CASA GRANDE — Mayors from several Pinal County cities and towns joined together for a roundtable discussion on challenges and opportunities each face and how the communities can continue to work together on economic development and infrastructure issues.
Meeting at the recently completed Casa Grande Community Recreation Center Friday morning, the mayors weighed in on the most exciting things in their communities and discussed the biggest challenges. Most agreed economic development was the biggest struggle. For example, Mayor Christian Price of Maricopa said in order for his burgeoning city to grow economically, he understands that proper infrastructure needs to be in place.
Also at the Pinal Partnership-sponsored event, Florence Mayor Tara Walter and Eloy Vice Mayor Micah Powell said they have similar economic development hurdles — namely, that their towns are known as “prison towns” and they need to diversify their economic bases. Both agreed the prisons were economic drivers and good partners with the cities, but said growth might be hindered if they’re simply known for prisons.
One way Florence is trying to combat that stigma, Walter said, is by partnering with the state to provide workforce development for inmates, adding, “We need places for people to work after prison.”
And while not dealing with a prison label, Casa Grande Mayor Craig McFarland said workforce development is the biggest challenge in his community, because if there isn’t a trained workforce when Lucid Motors comes to town, “We’re going to be in a world of hurt.”
Lucid Motors is a California-based electric car company that has proposed building a manufacturing plant in Casa Grande. City officials said the company expects to break ground in August.
Infrastructure leads the way for challenges for Coolidge and Superior, according to their mayors. Superior Mayor Mila Besich said now that the Resolution Copper mine will be fully operational, updated infrastructure and enough housing for employees needs to be prioritized.
Regarding the positives that the respective cities have seen in their cities over the past 12 months, Coolidge Mayor Jon Thompson, Price and Besich all mentioned significant projects: Nikola Motors truck manufacturing, APEX Motor Club and Resolution Copper, respectively. Powell touted Eloy’s new City Hall, which he proudly reported was built without having to take out bonds for the project. And Walter said improvements to her town’s water lines and streets were among the biggest accomplishments because they will assist with economic development.
McFarland elicited chuckles and some good-natured ribbing from his response: getting signs on Interstate 10 to alert drivers to Casa Grande, instead of the previous Coolidge/Florence sign.
The reality is, Powell said, that what’s good for one community is good for the others, noting that although the Nikola plant is in Coolidge’s city limits, it is to be a stone’s throw from Eloy.
“We’re generating buzz,” he said.