Dec 142011
 

By Teri Walker–

Representatives from Apache and Navajo counties, and their respective communities are striving to position northeastern Arizona as a natural resource and energy corridor in a bid to increase economic development in the region.

The Real AZ Development Council, billed as a collaborative economic development group, has adopted the moniker Real AZ Corridor to attract industry and employment to the area.

Resources, energy, access and lifestyle make up the “Real” in the group’s name, and its website (realazcorridor.com) lists the various companies and potential industries that are emerging in the area related to wind and solar power, forest restoration and timber production, biomass, geothermal resources, algae, carbon dioxide storage and potash mining.

“A big part of Arizona’s future is going to play out in this region,” said Navajo County Board of Supervisors Chairman and Real AZ Development Council Chairman David Tenney in a media release.

“We’re going after future-focused companies that are looking for sustainable energy access and early-stage development opportunities,” Tenney continued.

Members of the Real AZ Council include Navajo and Apache counties, the communities of Holbrook, Pinetop-Lakeside, Show Low, Snowflake, Taylor, Winslow, Eagar, St. Johns and Springerville. Unincorporated areas in both counties are also represented, and area business owners and residents also attend the group’s monthly meetings.

“The analogy I like to use is Real AZ Corridor is the mall, and the individual communities are the stores,” said Taylor Town Manager and Real AZ Corridor Coordinator Eric Duthie. “We’re going to do what we can to make companies aware of what exists here, and the communities will work with them directly. Our major focus is on jobs–getting them here.”

The group, which earned the 2010 Governor’s Excellence Award for Innovative Economic Development, held its monthly meeting last week and invited American West Potash CEO Pat Avery to make a presentation about the mining company’s plans to develop a potash mine in the Holbrook Basin near Petrified Forest National Park. Avery reported the mine and his company’s land holdings are situated in Apache County, but the bulk of its infrastructure and headquarters would be based in Navajo County. He said American West could break ground on the mine by fall of 2012, with a potential mine opening by early 2014, which some have said seems to be an aggressive timeline.

Avery said the mine could bring 300 to 350 hourly jobs, ranging from $20 to $28 per hour, with built-in overtime and benefits additional. Another 30 to 100 salaried positions, including accountants, IT techs, geologists and engineers, would range from approximately $50,000 to $120,000 starting wages, plus benefits.

Real AZ members asked what their group could do to support mine development, and offered to provide letters of support and attend public meetings that will be held during the public scoping process.

In other business, Duthie said the Arizona Commerce Authority’s (formerly the Arizona Department of Commerce) annual rural economic development grant program may have a grant available this year that would provide funding for technical assistance and social media. Real AZ relies heavily on its Internet presence in its marketing efforts, Duthie said, and such a grant would help greatly in outreach efforts.

Duthie also reported that area individuals are being considered for positions on the board of directors for the Commerce Authority’s Rural Business Development Council’s Rural Advisory Group. The group has recommended representatives from Apache and Navajo counties, and official confirmation of their appointments is pending.

“The Commerce Authority sees us as having the authority to speak for both counties, so I anticipate they’ll be accepted,” said Duthie.

Finally, Duthie said that from September to November, the group’s website had 424 viewers, and that he received an inquiry about forest industry jobs from a man in Spain last week.

“There’s a guy sitting there in Spain who found us. My point is, we’re getting noticed. People are finding us,” said Duthie.

“At first I was skeptical, but I’ve seen a lot of progress and I have a lot of hope for this group,” said Snowflake Councilman Tom Poscharsky.