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SPECIAL REPORT 2019

THE REGION’S BUSINESS MAGAZINE

TOWN OF

SAHUARITA You’re gonna love it here!

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BizMILESTONE

Safety, Education, Quality of Life

Sahuarita Residents Help Guide Growth By Christy Krueger As the Town of Sahuarita celebrates its 25th birthday this year, its leaders have big dreams for the area’s future growth and its role as a significant contributor to the region’s economic sustainability. At the same time, leaders understand that growth should be planned and controlled – and they’re particularly committed to including community feedback in their decisions. 142 BizTucson

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Residents’ needs and wants, maintaining the quality of life and supporting the town’s award-winning school programs all are important considerations moving into the future, the town’s leaders say, as are attention to the growing job market, the health of small businesses and relationships with major industries of the area. Sahuarita has had significant growth

in a relatively short amount of time. Mayor Tom Murphy said that when the town was incorporated in 1994, it had 1,800 residents. The population now is more than 30,000, with 6,500 students in its schools. Murphy envisions a population of 40,000 to 45,000 in the nottoo-distant future. He also understands that growth can be a challenge. Issues such as safety, schools, parks, www.BizTucson.com


25 Years

jobs, housing and retaining current residents are all tied to growth and attaining a strong economy. One of the biggest attributes of the town, said Murphy, is safety. “We start with a safe community,” Murphy said. “Safety-wise, we’re in the top five in the state. Our police department even has drones.” Murphy said Sahuarita is the first such department in the state to have them. In 2018, the town conducted a citizen survey to gauge residents’ opinions of the community, its amenities, government, businesses and a wide range of www.BizTucson.com

other topics. One glaring request was for more restaurants and shops, and, according to Victor Gonzalez, Sahuarita’s economic development director, residents want chains. While there are a variety of home-grown businesses, such as Mama’s Hawaiian Bar-B-Cue and Cathey’s Sewing and Vacuum, the townspeople also like their TJ Maxx and Starbucks. National chains, of course, want to see towns with an increasing population. Towns want to bring in chains to attract homebuyers, add to the tax base and increase the number of jobs close

to home. It’s a mutually beneficial relationship. Education is also a big plus in Sahuarita. With the average age of residents at 34 years old, potential homebuyers look closely at the schools, of which there are nine in the Sahuarita Unified School District. “K-12 education needs to be well-rounded,” Murphy said. “We offer German, Mandarin and Chinese in our schools, with a Junior ROTC top program. Families look for these.” He also identifies the amenity-rich master-planned communities as being greatly responsible for putting Sahuarita continued on page 144 >>> Winter 2019

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PHOTOS: COURTESY TOWN OF SAHUARITA

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BizMILESTONE

PHOTOS: COURTESY TOWN OF SAHUARITA

continued from page 143 on the map. “There’s Madera Highlands, Quail Creek and Rancho Sahuarita, the most affordable and highly amenitized. All have different demographics.” Part of the town’s growth plan includes adding facilities and programs desired by existing families. According to Gonzalez, that includes public gathering spaces – such as a plaza, performance area and splash pads. The goal is to create a “Main Street” near the town center that could also include office space, a hotel, a civic center, multi-family housing and other mixed-use developments. Murphy envisions it as a central area with grass, a place that can hold more people than what the town currently has. “This would bring different neighborhoods together,” he said. “It’s important to weave together different parts of our community.” Another issue to come out of the citizen survey is the need for more nighttime entertainment – which would likely be part of the Town Center District – although Town Manager Kelly Udall points out that the town isn’t completely void of such activities now. It has a monthly concert series by the lake and large annual celebrations such as the Fourth of July Red, White and Boom fireworks display, the spring Fiesta Sahuarita and the Winter Festival and Holiday Light Parade. Fiesta Sahuarita, which is presented by the Town of Sahuarita, brings families together for a day of fun, activities, games, rides, food and more. This small-town festival is held in Anamax Park each year in March. Local entertainment and live music performs on the mobile stage, and organizations throughout the region provide opportunities for local and new residents to discover their community. Another popular event is the annual Sahuarita Pecan Festival, which attracts 20,000 neighbors and visitors each fall. Held on the Green Valley Pecan Company grounds, the family-friendly experience offers wagon rides into the pecan groves, music, food, vendors, demonstrations and a kids’ area. “The overall feel of the event endears our community to the Town of Sahuarita,” Udall said. “The Waldens put that on. We coordinate with our police department and parks and rec.” Offering more social events isn’t simply a request by residents, it’s a part of what keeps the town cohesive and attracts new homebuyers, Udall said. “We have events that have a smalltown feel. It’s very important to us to foster the small-town feel where people know each other and enjoy cultural events. It’s critical for what we’re trying to create.” From an employment standpoint, residents work at Sahuarita’s large employers, including 144 BizTucson

