Plant CEO; Yuma on verge of economic boom

Feb. 25th, 2012
Mark Knaub

Yuma is on the verge of an economic development boom. That is one of the messages shared at a recent Greater Yuma Economic Development Corp. Quarterly Investors Luncheon. “We’re sitting on the verge of economic development. It’s going to happen in the next two to three years,” said Vic Smith, a member of GYEDC and CEO of Skyview Cooling. “The dam is about to break. We just have to open the floodgates.” Smith noted that Yuma used to be seen as the “armpit” of the state, but “we have managed to change that image.” He credited GYEDC’s work in the last few years for helping to bring about that image makeover. And it’s the organization’s nonstop efforts that have poised Yuma for an economic development. “It takes two to three years to bring in a company. They have a lot of time invested,” Smith said. But for Yuma to fully realize its potential, GYEDC must continue to reach out to companies who are not happy with their current locations “but they don’t know Yuma yet,” Smith said. However, GYEDC is currently understaffed, making it harder for the organization to do its job well. “Right now we’re spread too thin,” noted Julie Engel, GYEDC’s president and CEO. “We need additional staff. Things are falling through the cracks.” As an example, Engel noted that staff abandoned a California cold calling campaign in December because “we were so busy with other projects. Projects take priority. We drop everything else for projects.” A project is when GYEDC is working with a company interested in relocating or starting up in Yuma. Other similarly sized cities, such as Flagstaff and Sierra Vista, usually have a staff of six. GYEDC used to have five staff members but currently has four. The smaller staff size is attributed to a reduction in funds. “The public sector has reduced coffers due to budget cuts. The dollars keep getting chipped at,” Engel said. But the organization has also been successful in getting $50,000 in grants, which made up some of the lost funds. However, the grant money went toward operating costs. “Grants are fickle. They’re not a reliable source so we never budget them. We’re just very happy when we get them,” Engel said. GYEDC, which has 130 investors, is also different in another aspect. Most similarly sized economic development corporations have 25 percent of investors in the public sector and 75 percent in private industry. “In Yuma, we are flipped,” Engel said, noting GYEDC has 30 percent private investors and 70 percent public. “So it is critical we have the private sector funding and public sector support.” What do they get back in return? “It’s a misconception that they will get an individual return, that we’ll bring you work or profit right off the bat,” Engel said. Rather, “when the economy grows, everyone benefits.” “It takes all of us working together to make it happen,” said Ricky Rinehart, chairman of the GYEDC Investor Committee and the city’s operations administrator. “Yuma is poised. It’s the place to be.” He noted the organization’s mission of “expanding economic activity within Yuma County by attracting commerce and industry to the region, and by assisting in developing the region’s existing industry to its fullest potential.” Primary target sectors include logistics and distribution of goods as well as maquiladora opportunities; renewable energy, including solar and alternative fuels; high-end manufacturing such as a supply source for solar, automotive and construction industries; aerospace support for both the private and military components; and food processing and agriculture support as well as distribution networks within this industry. Rinehart also pointed to the stated vision of having Greater Yuma “recognized as a globally competitive region— one that embraces advancing technology, attracts and retains human capital and continues to develop and foster the amenities that make the Yuma region a great place to live and work.” “We need investors, private and public, to see this vision come together,” Rinehart said. GYEDC represents Yuma County, the cities of Yuma, San Luis, Somerton, Wellton and “you, the private investor,” he added. In a presentation to investors, Rinehart noted that Greater Yuma is a “premiere location to serve the Southwest. “Look where we’re at, five minutes from Mexico and California. We’re in a great location for distribution of products – San Diego and Phoenix are three hours, LA and Las Vegas are less than five hours. We have strong ties to Sonora and Baja California.” He also noted that the region is “perfectly positioned” for passage of products. With the exception of a seaport (“until California falls off,” he joked), Yuma offers the “widest range of transportation options available anywhere in the nation.” He pointed to the San Luis II Commercial Port of Entry and with the new four-lane highway leading from the port to Interstate 8. Assets are “aplenty” in the renewable energy industry, with an average sunlight of 350 days per year, abundant flat land, connectivity to transmission sources and ample ground water provide a winning combination for utility scale solar production, Rinehart said. In addition, Yuma is ripe for defense-related opportunities. Rinehart pointed out that Yuma is home to the Marine Corps Air Station and Yuma Proving Ground, which have a combined economic impact to the region of $1 billion. In 2011/2012 MCAS will add an additional $500 million in construction to that impact. And YPG has partnered with General Motors Corp. to create a one-of-kind testing facility that adds to the exclusive opportunities that YPG offers defense contractors, Rinehart said. He also signaled out agriculture. “We have the flat land, water, sunshine and the workforce to go with it.” The estimated annual impact to the region exceeds $3 billion annually. The processing and technologies that are developed in Yuma give this region an “edge” over competitor regions in attracting corporations who contract with growers and shippers for the product cultivated here in Yuma County.

Mark  Knaub
Sun Staff Writer
Yuma Sun
Feb. 25th, 2012