Editors’ Location Picks
In a tough year, we were tempted to use “survival of the fittest” as the criteria for our annual location showcase. However, this year’s selections not only are surviving—they’re thriving!
Each year, the Business Facilities editorial team sifts through a mountain of marketing materials, press releases and data from locations throughout the country that are vying for their place in our monthly economic development features and departments. We attend the major conferences that are magnets for development specialists and try to visit as many states as we can squeeze into our schedule.
With about 250 Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSAs) to choose from, there always are tough decisions to make about coverage. Inevitably, there are some gems that catch our eye along the way but do not make it into our features. That’s why, two years ago, we created an annual cover story that we call Editors’ Location Picks, which gives us an opportunity to showcase some special places that drew our attention during the previous months and give them the exposure we feel they have earned.
This year, we kept our antennae tuned to locations that have been especially quick on their feet to adjust to the dramatically changing economic development landscape. It is not an exaggeration to say the economic upheaval that began last year and has continued unabated throughout 2009 has forced nearly everyone to reevaluate their business priorities. Emerging sectors like alternative energy and biotechnology have been moved to the top of the national agenda; projects that focus on these and other hot-growth areas are being pulled off the drawing boards and activated, often with a turbo-charged boost from federal economic stimulus dollars.
We are pleased to present our 2009 Editors’ Location Picks.
When we started to pare down the list of this year’s location picks, a basic assumption was that in this ultra-gloomy economic environment the places that stand out would be the ones that have stopped the slide and are beginning to pick of the pieces and lay the foundation for a solid future.
The Roanoke Region jumped to the top of our list because, in a time of flat-lining economic indicators, every arrow in this beautiful city nestled in the hills of western Virginia is positively pointing in the right direction. In Roanoke, unemployment is down (consistently well below the national average), home prices are up, residential building permits are up, and most important of all—job creation is steady and brisk.
Roanoke also stands out because it is successfully diversifying its economic base while maintaining a charming, comfortable quality of life that glows with old-fashioned hospitality.
The most transformative event for the region’s economy is the soon-to- be-completed Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine. As a local business publication put it, the city “set aside a piece of its famous railroad history to make way for a new economic engine,” a medical school and research institute involving Blacksburg, VA-based Virginia Tech and Roanoke’s Carilion Clinic health system. Roanoke economic development officials believe this joint venture eventually may have a bigger impact on the city than the Norfolk & Western Railway that blazed a trail through Roanoke in the 1880s.
According to Beth Doughty, executive director of the Roanoke Valley Economic Development Partnership, the Blacksburg-Roanoke connection is part of a strategic thrust that is increasingly tying the economic fortunes of Roanoke Valley and neighboring New River Valley together.
In addition to the medical school, Carilion is transforming itself into a clinic employing a variety of specialists. It has hired 200 physicians in the past three years. The medical school will welcome its first class of students in August 2010. Carilion and VT also are reclaiming a site that formerly housed a cement plant, flour mill and scrap yard, in addition to the rail yard, and turning it into Riverside Center, a 30-acre biomedical park.
The medical complex, projected to create an additional 250 jobs, already has pumped more than $200 million into the local economy. Historic downtown buildings in Roanoke, including the former railroad office headquarters, are being converted into upscale condominiums.
Another Roanoke success story— one that may seem surprising in the midst of a nationwide downturn in construction—is the opening of LiteSteel Technologies’ production facility this year. The Australian company, which produces high-strength, lightweight I-beams, benefited from state incentives including the Governor’s Opportunity Fund, the Virginia Jobs Investment Program, rail access funding from the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation, and local matching funds from Botetourt County.
Other recent local expansions include TMEIC, an international integrator of drives automation systems, and Maple Leaf Bakery, a Canadian-based bakery which has expanded in 2008 for the fourth time since its location in Roanoke in 1997.