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the town itself, its booming school district, Freeport-McMoRan and ASARCO mines, Farmers Investment Company (parent organization of Green Valley Pecan Company) and retailers such as Walmart. Other large companies nearby include Caterpillar and Komatsu, both of which operate proving grounds west of Interstate 19. Sahuarita residents also make the commute to work for major employers on Tucson’s southside, approximately a 20- to 30-minute drive, including Raytheon Missile Systems, Davis-Monthan Air Force Base and Tucson International Airport. “Amazon is another business whose employees will live here,” Murphy said. He refers to the town as a “bedroom community” because folks feel that the quality of life in Sahuarita more than makes up for commuting to work. Yet town leaders realize a larger number of local employers are needed to attract the growth they envision. They have created a town master plan and economic-development blueprints. Udall believes workforce development is an important segment of the strategy and that includes recruiting and retaining businesses. “I expect to see 500 to 600 new jobs in the next several years,” Gonzalez said, from projects currently in the works and indirect jobs emanating from those projects. Gonzalez explained that while the Sahuarita area has sustained largely on mining and agriculture, diversification is necessary for the town’s longterm economic health. Targeting industries like technology and professional services, which are predicted to bring in future jobs, is a step of the town’s strategy that has already begun. West of I-19, the planned Sahuarita Advanced Manufacturing and Technology Center, known as SAMTEC, is expected to attract high-tech companies and already has a number of prospects. Northwest Healthcare is planning an 18bed neighborhood hospital with approximately 180 employees making an average annual salary of $50,000. Construction is anticipated to begin in early 2019. Sahuarita folks have much to look forward to this year with its 25th-anniversary celebration. “We’ll have an event each month for 2019, some larger than others,” Udall said. “All will call attention to the anniversary. In January we’ll have an open house at Town Hall where people can talk to elected and appointed officials. I’d like a farmers’ market at Phase I of where the district will be, near La Villita Road. We’ll have a calendar of all activities.” The mayor, with his always-optimistic outlook, is passionate about Sahuarita being a special and unique place for its residents as seen in his frequent use of the word “love” when describing the town and its people: “We love our active residents, we love our schools, we love our law enforcement.”

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Tom Murphy

Mayor Town of Sahuarita

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BizCLIMATE

Working for Business Town Puts Out the Welcome Mat

PHOTOS: COURTESY TOWN OF SAHUARITA

By Christy Krueger When it comes to working with business owners, both new and longtime, Sahuarita officials are known for laying out the welcome mat. It shows in the simplified process of setting up a business. “We have no impact fees and we don’t charge for a business license,” said Mayor Tom Murphy. “We also don’t have property tax. We try to be as efficient and quick as we can. Time is money, so the quicker they can open, that’s our end goal. We try to be as cooperative as we can.” Town Manager Kelly Udall said that speeding up the business application process is a priority. “We’re one of the top in the area in turnaround time. We recently put our business-licensing online. We’re trying to speed up to keep up with the timeline of the business.” “There are more or less three areas we focus on,” said Victor Gonzalez, economic development director for the Town of Sahuarita. “First, how do we grow our local businesses? We have a program – BizEdge – that takes three businesses through workshops and we give one-on-one counseling. At the end, the three businesses compete in a ‘Shark-Tank’-like event. The winner this year will receive a $4,000 cash prize.” Freeport-McMoRan, the mining company that is a frequent community advocate, helps small businesses through grants. “A number of years ago,” Murphy said, “they provided 148 BizTucson

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a grant that we used to study homebased businesses here.” The mining company followed that up with a grant to repurpose the first floor of Town Hall. A kiosk, Wi-Fi, conference room and work stations were installed as part of BizHub to offer home-based businesses a professional work and meeting space. In addition, the town presents educational seminars on topics such as using Instagram. The second priority is developing mid- to longterm strategic initiatives. It’s about looking at the needs and opportunities that currently exist and planning for the future, Gonzalez said. Sahuarita Advanced Manufacturing and Technology Center is an example. “It’s to diversify the economy beyond mining and agriculture,” he said. “Much of our labor force commutes to tech businesses in Southern Arizona. The town undertook the project to create infrastructure for the future.” SAMTEC is a 32,000-squarefoot multi-tenant facility currently under construction with a target completion date of late 2019. Sahuarita’s third point of focus is positioning itself to be more competitive in attracting new jobs. The town has been active with the Arizona Commerce Authority and Sun Corridor Inc. in regional strategies to attract jobs to the area. In an effort to advocate for existing businesses, Gonzalez said that continued on page 150 >>>

