Sep 252013

By Nick Worth
Keith Watkins, senior vice president of Economic and Rural Development for the Arizona Commerce Authority (ACA) was in Snowflake Sept. 19 to talk about the ACA’s new Certified Sites Program to the members of the Real AZ Corridor.
The Certified Sites Program, launched by the ACA Sept. 12, is designed to “enhance the visibility of commercial sites in rural Arizona that are ready for business and available for base line employers,” according to an ACA press release.
“Certified site is the industry-accepted term for corporate real estate professionals and site selection consultants who make recommendations on where companies should expand,” said Watkins. “It is an established set of industry standards.”
Watkins noted that commercial sites in larger metropolitan areas already receive a lot of promotion, but not much has been done for comparable sites in rural Arizona. He said site selection specialists follow a certain method of operation, first gathering information on various sites from state economic development websites. They then eliminate sites from their lists, narrowing the search down to the most appropriate available sites.
The last step is to make a site visit.
“When you go to buy a big ticket item, you research it online first before you go to kick the tires,” Watkins said. He explained that most often potential employers seeking to expand are looking for a “turnkey” facility.
“Like in all business, time is money,” Watkins said. “The faster they can get up and running, producing widgets, the faster they can get cash flow.”
He said work is underway to have the former Catalyst paper mill site and its surrounding lands certified under the program.
“The infrastructure is in place,” said Watkins. “The water, power, roads, the railroad are all in place.”
Watkins said the Certified Sites Program will give greater exposure to rural Arizona properties, such as the paper mill, on a national scale.
“A person in Hoboken, N.J., has probably never heard of Snowflake, Ariz.,” Watkins said. He noted that this would be accomplished through the ACA’s online site, which will showcase land and existing building sites that meet the needs of employers seeking to expand or relocate.
The ACA website will provide detailed information on the certification level of the site, or building, key attributes of the property, a location map, a community profile, and the site’s state of readiness for development or occupancy.
“The whole idea is to try to help rural Arizona become more competitive in attracting employers,” Watkins said, noting that only a few western states have certified sites programs, whereas virtually every state east of the Mississippi River has such a program in place.
“Corporate site selection people are usually under time constraints,” said Watkins. “As economic development people, our job is to make their job easier.”
But what about building sites or existing buildings that are not quite ready to go?
“That’s where the ACA’s Rural Economic Development Grant (REDG) comes in,” said Watkins. “The grant is meant to ready a site and to bring it up to certified site standards in infrastructure, or to make improvements that will benefit an employer and other employers located near to the site.
“Say you have an employer who needs a higher capacity water line than the one available. This grant would help make those improvements,” Watkins said.
The REDG is a $2 million grant, which, in its third year, will be divided up into four $500,000 awards. Rural Arizona towns, cities and Native American tribes are all eligible to apply for the grant in two rounds. The first round is now through Oct. 22 and the second round will begin in early January.
“Native American tribes are eligible for everything we do,” said Watkins.
“Improving infrastructure enhances the marketability of an entire region. A lack of quality infrastructure often places Arizona’s rural communities in a less competitive position to attract business,” Jullie Pastrick, chair of the ACA’s Rural Business Development Advisory Council said in a press release.
Watkins pointed out that in today’s world, $500,000 is not a lot of money. Because of that, he stressed the need for matching funds by the applying entities.
“Two million dollars divided up doesn’t go very far in infrastructure improvements,” Watkins said, “so a project has to be ready to go. We’re not going to pay for studies.”
Kevin O’Shea, also of the ACA, gave an overview presentation on the Arizona State Trade and Export Promotion Program (STEPP).
“The program is devoted to helping small businesses in Arizona sell their products overseas,” O’Shea told those in attendance. He gave an example of a B&B in southern Arizona that serves guests from outside the U.S., thus bringing in trade dollars to the state, and which also sells a scone mix to customers in Canada and Australia.
O’Shea outlined the benefits of the program and the assistance offered to the small business owners in the state.
Real AZ Corridor members also heard updates on:
* The transfer of the 4FRI thinning contract from Pioneer Wood Products to Good Earth Power, a company headquartered in Oman.
* The Snowflake Power biomass generating facility.
* A letter of intent from Sichuan Chemicals Corp. to Prospect Global Resources stating an interest in investing up to $20 million in Prospect’s Holbrook Basin potash mining operation.