TMEIC GE is one of the Roanoke Valley’s largest employers of high-technology automation engineers. The company moved from a Salem, VA location it shared with GE Energy Controls and Power Electronics to the former headquarters of the Atlantic Mutual Companies in Roanoke County, relocating 300 employees in the process. Dale Guidry, TMEIC president and CEO, credited the active roles played by the region’s economic development offices and Roanoke County officials in providing the zoning assistance needed to make the decision to stay in the area a logical one.
One of the best examples of the Roanoke Region’s extra-friendly business climate is the success of home-grown company Synchrony, which specializes in the development and production of magnetic bearings, controls, and power systems for high speed rotating machinery. What started in founder Victor Iannello’s garage has moved into its own 58,000-square-foot manufacturing and R&D facility. The company recently won an R&D 100 Award, in the Mechanical Devices category, for its Fusion Magnetic Bearing.
Beyond all that, the Roanoke Region has been rated a Top 25 Place to Retire by Money Magazine and the city’s Historic Farmer’s Market was cited among America’s Top 20 Favorites by Farmland.org.
Already a scenic wonder, the region’s network of greenways is utilizing $2 million in federal stimulus funds to add to its 21-mile system of parkland.
We encourage everyone to pay a visit to Roanoke. While you’re there, check out the ultra-modern Taubman Museum of Art. And don’t forget to sample a unique local offering—the best peanut soup on the planet!
Frankly, we’ve lost track of the number of times in the past year that Chattanooga has loomed large on our economic development radar screen. Month after month, the Tennessee city has exercised the healthy habit of issuing one mega-project announcement after another.
Chattanooga finished a strong second in our most recent annual Economic Development Deal of the Year competition with its triumphant selection by Volkswagen for a new $1-billion U.S. assembly plant.
Volkswagen’s selection of the location for its new North American auto assembly plant was one of the most eagerly anticipated economic development announcements of 2008. The excitement culminated in a memorable moment of triumph in July of last year, when Tennessee Governor Phil Bredesen held aloft a daily newspaper with a huge front-page headline: “It’s Chattanooga!”
Volkswagen Group of America is investing $1 billion in a new assembly plant at Chattanooga’s Enterprise South Industrial Park, said to be the largest single economic development project in Tennessee’s history. As the economic downturn deepened late last year, the German automaker reconfirmed its intention to move ahead with the Tennessee facility.
The two-million-square-foot Chattanooga plant, which initially will have an annual production capacity of 150,000 vehicles when it opens in 2010, marks VW’s return to U.S. manufacturing after a 20-year hiatus following the closing of VW’s last U.S. production facility in Pennsylvania. VW anticipates that it will be selling more than 800,000 Volkswagen’s per year in the United States by 2018.
“The U.S. market is an important part of our volume strategy and we are now very resolutely accessing that market,” says Prof. Martin Winterkorn, CEO of Volkswagen AG.
Tennessee officials are predicting that the arrival of Volkswagen eventually may put the state in position to become the overall leader in U.S. automotive production. An analysis by the University of Tennessee predicts that VW’s investment in Tennessee will boost incomes in the region by $511 million annually and generate more than $55 million per year in new tax revenues for both state and local governments.
Major parts producers already are lining up to locate or expand in the Chattanooga area to supply the VW plant. In June, Gestamp Corp. announced plans to invest $90 million to establish a new automotive parts stamping operation at Enterprise South Industrial Park in Chattanooga. The company expects the operation to create at least 230 new jobs at the industrial park within three years.
Gestamp has secured a contract to supply structural components for the production of the new mid-sized sedan that Volkswagen has designed specifically for the U.S. market. In addition, Gestamp, a global supplier, provides a wide range of technologies and products for many other automotive companies including Mercedes, Renault-Nissan, PSA Peugeot Citroen, Chrysler, GM, BMW and Toyota, among others. The newly established facility will support and extend Gestamp’s ability to supply its broad base of customers.
“Thanks to Gestamp, we are a step closer to realizing our vision of making Chattanooga an automotive manufacturing hub,” said Chattanooga Mayor Ron Littlefield.