Victor Gonzalez

Economic Development Director Town of Sahuarita www.BizTucson.com


PHOTO: BRENT G. MATHIS

PHOTO: BRENT G. MATHIS

Kelly Udall

Town Manager Town of Sahuarita

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BizCLIMATE continued from page 148 in 2018 the town formalized a relationship with the Green Valley/Sahuarita Chamber of Commerce to further improve the local business climate. “It’s the first time we’ve formalized a working relationship. It’s a good first step,” Gonzalez said. “This establishes a scope in which the chamber is committed to providing support for our businesses and be more visible here.” Joe Erceg, the chamber’s president and CEO since April 2017, has taken off running in his mission to help advance Sahuarita’s goals. “There have been a lot of changes,” he said. “The attitude is more toward educating and helping small businesses. “We’re starting a business retention and expansion program, launching in first quarter, based on 50 to 70 businesses in the Sahuarita and Green Valley area.” In order to determine business owners’ wants and needs, the chamber will conduct a survey, made possible by a $10,000 grant from Freeport-McMoRan.

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Needs are different in the two towns because of demographics, Erceg pointed out. “In Green Valley the average age is 72, so business retention is the issue we concentrate on. In Sahuarita it’s 34, so it’s that too, but more in the area of expansion. We’re going to do a marketing boot camp if that’s a need, also a career fair if there’s a need. What we do (in 2019) will be based on the survey results.” The chamber recently joined with eight other chambers of commerce to form the Southern Arizona Chamber of Commerce Association. This alliance is working with UnitedHealthcare of Arizona to offer affordable health insurance to its members. “The No. 1 need among small businesses in the country is healthcare,” Erceg said. Under a new federal law, business owners with two to 50 employees can offer health insurance that is less restrictive than the Affordable Care Act. Another partnership Sahuarita has forged helps provide technical assistance, mentoring, workshops and one-

on-one one counseling to small business through the Small Business Development Center. “We try to listen to the needs of the business community and deliver,” Erceg said of the chamber’s partnership with Sahuarita. “The Town of Sahuarita is very open to new ideas. Victor Gonzalez is such a forward-thinking guy.” Likewise, Gonzalez believes in Erceg and his work. “Joe’s ability to connect with people is something that was needed to move in a different direction. He has infused energy.” Whether the intent is to attract new businesses, support existing ones or create opportunities for new industries, Udall believes all businesses can potentially be successful when the town stands behind them. “They see a community where they want to belong, to raise kids and have a high quality of life. It’s one of our highest priorities.”

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BizGROWTH

Life in Sahuarita Safety, Planning, Community Draw Residents

PHOTOS: COURTESY TOWN OF SAHUARITA

By April Bourie

It seems a pre-requisite for Sahuarita residents to know the correct pronunciation of the town’s name: “Sa-wa-rita” with a little trill on the r. But that’s not all that Sahuarita residents have in common. They boast about the quality of life the town offers – friendly neighbors, safety, natural beauty, access to outdoor activities, a sense of community and an accessible town government. “When we moved into our neighborhood, I was welcomed with a fresh pumpkin pie,” said Angela Piñon, an import/export compliance officer for Universal Avionics. “I had to Google how to respond,” she laughed. She and her family moved to Sahuarita about five years ago from South Tucson to be closer to family and because she had heard that Sahuarita was named one of the safest towns in Arizona by the National Council for Home Safety and Security. Since moving there, she has come to love the unique scenery of the area. “With the pecan groves and our proximity to Madera Canyon, there’s more than desert landscape,” she said. “I’m outside more because of the easy access to outdoor activities.” Nanette Smejkal, Sahuarita parks and 154 BizTucson

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recreation director, said that the love of the outdoors is what many residents enjoy in the area. “There are a lot of families and young children as well as an active adult population in the area, and they all love their parks, being outdoors, being engaged and active,” she said. To that end, the department offers a variety of activities to residents – including fitness and art classes, fishing clinics, concerts, game nights and major events like the Fiesta Sahuarita, Spooktacular Halloween and the Fourth of July celebration that regularly draw 10,000 people. The mix of families and seniors drew James Ward, a retired University of Illinois professor, to Sahuarita 10 years ago. After he moved to Sahuarita, he learned about the Citizens Leadership Academy, a program that existed to familiarize residents with all of the departments in the town and would recruit for volunteers on various committees. The program is no longer active, but Ward said he secured a position on the Finance and Investment Advisory Committee, and the Town Center District Vision Planning Group. While resident involvement remains a foundation for the quality of life in Sahuarita, the town’s well-deserved repu-

tation for public safety is a priority as the town grows and its boundaries expand. “We are working to match our resources to keep up with the growth,” said Sahuarita Police Chief John Noland. “We recently sent three recruits through the sheriff’s academy and one of them received the highest reward for leadership. We also have three more going through the academy right now.” The police department engages with the public on a personal level with a number of programs, including “Coffee with a Cop,” where officers will sit down with a small group of residents in www.BizTucson.com


