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Interstate 10 westbound between Casa Grande and Phoenix at the Val Vista Boulevard overpass.

The best thing about living in Casa Grande is that it is halfway between Phoenix and Tucson.

The worst thing about living in Casa Grande is that it is halfway between Phoenix and Tucson.

The proximity is a blessing and a curse that results in contradictions that have become normal in the way we live.

Take commerce. We all support the idea of shopping locally. But we clamor for the widening of Interstate 10 between Casa Grande and Phoenix so we have better access to shopping and entertainment.

It is a conflict in thought that we deal with while not openly making the connection.

A couple of years ago I attended the annual Chamber of Commerce dinner in which “shop local” was the over-riding theme of the event. But when it came time to distribute the latest business directory it was announced the printing was done by a Phoenix-area company. This irony didn’t go unnoticed by me and others at my table who owe their livelihoods to a local printing company.

But what “shop local” actually means depends on who you talk to.

My wife and I attended an event at a popular establishment in which we were encouraged to “drink local.” The event was hosted by a microbrewery up the road in Ahwatukee promoting its “locally brewed beers.”

To some, Ahwatukee and Casa Grande are like Tempe and Mesa. We are just another Phoenix suburb.

When Target, Sam’s Club and, more recently, World Market, all announced they were closing their Casa Grande stories, the public relations people were quick to point out that their stores in Chandler were remaining open. To them, geography is a simple line that connects markets.

Casa Grande just became the first option in downsizing because we are considered to be in the proximity of the Valley.

But, lucky for us, the road does go both ways.

Casa Grande, and to a greater extent Pinal County, does have an advantage in economic growth activity being located between the two metropolitan areas. Companies can locate here and serve both markets equally through transportation. That is why we have a number of distribution centers.

Even our company deals with the dilemma of interpreting what constitutes local news sometimes. We know from our online analytics that traffic accidents along the I-10 corridor have a high interest among our audience, whether it involves local residents or not.

And almost half the in-state users of our website, PinalCentral, are located in Phoenix and East Valley cities.

So the issue of how we deal with the negatives of our location, while paying attention to the positives, is not a simple matter.

Growth is coming. But it is important that we try and coordinate residential and job growth in a way that it jointly produces residents who live and work here.

One of the problems with Pinal County is the cities and towns are too spread out, diluting the impact of a single market that can better support more localized commerce. The reason The Promenade at Casa Grande is struggling is because it is just as convenient for residents of Maricopa, Coolidge and Florence to drive to the Valley to shop than to drive over to Casa Grande.

We need to focus more on a transportation plan tying the western Pinal County cities together so that it can be considered a primary market.

All discussion on transportation in Pinal County deals with better connecting the county to Phoenix and Tucson in the so-called Sun Corridor. Even the proposed Interstate 11 and the North-South Corridor (Florence Junction to Eloy) involve moving traffic through Pinal between the two metropolitan areas. We, as a county, need to look at creating a transportation corridor that connects Maricopa to Casa Grande to Central Arizona College-Signal Peak to Coolidge to Florence.

Granted, such a corridor is a long way off. But discussing it and coming up with a plan would do a lot in aiding economic development along such a proposed corridor.

The corridor doesn’t have to be a freeway either. It could be rail, or some other form of mass transit.

Either way, just talking about such a connection would help attract attention from the kind of industry that would generate residents who live and work here.

If Lucid in Casa Grande and Nikola in Coolidge become a reality, we could become a destination for electric vehicle manufacturing similar to how Silicon Valley developed around high-tech firms.

Connecting these entities is key. Pinal County needs to be more than a pass-through county on the way between Tucson and Phoenix if it wants to be a stay-at-home county for living, shopping and working.

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You can contact Andy Howell at 520-423-8614 or ahowell@pinalcentral.com.

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