With cultural amenities to rival big cities, Topekans revel in outdoor activities, excellent healthcare facilities, technologically advanced education and a below-average cost of living—making Topeka one of the most livable cities in the Midwest.
Topeka has a diverse business community ranging from federal and state government to distribution centers and manufacturing facilities, complimented by a full range of retail and service businesses. Payless ShoeSource, Hill’s Pet Nutrition, Security Benefit Group, Western Resources, and Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Kansas all are headquartered in Topeka.
Washburn University, located in the center of the city, offers undergraduate degrees in more than 45 different areas and a wide variety of professional graduate programs, including a law school. Washburn, which serves a student population of more than 7,300, has new campus living centers and lifestyle amenities that have resulted in more traditional students finding Washburn a perfect fit for their college years.
Topeka also is the home of Kaw Area Technical School which offers a wide variety of secondary, post-secondary and customized business training programs. In addition, the University of Kansas, Kansas State University, and Emporia State University are within an hour’s drive, bringing the total number of college students in the area to more than 63,000.
Topeka offers a quality of life that includes a zoo, parks, golf courses, community theatre, concerts and shows, festivals, sporting events, and myriad social services. Attractions include Heartland Park Topeka, the Brown vs. Board National Historic Site, the State Capitol complex and Governor’s Mansion, the Kansas History Center, the Great Overland Station and a variety of museums.
The community boasts two leading hospitals, five specialized medical facilities, and a wide variety of specialized health services that make it a major regional medical center for the state. The capital of Kansas, Topeka is the regional center for a seven-county area serving more than 343,000 people in northeast Kansas.
Topeka was among our Cost of Living leaders in Business Facilities’ 2009 Metro Rankings Report. Topeka recently was cited on an interesting Web site, called Frugal Zeitgei$t.com, which hunts for low-cost places to live. The site posted a query from a visitor who was looking for a really nice place to live on a monthly budget of $840. The site surveyed Topeka and reported that beautiful studio apartments were available there for $315/month, including air conditioning, cable TV, a dishwasher and a refrigerator!
MARTINSVILLE-HENRY COUNTY, VA
With its scenic beauty and rich history, Martinsville-Henry County is home to some of the finest recreational and cultural options in the country, including Martinsville Speedway, a major racing venue for NASCAR. Nestled in the foothills of the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains, with trout-filled rivers, quiet lakes, and majestic mountains, the area also is proud of its excellent medical facilities, innovative school systems and ample housing opportunities.
There are many reasons that companies have been looking at Martinsville-Henry County, VA. From its strong work force to its variety of incentives and utility costs that among the lowest in the nation, more and more companies have been touring this area of southern Virginia, including major players like Yahoo.
Centrally located on the East Coast, Martinsville-Henry County is within a day’s drive of more than 60% of the U.S. population. Martinsville-Henry County’s close proximity to 4 interstates makes it an ideal location for any business. Interstates 77, 85, 40, and 81 are all within 50 miles of the community and are easily accessible by four-lane connectors.
Martinsville-Henry County has a skilled workforce and a strong work ethic, rooted in decades of manufacturing. This work ethic has contributed to so many companies choosing to stay in the area and expand. As part of a right-to-work state, the area has one of the lowest unionization rates in the country.
“The key to [our] success is the loyal and dedicated employees,” says Don Hodges, president of West Window Corp. “You won’t find better employees than here in Martinsville-Henry County.”
Martinsville-Henry County is connected to a highly advanced optical broadband network. The Mid-Atlantic Broadband Cooperative (MBC) operates a 1,700-mile backbone network providing 400 Gigabits of capacity with key carrier interconnection points from Washington DC to Atlanta, GA. The network provides connectivity with speeds ranging from 10 Megabits to 10 Gigabits.