Parks & Recreation Director Town of Sahuarita

Public Works Director Town of Sahuarita

a casual setting and spend time talking about issues in the community. “We can enforce the law, but that doesn’t always solve the problem,” Noland said. “These types of programs allow us to work with the community to solve policing issues and help the community know the officers in a different capacity so they are more comfortable working with them.” As new residents make their way into Sahuarita, Sarah More, Sahuarita planning and building director, says the lower costs of land in the area and the variety of housing being built should be www.BizTucson.com

M.J. Dillard

PHOTO: BRENT G. MATHIS

PHOTO: BRENT G. MATHIS

Nanette Smejkal

John Noland

Sahuarita Police Chief

attractive to them. “At Rancho Resort and in Quail Creek, seniors can purchase a ‘lockand-leave’ home that they live in only during the cooler months. Large family homes are available in Rancho Sahuarita and luxury homes with larger lots can be found at Stone House off of Old Nogales Highway.” The Town of Sahuarita is also preparing for growth by focusing on its infrastructure. “We do have a 10-year plan in place to apply the appropriate rejuvenation treatments so they don’t become a problem,” said M.J. Dillard,

Sahuarita public works director, adding that maintaining the town’s streets and roads is a point of pride for the town officials. Lou Alvarez, co-owner of Copper Fitness with Justin Foss, said that no matter how much the town grows, he appreciates that the town’s staff is accessible. “I can show up at a Town Council meeting and talk to everyone – from the police chief to the superintendent of schools to the economic development director. I have kids in this community, and that makes it easy for me to make an impact for them.” Biz Winter 2019

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BizECONOMY

A Regional Player

Sahuarita Key to Southern Arizona’s Economy The once small bedroom community of Sahuarita saw tremendous growth over the past 25 years, expanding from 1,800 residents in 1994 to more than 30,000 today. While several factors were responsible for the boom, much of it is credited to the rapid spread of new-home construction, which attracted a growing number of new residents of all ages. And it still does. Rancho Sahuarita, the town’s largest master-planned community, saw its first home sales in 2001. Its population has expanded to more than 18,000 residents. Founder and developer Bob Sharpe wanted to create a unique group of neighborhoods where families would experience a quality of life they couldn’t find elsewhere. Since then, Rancho Sahuarita has received a number of accolades, including the best-selling community in Arizona and fifth best seller nationally. It was a contributor to the Town of Sahuarita being on Money Magazine’s list of best places to live in 2015. Quail Creek and Madera Highlands also have contributed to the accelerated population growth east of Interstate 19 between Pima Mine Road and Green Valley. Quail Creek currently has approximately 2,500 homes with the potential to double that. Its 18-hole golf course, newly remodeled Quail Creek Grill, clubhouse and tennis and pickleball courts serve 35 different neighborhoods that make up the community. Madera Highlands has built approximately 1,100 homes to date with entitlements for another 500 lots. Community amenities include a pool and park. Five new neighborhoods currently under development will bring its total to 31. At least one Tucson developer is getting in on the scene in Sahuarita. Diamond 156 BizTucson

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Ventures recently began building Stone House, an upscale residential community south of Quail Creek. “From a housing point of view, we now have everything from Rancho Resort (a senior -living division of Rancho Sahuarita) to in-between housing and now with Stone House, new custom homes,” said Mayor Tom Murphy. “They’re trying to create a different niche. It’s a very nice project.” La Posada is a popular active-adult community with residential choices from independent-living garden homes to memory care, built just outside the town limits. “They asked us to be annexed into town. I took this as a compliment,” Murphy said. The annexation was approved in 2018. Benefits to La Posada include the installation of a traffic signal outside its entrance – a high priority for La Posada ownership – and now being located in the Sahuarita police department district. “Our advantage,” said Murphy, “is another 700 residents. Rooftops determine retailers coming here.” Another important benefit, he added, is more state-shared revenue for the town. Within Sahuarita, the Northwest Hospital that is anticipated to open in the first half of 2020 is expected to add 180 jobs, which will likely add new residents to Sahaurita. The Crossings at Sahuarita at the southern end of the town will have a grocery store in a planned commercial retail development that will add even more jobs. Economic development goals for town officials are not limited to its boundaries. They understand partnerships and the importance of the entire region’s success. Murphy divulged the presence of a company several miles past the town boundary that likely will contribute to Sahuarita’s business health. continued on page 158 >>> www.BizTucson.com

