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While OV is relatively close to community buildout, it continues to attract new businesses and residents alike. Moving forward, how do we balance economic growth with our resources and needs as a community?
This is the challenge that Paul Melcher, Director of the Oro Valley Community and Economic Development (CED) department, takes on every day. His three-person team has developed a multi-tiered strategy to cultivate and promote a vibrant local economy that provides jobs and enriches the community.
For starters, the CED team has put everything a business might need in one central business page: chooseorovalley.com. This resource is a major improvement from the drop-down menus on similar sites.
The team’s main goal in developing the website was to provide primary employers/site selectors with one-click access to critical project information. Information such as available sites, the labor pool, and key industry sectors help potential businesses assess the benefits of locating in OV.
The Site Selector tool provides lot-specific information about available land, available buildings, and tech park sites. Some new businesses are able to re-purpose existing commercial buildings, a type of project called “adaptive re-use”. One example is Aldi’s plans to launch a store at the old Sports Authority building.
Paul believes that future infill development in the existing town footprint will complement existing development, reflecting the goal of preserving our views of the surrounding mountain ranges.
Additionally, the chooseorovalley.com landing page provides a broad range of business-related resources:
For example, anyone interested in starting a business can find an entrepreneur’s starter kit for three different types of businesses:
Every month, the CED department releases a downloadable Economic Development Report, which provides information about current projects, as well sporting events, the arts, and entertainment.
With Margie Adler, Economic Development Specialist, and Andrew Fairbanks, Tourism Strategies Manager, the CED team has built a whole ecosystem to support local businesses.
“We have a very aggressive and dynamic team, so we’ve bitten off a lot in terms of strategic objectives,” says Paul. These objectives, which can be found in the Oro Valley Town Council Strategic Plan FY23-25, include:
One of the powerful tools that Paul’s team uses is the annual Business Expansion and Retention survey of OV employers. The survey serves two purposes. First, it provides an opportunity to gather critical data to identify possible obstacles preventing local businesses from thriving. Second, it generates possible topics for the Chamber/Town Annual Business Summit.
Key takeaways from this year’s survey:
The Annual Business Summit will be held January 30, 2024 at the El Conquistador Resort. At the event, local employers can get together, network, attend breakout workshops, and listen to a keynote speaker with insights as to how to meet their business needs.
When it comes to supporting local businesses, the CED team recognizes that one size does not fit all.
OV has some local gems — wonderful small businesses that are much loved by locals, such as Stacks Book Club and El Charro Cafe. These local businesses provide an important part of the town’s character.
OV also has large employers, like Roche Tissue Diagnostics (1800 local employees) and Oro Valley Hospital (500 employees). These employers provide jobs for many OV residents and attract new workers to our community.
“CED understands the value of each business and strives to eliminate obstacles to them not only succeeding, but thriving,” explains Paul. “It’s why the Town, including the Mayor and staff, meet annually with primary employers and meet personally with restaurant and retail providers.”
“The town has prepared for its own success,” says Paul in reference to the Town’s General Plan and Comprehensive Economic Development Strategies.
One of the primary goals is to continue to attract technology companies. We’ve been host to an exciting tech boom over the last couple of decades, most noticeably in Innovation Park.
CED has divided local tech firms into three clusters:
OV is host to nearly 700 brick-and-mortar businesses. These are traditional storefront operations with a physical, walk-in location (i.e., not just found online.)
During the COVID lockdowns, the Town and Chamber of Commerce rose to the challenge with OV SafeSteps. They distributed almost $1MM in financial assistance to smaller local businesses with 50 or fewer employees. A team comprised of Town staff also contacted every business by phone and created an email database which is used to share important information in a timely manner.
These efforts helped build a great rapport between business and government, and lead to an enhanced business retention program, which includes Mayor Joe Winfield joining Margie Adler and Chamber Executive Director Kristen Sharp on visits to local businesses every week. The goal is to visit at least 200 businesses each year to celebrate their successes, and to help identify resources if any business is experiencing challenges.
Bioscience in OV is one area of great job creation. Over the last five years, 93 new jobs in bioscience were created locally. Bioscience is projected to bring almost 200 new jobs to OV over the next five years.
The new University of Arizona Center for Innovation (UACI) has an exciting incubator program. This is where bright, entrepreneurial types work on new ideas and prototypes for tomorrow’s essential technologies.
There are currently three tenants related to the bioscience field in the UACI incubator facility. Town staff meet with these tenants to discuss any assistance needed at the local level, and to determine what a future business coming from an incubator might need for it to locate in Oro Valley.
The CED team hopes to begin tracking graduates from the University of Arizona and Pima County College, looking at why — or why not — they choose to stay in the region, and why they might be drawn to OV in particular. Some local employers offer internships to attract new talent, and the Town is interested in seeing more of these types of opportunities offered.
“Our emphasis is on making sure that we are recruiting the primary employers that make sense for Oro Valley,” says Paul. A primary employer is defined as one that produces more than can be consumed by the local economy — thus operating as a net exporter of goods and/or services.
“We also look to recruit companies that are tied to other primary employers, and that might also be part of their components or logistics supply chain,” explains Paul. “We are looking at companies that have a common thread with key manufacturing elements. For example, optics are utilized by many companies in our key industry sectors, so it makes sense to pursue companies involved in optics development and manufacturing.”
One of the incentives for potential new businesses is the expedited review of new projects in OV’s designated Economic Expansion Zones. This fast-tracking gets new buildings from concept to construction with a streamlined administrative process.
The team also uses Gazelle AI, a tool that allows the team to identify prospective businesses that might be interested in OV.
When potential primary employers are looking to expand or relocate operations to OV, the CED team works with them to assess their goals. “We look at the synergy between anchor companies, the labor pool, and the available local infrastructure for them,” explains Paul.
For example, if a major new business might have special water needs, Paul will talk to Oro Valley Water Utility Director Peter Abraham to confirm that the town can provide adequate water supply for their proposed operations.
As part of its Connect Pima initiative, Pima County will also soon begin working on developing a regional fiber-optic cable ring, part of which is to be constructed within the La Cañada and Tangerine Road rights-of-way. This should be a boon to local tech firms and the community at-large.
“My job description is Community and Economic Development,” Paul emphasizes. “Having a well-developed community that is safe, has ample recreational, shopping, dining, and cultural options, and provides housing opportunities for the local workforce, is a key element of ensuring overall community success and sustainability.”
Tourism Strategies Manager Andrew Fairbanks is dedicated full-time to promoting local events, exhibitions and tourism. Notable recent offerings include the immersive Van Gogh exhibit and the Tucson Bicycle Classic. Andrew has been instrumental in creating an Oro Valley birding strategy, expanding cycling training and racing events, and developing a traveler itinerary for Oro Valley visitors.
Paul was brought onboard to the Town in 2021 based on his extensive experience in different levels of government in Arizona. In Yuma County, Paul served as Planning and Zoning Director, Deputy County Administrator, and Director of Economic Development and Intergovernmental Affairs. He also served as Director of Parks and Recreation for the City of San Luis.
Paul invites readers to email his team with comments and inquiries.
By Tom Ekman, J.D., M.Ed