This network provides ultra-low latency connections to many Tier 1 telecom service providers. Multiple local and regional fiber optic networks in Martinsville-Henry County, including Century Link (formerly Embarq), Level3, Ntelos, and the City of Martinsville MiNet, provide a robust and diverse telecommunications environment to serve the business, industrial and technology industries that are thriving in the county.
Martinsville-Henry County also is home to several GigaParks™ that have direct connectivity to the MBC network and provide the perfect setting for companies requiring high capacity and low cost for their business and data center needs.
Having access to this advanced fiber-optic broadband network was one reason the area was a finalist for a recent Yahoo server farm.
Martinsville-Henry County also has a long-standing textile and furniture history, where well over 50 percent of the workforce is trained with manufacturing skills.
The Commonwealth of Virginia and Martinsville-Henry County offer a variety of incentives for new and expanding Virginia employers, including an Enterprise Zone, a Technology Zone, the Governor’s Opportunity Fund and the Tobacco Region Opportunity Fund. These incentives have enticed numerous companies to relocate in the county in recent months, and they are fueling the growth of business/industrial parks that offer 2,000 acres of land for development.
Two new business parks are planned in Martinsville-Henry County. The Commonwealth Crossing Park will be developed on approximately 800 acres on the North Carolina border, just 30 miles north of Greensboro airport. The new park also is served by rail.
A 1,200-acre expansion is planned for the current Patriot Centre site. These sites will be available to accommodate companies of various sizes, and there will be tracts large enough to accommodate major industries.
“Our plans show prospective industries that we can accommodate their needs today, tomorrow and in the future,” says Mark Heath, president and CEO of the Martinsville-Henry County Economic Development Corp.
Monogram Food Solutions announced in August that it is buying the Knauss Snack Foods plant in Martinsville-Henry County. The company plans to invest $3 million and add 120 jobs. Monogram Food Solutions could receive up to $963,148 in incentives for coming to the area. The largest share of the incentive package is $400,000 from the Virginia Tobacco Indemnification and Revitalization Commission.
All of the incentives, including the tobacco commission money, are performance-based, Heath stressed. That means that if the company does not meet its performance agreement, which says it will invest $3 million within 36 months, it will not receive all the money. Only the tobacco commission money is provided upfront, and that would be pro-rated if Monogram did not meet the agreement’s terms, Heath said.
In addition, the locality will give Monogram about six acres to expand parking at the plant. Other available incentives include tax credits, enterprise zone funding, state and local contributions, and funds available through the Workforce Investment Board, Heath said. In addition, the Virginia Small Business Financing Authority will provide up to $2 million in financing.
Ches Jackson, president of Monogram’s meat snacks division, praised Heath and other EDC officials, saying the group was “a first-class organization from day one—that is one of the reasons we are here.”
RTI International Metals announced last year that it would locate to Martinsville-Henry County. The company manufactures titanium mill products and fabricated metal components for the aerospace industry. Last spring, it bought a former shell building at the Patriot Centre and announced it will invest $100 million in the facility and establish 150 jobs there during the next three years.
RTI is more than doubling the size of the building it recently purchased, as well as constructing two new buildings on site. The three buildings together will cover more than 350,000 square feet. RTI has long-term agreements that represent more than $5 billion in future revenues.
“Three of these agreements, including Lockheed Martin, stand over 10 years and are for the supply of titanium products for future aircraft that are significant users of titanium and provide a solid base of business for our company that will help us weather these current recessionary conditions,” said Dawne Hickton, RTI vice chairman and chief executive officer.
Martinsville-Henry County’s central location on the East Coast means you can reach nearly 60 percent of the U.S. population in one day. Companies that locate in Martinsville-Henry County enjoy a low cost of doing business—construction rates in the county are 28 percent below the national average and electric rates are among the lowest in the nation. With more than 850,000 people in the workforce within a 50- mile radius, the county is ready to go to work and justifiably proud of its highly skilled and trained workforce.