PHOTOS: COURTESY TOWN OF SAHUARITA

By Christy Krueger


Northwest Healthcare Building Hospital in Sahuarita By April Bourie Sahuarita residents will no longer need to trek up Interstate 19 for emergency and medical services once Northwest Healthcare’s medical campus opens in the town in late 2019. The campus, which will be located near the intersection of Interstate 19 and Sahuarita Road, will include an 18bed hospital with an emergency room and two operating rooms on the first floor and medical offices on the second floor for primary care, cardiology, orthopedics and general surgery. The project was a team effort of the Town of Sahuarita, Rancho Sahuarita, Pima County and the Arizona Commerce Authority. The hospital is anticipated to have an estimated economic impact of $165 million over the next five years, and it is expected to employ 150 people. “The Northwest Hospital project in Sahuarita is monumental,” said Sahuarita Town Manager Kelly Udall. “It will transform our community economically and increase the quality of life for our www.BizTucson.com

residents.” “There is a big push in our economic development plan to bring more employment opportunities to Sahuarita,” said Sarah More, Sahuarita planning and building director. “The Northwest Healthcare hospital does just this, and we are thrilled that they are building the project in Sahuarita.” The campus is part of Northwest Healthcare’s “No Boundaries” strategy, which focuses on a commitment to easy access to medical care across the greater Tucson area. Other similar projects include the county’s first freestanding emergency department as well as expanded clinic locations for cardiology and primary care in Vail and the relocation of primary care services in the Cortaro Farms area. Northwest also recently opened its second FSED in Marana near the Tucson Premium Outlets. “Our goal is to make it as easy as possible for patients to receive affordable care, and the appropriate level of care, when and where they need it,” said

Kevin Stockton, regional president and market CEO for Northwest Healthcare. In a recent survey of Sahuarita’s residents, commercial and retail development was one of the top priorities, and the availability of local shops and restaurants was the single issue that was most important in deciding whether to remain in Sahuarita or move to another community in the next five years. This makes the hospital project even more vital as it is likely to have a snowball effect when its employees increase the need for additional commercial and retail development. “Not only is Northwest Healthcare providing convenient healthcare to the people of Sahuarita, it’s also providing high-paying jobs to residents there,” said Sandra Watson, president and CEO of the Arizona Commerce Authority. “We thank the company for having the vision to expand in Southern Arizona and having faith in the workforce in the healthcare sector, one of the fastest-growing in the state.” Biz Winter 2019

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BizECONOMY

Rooftops determine retailers coming here. – Mayor Tom Murphy, Town of Sahuarita

continued from page 156 TuSimple, an autonomous trucking company from China, has set up a test facility east of town. “There’s a lack of over-the-road drivers now and in the future. They work with 18-wheelers,” Murphy said. “We will always get a share of workers living here even if their company isn’t in town. The quality of life will grow as the number of residents grows, such as adding parks.” Local and regional partners have been helpful in funding commercial facilities in Sahuarita, such as the new 32,000-square-foot, multi-tenant Sahuarita Advanced Manufacturing and Technology Center west of Interstate 19. Freeport-McMoRan mining company, which often offers up grants for various town projects, contributed $330,000 through its foundation. Arizona Commerce Authority kicked in

$250,000 for a sewer extension to the venture. This was on top of a $3 million federal grant from the Economic Development Administration. When it comes to building transportation systems that increase travel efficiency for Sahuarita residents and visitors, partnering with other agencies is essential. The Sonoran Corridor is a plan to create new high-speed roads and alignments in Southern Arizona, and the Sahuarita folks see it as a potential game-changer in the positive direction. “Forty percent of Nogales trucks go east on Interstate 10, so we’re excited to be in conversations,” Murphy noted. “The project is in the Tier 1 Environmental Impact Statement,” said Victor Gonzalez, Sahuarita’s economic development director. “It’s managed by the Arizona Department of Transportation and the Federal Highway Administra-

tion. The Town of Sahuarita, City of Tucson, Pima County and Tucson Airport Authority are part of it.” Gonzalez explained that the partners are looking for best alternate routes connecting I-19 and I-10 to make an interstate system. “It’s in a three-year study process and many factors are being considered and looked at – land ownership and broader alignments. There are five or six connection points identified between I-19 and I-10 that will be refined. “For our purposes, it’s an opportunity to create a loop system between interstates and to make a transportation system that better connects Sahuarita to the region. The alignment would extend eastward and make its way north/ northeast. When we look at Sahuarita growing to the east, a transportation system will support this.”

