employs about 900. About 600 research and development, executive, administrative and manufacturing positions are at the company’s headquarters, and the company has 165 positions it plans to fill, spokeswoman Alana Bolton said.

The company has not laid out detailed plans for its expansion other than to say Roche’s global business and international ties are expected to generate more jobs in Oro Valley.

“We will be the hub and center for tissue-based diagnostics for cancer,” Bolton said. “We will grow and get bigger.”

Among the major pharmaceutical companies, Roche has been the most aggressive in pursuing the personalized drugs based on a person’s genetic makeup.

“The reason why Roche bought Ventana is because they recognize personalized medicine will only come from having the expertise that Ventana has,” said Ray Woosley, president and chief executive officer of the Tucson-based Critical Path Institute, a non-profit group that works with federal regulators and biotech companies to speed the approval process for pharmaceuticals and medical devices.

On the heels of its Ventana acquisition, Roche is seeking to further bolster its biotech business with an attempt to purchase South San Francisco-based Genentech. Genentech has rebuffed Roche’s initial offer of $89 per share but has appointed a special committee that will consider subsequent offers.

Roche largely plans to keep Ventana’s operations and culture in tact. One sign of that is that Ventana CEO Christopher Gleeson has retained his position. Bolton declined to say how many people left the company after the merger.

 

More expansion

 

Sanofi-aventis is another pharmaceutical company that is investing millions in Oro Valley. The drugmaker is building a $60 million research lab slated to open in June. The company now employs 60 chemists, biologists and other staff. The new facility has the capacity for 108 workers, but the company has no firm timeline on when those positions will be filled, spokeswoman Janet Metz said.

Sanofi-aventis has recruited scientists from UA as well as attracted talent from out of state. “They (Oro Valley) seem to be building the new biotech hub, and that’s where we wanted to be,” Metz said.

Robert Green has seen the growth of Oro Valley’s biotech sector since relocating his company to the town in 2004. His company, Integrated Biomolecule Corp., provides services such as analytical testing and product development for pharmaceutical companies.

“It was a town that clearly said they would like us to be here and like us to help build a biotech cluster,” said Green, who founded the company in his garage and later worked from UA’s science and technology park before locating to Oro Valley.

He said Oro Valley has a wide range of housing prices and quality schools, two factors that help draw employees.

“For years, we were an outpost in Oro Valley with clients out of state,” Green said. “Now that is switching. We have a lot of support with companies in the state. All of this clustering activity contributes to that.”

Representatives of the region’s main economic development group, Tucson Regional Economic Opportunities, said years of investment in UA is beginning to pay off for southern Arizona.

TREO counts more 100 biotech companies employing more than 2,000 non-hospital workers in the Tucson-Oro valley region.

“The investment in the university system is paying huge economic dividends for us now,” said David Welsh, TREO’s senior vice president for strategic partnerships.

Oro Valley Mayor Paul Loomis said large employers such as Ventana benefit the town more than just economically. The company supports a half marathon and cultural groups such as the Greater Oro Valley Arts Council.

“They are the flagship of our biotech community,” Loomis said.

21st January
2009
written by JHiggins

Doug Martin from KVOI uses the airways, print with Good News Tucson and now in the blogosphere to get his message out. Doug’s recent post on TucsonTownHall.com pointed to the fact that we aren’t hearing a lot from our community leaders about the Accenture Match Play. The event is a huge win for our region and national exposure for our tourism industry comes at a critical time.

Read Doug’s full post HERE. Below is a great observation;

We should show our appreciation to Accenture as the sponsor and Cottonwood Properties the developer of Ritz-Carlton in Dove Mountain. It would also be wonderful if our city and county elected officials recognized and applauded these folks for benefiting our community, instead of waiting until Accenture looks for another place to play.

I posted a few weeks back about Tucson’s 1st Annual,  First Night – New Year’s Eve Celebration HERE. You know what struck me the day after the event?  Where were our city council members? I did see Nina and her staff down town with volunteers and t-shirts, but where were the rest of our elected officials. If anyone saw a council person other than Nina leave a comment.

You would think with all the heat around Rio Nuevo we’d see all the elected kissing babies and shaking hands. The fact that a high profile event held in the heart of our downtown redevelopment would merit the “full court press” of support. I guess they were too busy.

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