Combine these advantages with competitive incentive packages, reasonable tax rates and a healthy, growing existing industry base, and you will be hard pressed to find a warmer business climate than Martinsville-Henry County. For more information, contact Martinsville-Henry County Office of Economic Development at (276) 403-5942, or visit online at www.YesMartinsville.com.
The locations that are thriving in today’s tough economy are shoring up their existing strengths and laying the groundwork for new industries. A great example of this can be found in Louisville, KY.
Louisville is moving quickly to establish itself as a hub for information technology, human resources, telecommunications and emerging high-tech industries like nanotechnology.
The U.S. Army’s expansion of Fort Knox (expected to be completed by 2011) will create about 1,400 jobs in human resources and information technology, according to Mark Needham, Gov. Steve Beshear’s adviser on Fort Knox. The Army has projected a shortage of about 1,000 information technology and human resource professionals, and it has been working with colleges and job training agencies in Louisville, Elizabethtown and Radcliff to close the gap.
On the cutting edge of high technology, the Kentucky Economic Development Finance Authority recently granted funding from the Cabinet for Economic Development’s High-Tech Investment Pool to NaugaNeedles, LLC for the further development of the company’s proprietary nanofabrication technology to grow flexible, constant-diameter, silver-gallium nanoneedles that can be used for many applications, including enhanced mechanical, electrical, and electrochemical sensing and manipulation at cellular and molecular levels.
Based on this technology, the company has six categories of products fully developed and ready for commercialization. A client of the Louisville Innovation and Commercialization Center, NaugaNeedles anticipates it will create full-time, high-tech and technical support jobs for Kentucky residents paying an average annual salary of approximately $64,000, exclusive of benefits.
Louisville-based Lightyear Network Solutions LLC, meanwhile, plans an expansion that could add 148 jobs. The telecommunications company is planning to expand its wireless service and launch a prepaid product. The expansion would require the addition of the new jobs, which would have an annual payroll of $4.3 million.
Print Fulfillment Services, Inc is undertaking an expansion in Louisville that will entail a $2.1 million investment and add 20,000 square-feet to its existing 100,000 square-foot facility.
The project was approved by the Kentucky Economic Development Finance Authority (KEDFA) under Kentucky’s new incentive program, the Kentucky Business Investment (KBI) Program. KEDFA preliminarily approved Print Fulfillment Services, Inc. for up to $380,000 in tax incentives, which can be earned over a 10-year period through corporate income tax credits and wage assessments.
Tulsa, OK, which boasts a low cost of living and high rate of pay, finished a strong second in our annual Quality of Life ranking and took the top ranking in our annual Cost of Living survey.
MSNBC.com has perennially listed Tulsa as one of the lowest-cost cities in which to rent in the country, with spacious homes available for as low as $500 per month and low-cost apartments available to students flocking to this college town; average home sale prices also are among the lowest in the country.
Anyone tired of traffic congestion in their current location will be pleased to learn that the average one-way commute in this Oklahoma city is about 20 minutes, third fastest in a recent survey of 65 major metropolitan areas. Salary.com, meanwhile, ranks Tulsa as one of the most favorable cities to build personal wealth, which residents can hang onto thanks to state and local taxes that are among the lowest in the nation.
“Tulsa’s housing and commercial real estate markets have remained steady, creating immense potential for our community to do very well when the economic pendulum begins to swing the other way. The best is yet to come for Tulsa,” said Mike Neal, president and CEO of the Tulsa Metro Chamber.
In 2003, Tulsa County approved a one penny 13-year increase in the county sales tax for regional economic development and capital improvements. The package, called “Vision 2025: Foresight 4 Greater Tulsa,” was the culmination of a long effort to grow economic and community infrastructure for future generations. The City of Tulsa and Tulsa County’s combined efforts became the “Vision Process.” This coordinated effort generate a list of 32 projects totaling $885 million, including $350 million targeted for economic development/education, health care and events facilities.