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BizEDUCATION

A+ for Effort Businesses and Schools Partner to Provide Opportunities

PHOTOS: COURTESY TOWN OF SAHUARITA

By April Bourie Although school districts focus on teaching the “three Rs,” a really successful district needs the support of its community to succeed, said Manuel Valenzuela, superintendent of Sahuarita Unified School District. SUSD has that community support, he said, and it’s making a difference in the success of its schools. “This community represents a unified commitment to creating a strong quality of life and a strong focus on quality education,” he said. One example of Sahuarita’s support for the schools is the National Math and Science Initiative – or NMSI – a nonprofit education program designed to prepare students for success in science, technology, engineering and math. The first of its kind to be implemented in the state, the program trains Sahuarita teachers to inspire their students to succeed in rigorous math and science courses, which has resulted in a significant increase in the number of students taking and passing advanced placement math, science and English exams. “We are now up to 16 AP courses that are offered in our district, which has quadrupled student participation in the classes,” Valenzuela said. “We had to provide lots of professional development training for teachers – over 600 hours in the first year – to make this possible.” The program is supported by grant funding. Both Freeport McMoRan and the Green Valley Pecan Company have invested the thousands of additional dol160 BizTucson

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lars needed to get the program off the ground and keep it running. “It all ties back to the community spirit and support for our schools that we find in Sahuarita,” Valenzuela said. Another successful program that the community has helped the district implement is the Joint Technical Education District offerings that allow students to start working in a professional field straight out of high school. “It took several years to get this off the ground,” said Brett Bonner, SUSD assistant superintendent for educational services. “We wanted to reach outside SUSD and work directly with Pima County JTED and Pima Community College, as well as industries that benefit from this programming, to make it successful.” The planning was worth it. One of the newer successful JTED courses is the heavy machinery program that teaches students how to operate the machinery used in mines and construction, two prominent industries in the Sahuarita area. The district partnered with the Sunnyside Unified School District to offer the program and they’re seeing 20 to 25 students take advantage of it. “The students just toured the Caterpillar proving grounds to see how their automated, high-tech equipment works,” said Bonner. Freeport McMoRan, owners of the nearby Sierrita Mine, also provides financial support for the heavy machinery program. continued on page 162 >>> www.BizTucson.com


PHOTO: BRENT G. MATHIS

PHOTO: BRENT G. MATHIS

Manuel Valenzuela

Superintendent Sahuarita Unified School District

Brett Bonner

Assistant Superintendent for Educational Services Sahuarita Unified School District

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BizEDUCATION continued from page 160 In addition to the heavy machinery program, the district also offers JTED courses in 10 other industries, including automotive technologies, construction technologies, film and television, the culinary field, sports medicine and rehabilitation. “This is just another program that supports that theme of creating a shared and common direction and working in collaboration with the business community,” said Bonner. The school district and the Town of Sahuarita have forged some of their own direct partnerships. They worked together on the construction, funding, maintenance and joint-use of two “school parks,” facilities that can be used by the public when school is not otherwise in session. In 2006 they joined forces at the 11acre Anza Trail Park, and recently at the new Wrightson Ridge K-8 school where a 7-acre park is scheduled to open in 2019. The partnership has yielded six light-

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ed sports fields, tennis and basketball courts. The Town of Sahuarita has contributed a total of $3.7 million towards construction cost – $2.3 million for Anza Trail and $1.4 million for Wrightson Ridge. The Sahuarita Police Department also has worked with the district over the past couple of years to create a more refined School Resource Officer Program. Valenzuela and Sahuarita Police Chief John Noland met several times to discuss the development of the program, and there is now one police officer installed at each high school. “The SROs teach students, staff and parents about the importance of public safety,” Noland said. “It’s an opportunity to put police officers in front of students to help them make better decisions.” Business owners support students’ sports activities as well. The owners of Copper Fitness provided uniforms for Walden Grove High School’s football team, and also provide free memberships for students involved in sports at

both Walden Grove and Sahuarita high schools. “It’s a reward for the kids working hard,” said Lou Alvarez, co-owner of Copper Fitness with Justin Foss. “Some of the kids come to work out at 5 a.m., and it’s amazing to see that kind of discipline.” This collaboration with the community has helped the district to obtain an A+ rating for four of their nine schools. “It’s a very rigorous process to apply to be an A+ school,” Bonner said. “The Arizona Education Foundation looks at what makes the school unique – such as fine arts offerings, after-school programs, community collaborations, school leadership and assessment scores, as well as student, parent and staff input.” It takes a year just to complete the application process. “It forces the school to take a ‘deep dive’ into its processes and programs and allows the school to assess what it is doing well and what needs to be improved,” said Bonner. Offerings like the previously mentioned NMSI and JTED programs help

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This community represents a unified commitment to creating a strong quality of life and a strong focus on quality education.

– Manuel Valenzuela, Superintendent, Sahuarita Unified School District

a school stand out to the Arizona Education Foundation. “When a school receives an A+ rating, it means that it goes above and beyond and that it’s committing its full energy to creating a unique experience for students to help them succeed,” said Bonner. The fact that the district is so successful is even more impressive when you consider how quickly it is growing. Approximately 300 students move into the district each year. It encompasses more than 600 square miles, and its buses travel more than 3,000 miles per day. “We have a very large and diverse area that is continually changing with

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the growth of the town as well as the rural areas,” said Valenzuela. To prepare for continued growth and change, Valenzuela gathered a group of community business leaders in 2013 to discuss the community’s and the school district’s shared strengths, interests and assets as well as plans for working together in a mutually beneficial way. Representatives from the town government, the University of Arizona, Raytheon Missile Systems, Carondelet Health Network, Green Valley Pecan Company, Freeport McMoRan and several other entities attended and have been working together ever since under

the name “Sahuarita Wins” to develop a shared vision for the region. “It’s important to understand that if we can make a shared commitment to develop trust relationships and to find common ground, we create tremendous opportunity to work at a level beyond what any one entity can do by itself,” Valenzuela said. For these efforts and others, Valenzuela was named the Superintendent of the Year in 2015 by Arizona School Administrators.

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From Cotton to Pecans Walden Family Gives and Sahuarita Flourishes

PHOTOS: GREEN VALLEY PECAN COMPANY

By April Bourie It was 1948 when R. Keith Walden bought land in Sahuarita with a plan to grow cotton. He had been a cotton farmer in California, but after visiting friends in the area, he realized that he could purchase a lot more land at Arizona’s lower prices than he could in California. By the mid-1960s, Walden came to the realization that technology – such as it was in 1965 – might reduce demand for his crop with newly developed synthetic fibers hitting the market. He settled on a different crop and the Green Valley Pecan Company came to life. “He was very methodical about it,” said Nan Walden, co-owner of the Green Valley Pecan Company with her husband Dick, who is R. Keith Walden’s son. “He worked with the University of Arizona Extension to determine what would flourish in this area.” Walden settled on pecans because they were machine-harvestable and they had a long harvest time of five to six weeks, Nan said. Today, Green Valley Pecan Company is one of the largest irrigated pecan orchards in the world. Customers include Costco, AJ’s Market and other nationally known brands. It sells more than half of its nuts internationally. The Waldens grow crops in Sahuarita and San Simon, Arizona, as well as Albany, Georgia, and the company has a warehouse and buying station in Las Cruces, 164 BizTucson

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New Mexico. An important focus in all of their locations is being good stewards of the land. “We have laser-leveled our fields to reduce runoff. We water when it’s cooler during the day to reduce evaporation, and we are converting to sprinklers – which are 15 to 20 percent more efficient in delivering water to the trees than flood watering and also less laborintensive,” Nan said. In 2000, the Waldens applied to be a groundwater holding facility, and they are working with Freeport McMoRan to extend a Central Arizona Project canal closer to their trees so they don’t have to use groundwater on the crops. In addition, they protect their crops from pests using an environmentally friendly soapbased treatment for ladybugs and lacewings, and use a bacteria-based process to reduce mosquitos. “Our trees create a mini-ecosystem that attracts ravens, hawks, coyotes and many other animals that are also drawn to the nuts, so we want to be wildlife friendly,” she said. In addition to being good stewards of the land, the Waldens are focused on taking good care of their employees. They donated land for employee housing, and they like to hire family members of employees and promote from within. “The land donation was a way to

get our people into their own homes and improve their living situation,” explained Dick. “Those second- and third-generation employees really appreciate the company’s longevity, and they are loyal to us and to the crops. We treat them like family,” said Nan. “We’ve had health insurance for our workers since the 1950s, and our employees’ benefits are highly subsidized.” The family atmosphere leads to everyone working for the good of the farm. “Farming is so personal, and some of our employees feel like the little baby www.BizTucson.com