This proposition included funding for OU-Tulsa, OSU-Tulsa, NSU-Broken Arrow, Langston-Tulsa, and Tulsa Community College-Southeast Campus; an expansion for the Morton Health Center; a modernization of the Tulsa Regional Convention Center; a new Events Center for the city; and Expo Square improvements.
Shreveport is the third largest city in Louisiana and the commercial and cultural center of the Ark-La-Tex (the area where Arkansas, Louisiana and Texas meet).
With a large service economy, major medical facilities, several colleges and strong tourism, Shreveport is a busy metropolitan area with all the trimmings.
Shreveport’s natural assets also have been drawing well-deserved attention. The world’s largest oilfield services company is expanding its operation to handle a major new natural gas find.
Schlumberger Limited’s decision to expand its facility in Shreveport was largely influenced by the Hanesville Shale discovery, a formation mainly composed of consolidated clay-sized particles deposited and buried in northwest Louisiana and east Texas during the Upper Jurassic age (more than 170 million years ago). Characterized by ultra-low permeability but with a high porosity compared to other shales, it has the potential to produce as much as 39 trillion cubic feet of gas.
The company will renovate its existing 250,000 square-foot warehouse, converting it into maintenance shops, laboratory facilities and office space. The project will combine regional business segments into one oil-field services headquarters and provide space for future expansions.
“We ultimately will convert this compound into a state-of-the-art facility that will enhance our regional operations and provide our clients with optimum service using high-tech equipment and highly skilled labor,” said Schlumberger operations manager Trent Lee.
The $48-million investment will ensure retention of 120 jobs, bring 400 new permanent positions to northwest Louisiana within four years, and create 250 construction jobs. The new headquarters should be open for business by the before then end of this year, with an expected annual payroll of up to $40 million.
When you think about places in the U.S. associated with the film industry, Louisiana may not immediately spring to mind. Surprisingly though, the state is ranked only behind California and New York in volume of film production, and at the center of the state’s success in the film industry is the Shreveport/Bossier area.
Today, the area is a bustling center for tourism, with many gaming establishments. It also happens to be the new nexus of a flourishing film industry in Louisiana. How did an area that wasn’t even on the filmmaking map prior to 2005 already attract more than a dozen projects with budgets totaling nearly $200 million in the past three years?
Two words: Hurricane Katrina. After Katrina struck in August of 2005, several movie and television projects taking place in New Orleans were left scrambling to find some place else to finish their productions. That place for many ended up being Northwest Louisiana, and several projects went some 300 miles northwest to the Shreveport/Bossier area in order to salvage their productions. One of the bigger features that came to the area at that time was Disney’s “The Guardian,” starring Kevin Costner and Ashton Kutcher.
The facts speak mountains for the area’s rapid success in this industry: since October 2005, 25 movie and television projects have been shot or green-lit in Northwest Louisiana, bringing in an estimated $340 million in production.
The area has been a location stand-in for such places as New York, Alaska, New Hampshire, Amsterdam, and Maine, and has been the destination for well-known films such as “Blonde Ambition,” “Factory Girl,” “The Mist,” “Harold and Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay,” and “The Great Debaters.” “The Year One” starring Jack Black, Michael Cera, David Cross, and Oliver Platt, and Oliver Stone’s “W,” starring Josh Brolin and Elizabeth Banks, were both produced there in 2007-2008, along with three others film and television projects.
Major film-industry companies like Paskal Lighting, Cinelease and Panavision all have taken up residence in the area thanks to this film boom.
Nu Image/Millennium Films last year had a groundbreaking ceremony to celebrate a new studio project. Construction on phase one of the project has begun on 6.7 acres, with the intention of eventually expanding to a 20-acre full-service studio, complete with three sound stages, production offices, a mill, and prop house. In addition, MovieMaker Magazine ranked Shreveport the third-best place to film independent movies, behind such hubs as California and New York. So what is it that has facilitated this unlikely pairing between Northwest Louisiana and the film industry? For starters, massive incentives: The state offers a 25% tax credit for an in-state production worth $300,000, plus 10 percent more for the use of local labor.
“The state tax credits are bringing them into the state and we keep them coming in repeatedly by our film-friendly area (logistically a super easy place to shoot film productions), Southern hospitality, and great infrastructure. A production can easily shoot four to five locations in one day,” notes Arlena Acree, director of film, media and entertainment for Shreveport. The Shreveport area provides state-of-the-art infrastructure with production spaces like Mansfield Studios and soundstages StageWorks and StageWest. Louisiana Wave Studio offers the only tank with automatically generated waves in the United States.
Thanks to Shreveport’s burgeoning film industry, the city is the recent recipient of the $3.7 million Robinson Film Center (RFC), a not-for-profit organization whose mission is to present the best international, independent, and classic film while serving as a resource for filmmaking and education. RFC’s new facility in downtown Shreveport includes two state-of-art theaters, a bistro, and multi-purpose spaces ideal for business and non-profit use. The new facility opened to the public on May 3, 2008.
As the first film center of the south, the RFC features the latest in film and digital projection. It has private screening facilities for dailies and multi-purpose media rooms.
So, the next time you are munching popcorn at your local 12-plex, there is good chance the movie magic you are watching was made in Shreveport, LA.
Tucson, AZ already was on our radar screen because one of its well-known products literally lights up every radar screen: advanced missiles for the defense industry.
We named Tucson among the top 10 metro areas for aerospace/defense manufacturing in this year’s Business Facilities ranking report. This ranking was based on a comparison of industry sector employment and wages, an evaluation of major projects and facility expansion/relocation activity for a region in the past 12 months, and the number of major aerospace and defense contractors headquartered in the region.
Tucson clearly has established itself as a leading aerospace/defense hub. It is home to Raytheon Missile Systems, the world’s largest missile manufacturer, which generates about $5 billion in annual revenue and supports more than 12,000 jobs. With a solid footing in the production of advanced defense systems 16 percent of new jobs in the area in Fiscal Year 2008-2009 were in aerospace/defense and homeland security-related industries. Tucson has positioned itself for steady growth in this critical high-tech sector for years to come.
“Business Facilities’ ranking of Tucson as a top metro area for aerospace and defense manufacturing proves that targeted efforts to recruit high-skilled jobs in this industry are paying off,” noted Joe Snell, Tucson Regional Economic Opportunities, Inc. (TREO) president and CEO. “The aerospace and defense industry is a critical component of Tucson’s economy and a national ranking like this is great recognition for the region.”
Tucson also has recently ranked as a hotspot for young professionals as well as a “Fast City.” In June, Next Generation Consulting ranked Tucson No. 16 on its list of the best places to live and work for young professionals in cities with a population of more than 500,000. And, in May, Fast Company magazine ranked Tucson as one of the top 12 “Fast Cities” in the world.
As the entire country rushes to embrace alternative energy, Tucson also is moving quickly to take advantage of an asset it possesses in abundance: sunlight. The Arizona city is part of a “Sun Corridor” (including Phoenix, Flagstaff, and Greater Yuma) that is conducting a coordinated effort to recruit high-wage industries such as aerospace, solar and renewable energy and bioscience.
Tucson has unveiled a Green Jobs Initiative targeting Department of Energy stimulus funds to create jobs that promote energy efficiency, reduction of greenhouse gasses and a good return on investment. The Green Jobs Initiative is an effort to grab some of the federal stimulus dollars under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act for self-sustaining and energy-efficient projects around the city, including methane gas capture at local landfills.
“We’re breaking new ground here in a lot of ways. The Energy Department is expecting us to be pretty creative in a lot of these projects,” said City of Tucson Sustainability Administrator David Schaller.
A methane gas capture project at the Los Reales Landfill is an example of an undertaking that could get federal stimulus money through the city’s new Green Jobs Initiative.
Tucson is expecting to get as much as $5.1 million in grant money as part of the Energy and Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant Program.