PHOTO: CARTER ALLEN

Nan & Dick DIck Walden

PHOTO: AMY HASKELL

Green Valley Pecan Company

trees they planted are their children,” Nan said. “When we have bad weather, our employees volunteer to work overtime to harvest the pecans quickly when they get wet.” Not only do the employees benefit from the Green Valley Pecan Company, but so does the community of Sahuarita. The company’s Pecan Festival, held each November, always benefits a local nonprofit organization. “It also gives our employees a chance to show off a bit to their families and share with the community what they do,” said Nan. www.BizTucson.com

The Waldens donated land to the Sahuarita Unified School District when a new high school was needed and the district named the school Walden Grove High School. They were one of the first major donors to the district’s National Math and Science Initiative that quadrupled participation in Advanced Placement classes. “As a longtime and major landowner and employer in Sahuarita and Green Valley, we always try to make decisions based on what is good for our town and region,” Nan said. “We realize that we have a big im-

pact on the community, and we believe we have an obligation to give back,” Nan said. In addition to the schools, the Waldens also support other organizations – such as 4-H, the Audubon Society, the Sonoran Institute and the Nature Conservancy. “There are four legs of the stool in agricultural stewardship,” Dick said. “We must take care of our employees and community, our operations, our banking relationships, and our product for the benefit of the customer. If we do these well, everyone will benefit.”

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Big Plans Sahuarita’s Vision for Growth and Amenities By Christy Krueger

Sahuarita Mayor Tom Murphy is always encouraged when he sees new construction projects around town that will attract new residents, businesses and jobs. Yet he is especially excited about adding amenities that will improve the quality of life in a personal way for the town’s residents. Among those are the soon-to-be built 20,000-square-foot “permanent” library on the K-12 campus between Sahuarita Primary and Sahuarita Middle schools near Town Hall. Murphy refers to it as “permanent” because the local branch of the Pima County Public Library system will soon be housed in a constructed building. “We had a modular building and Rancho Sahuarita charged the county $1 a year to have it there; it was temporary.” On a larger scale and with longerterm implications, the Town of Sahuarita has embarked on development of a Town Center District to be a central destination not only for Sahuarita residents but for neighboring communities. The plan calls for a district with boundaries from Sahuarita Road, south to Duval Mine Road, bordered by the Santa Cruz River on the east and a western border slightly to the west of La Villita Road. The district is planned to incorporate a variety of uses including retail, arts, culture, food and entertainment. Looking into the future also means glancing at the past of one of the town’s oldest employers. Green Valley Pecan Company – actually located in Sahuarita – goes back to the 1960s when the Walden family converted its cotton farm to pecan orchards. It’s now www.BizTucson.com

among the world’s largest pecan growers and processors, selling 50 percent of its product outside the United States from its 100,000 trees in Sahuarita, plus yield from its two other farms. To keep up with demand, in October 2018 the company began construction on a new 40,000-square-foot refrigeration facility adjacent to its existing processing plant.

We’re envisioning what our future looks like and taking action.

– Sarah More Planning & Building Director Town of Sahuarita A few years ago the Walden family decided to explore selling 4,000 acres of its land. In 2015 it was approved and zoned as a master-planned community and named Sahuarita Farms. “The plans are they will either sell to developers or directly develop the property themselves,” said Kelly Udall, Sahuarita’s town manager. “They did a lot of public outreach and got a lot of input. When it came to the town council for approval, there was very little disagreement. The 50-year plan is to build 19,000 single-family homes.” “Pecan groves take up one-third of the town,” said Sarah More, planning

and building director for the town. “Sahuarita Farms is master-planned and zoned for future development – residential, commercial, employment and a river park. I think it could be a major attraction for the community with nice wide-open spaces and trails.” Also in the works for the future is Sahuarita East Conceptual Plan – or SECAP, a town expansion proposal that allows for future eastside development. SECAP was approved by voters in 2015 and adopted into Aspire 2035, the town’s general plan. Aspire 2035 is the primary tool defining a vision for the future of Sahuarita – a look at longterm growth that is “a policy document guiding future review of development and rezoning,” More said. The goal of SECAP, she said, is to annex land between the town and Houghton Road, most of which is rural residential zoning. “Sixteen square miles is state trust land, which is held in a trust to benefit education in Arizona. That goes from our eastern boundary to Wilmot Road. Then it’s private ownership to Houghton. “There was a planning exercise we did with an economic-development perspective with Pima County and the Sonoran Institute to provide for future expansion of the town,” More said. “We’re bound by the Tohono O’odham Nation, the mines and Green Valley. East is the only direction we could go. We’ll start looking into infrastructure, what are the roadway and utility needs. We’re envisioning what our future looks like and taking action.”

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