Tucson also recently joint the list of places Nissan is helping gear up for the electric cars it promises to have on the road next year.
The Japanese automaker is working with Ecotality, a battery-charging technology company, to deploy an EV charging network in the Tucson metropolitan area. The announcement comes as a growing number of automakers develop plug-in hybrids and electric vehicles and join EV advocates and energy companies in creating the infrastructure to keep them going. Nissan and its parent company, Renault, are especially bullish on electric cars and have launched EV initiatives in several states and countries.
“This partnership represents a major step toward making zero emissions a reality in the Tucson metro area,” said Dominique Thormann, a senior VP for Nissan North America.
“We are looking forward to working with our partners in fostering the development and acceptance of electric vehicles as the smart, environmentally sound choice.”
Nissan and Ecotality, an Arizona firm that offers “quick-charge” battery charging technology for fleet use, have joined the Pima County Association of Governments to develop a plan for rolling out a charging network and launching an education campaign to foster the adoption of EVs. Jonathan Read, president and CEO of Ecotality, said the collaboration will “ensure the implementation of charging infrastructure is done properly and efficiently” and at minimal cost.
Such an infrastructure isn’t of much use without cars to plug into it, so Nissan will provide an undisclosed number of EVs to public and private fleets when the car goes into production in 2010. That promises to be a big year for cars with cords, with General Motors promising the Chevrolet Volt, Toyota rolling out the first Prius plug-in hybrids and even Chrysler among the growing number of automakers saying they’ll have EVs on the road by then.
With that in mind, Ecotality says Tucson’s charging stations will meet all EV charging system standards, including the SAE J1772 specs for charge couplers, so they are compatible with EVs from other automakers.
“The Tucson region will be an attractive launch market not just for Nissan’s electric vehicles, but all grid-connected vehicles,” said Colleen Crowninshield, head of the clean cities program at the Pima Association of Governments.
Solar energy companies also are lining up to locate in Tucson.
“In the last couple years we’ve had five solar companies locate operations here,” TREO president Snell said.
“We want to be a solar hub,” he added. “The manufacturing is great, but ultimately we want to be a complete solar city and we want to see those solar panels everywhere.”
Lee Smith, TREO’s senior vice president of business development, said that 38 percent of all inquiries that he receives from companies looking to locate in Tucson are solar companies. Among the major solar energy players that have established a base in the Tucson area are:
• Solon Corp., a subsidiary of Solon SE of Germany and one of the largest solar module builders in Europe, opened its first U.S. manufacturing plant in Tucson in 2007.
• Global Solar Energy, a leading manufacturer of thin-film solar panels, is headquartered in Tucson, where it recently expanded into a new building. A 750-kilowatt field installed with the combined technologies of Solon and Global helps power Global’s plant.
• Schletter Inc., a German solar company, designs, manufactures and distributes solar systems from its Tucson facility, its only U.S. operation, which opened last year. “Tucson happens to have more sunshine per year than any other major city in America,” noted Martin Hausner, Schletter’s CEO.
• General Plasma employs 50 people making components for solar panels.
• Prism Solar Technologies Inc. designs and manufactures high-efficiency holographic film and solar modules that can triple or quadruple the solar collection power of modules. The four-year-old company works with manufacturers to integrate holographic film into silicon- and thin-film-based modules.
• The University of Arizona and Arizona Public Service Energy Services are partnering to promote and develop solar technology. About 10 percent of the university’s energy will come from solar systems.
The UA has created the Arizona Research Institute for Solar Energy (AzRISE). Also, the U.S. Energy Department has awarded UA $15 million to create an Energy Frontier Research Center to study new thin-film photovoltaic systems. According to the Pew Charitable Trusts, Arizona jobs in the clean energy sector grew 21.3 percent between 1998 and 2007, outpacing the national average of 9.1 percent. With 350 days of sunlight annually, Tucson intends to become an economic juggernaut.