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Oro Valley’s future: Sleepy suburb of commuters or high-quality employment hub?

Oro Valley Town Seal

With the voter-approved Your Voice, Our Future General Plan, residents told us loud and clear they want a complete community. A complete community is one where you can live, work, shop, play and learn. It is also a place with a unique identity and where people feel connected. So, what does that mean for Oro Valley’s future?

April 18, 2018

Oro Valley is fast approaching build-out, with the supply of available developable land hovering around 15 percent. Business and retail have been growing in the last few years. Residential development is still strong. The safety, sense of community and natural beauty are unparalleled in the region. Tourism will also continue to draw visitors. But, one area that needs maintained focus is to “grow the number of high-quality employment opportunities”—a guiding principle from the General Plan.

The town has long aimed to draw high-paying jobs to the community. The fruits of that labor have included Innovation Park, home of Ventana/Roche, Securaplane and Icagen—and the Economic Expansion Zone that supports development there. However, even with these efforts, most working residents are employed outside of town. Only 13 percent of Oro Valley’s residents live and work within town limits. In fact, the top five local work destinations for Oro Valley residents are:

The UA Tech Park/Raytheon on Rita Road, Innovation Park in Oro Valley, Downtown Tucson, The Tucson Auto Mall area and The University of Arizona.

For Oro Valley to grow high-quality employment opportunities in a very competitive market, the community will need to harness the energy of its accomplishments and amenities, and continue that momentum into the future. The town continues to work with regional partners, like Sun Corridor, Inc. to increase our competitiveness nationally, regionally and locally. In addition to those efforts, the following actions give a sense of what the town is doing to attract high-quality jobs.

Make shovel-ready building sites: In choosing a community, technology-oriented employers evaluate the availability of sites and ability to occupy a custom-built facility within approximately nine to 15 months from making a commitment. As a result, the Economic Expansion Zone (EEZ) was adopted in 2012 with the purpose of encouraging economic development in Innovation Park. Oro Valley Town Council recently voted to expand the EEZ. This not only maximizes the potential of increasingly restricted development in the town, but also gives all technology park-zoned property owners the same competitive advantage in attracting development.

The EEZ allows for a streamlined development review process that ensures quality design expected in the Town of Oro Valley. It enables the town to meet the needs of employment users who require ready-to-build sites within the region. Securaplane Technologies is one example of a business that used the EEZ when locating in Innovation Park. The new expansion of EEZ will amplify the potential of such businesses locating in Oro Valley.

Attract professionals: Aside from providing a highly efficient means for businesses to locate in Oro Valley, it’s important to attract the talented people who want to work at those businesses. Increasingly, young professionals are looking for a community first and a job second, or at least they are considering both factors together. Long-term sustainability for Oro Valley requires looking at attracting the next generation. Millennials, or young professionals, are now the largest generation in the United States, outnumbering Baby Boomers. They are a key resource for new and growing tech companies.

The Oro Valley Main Streets project is aimed at addressing a community desire to have a town center in Oro Valley. People want a place to go that offers a walkable and unique experience and speaks to Oro Valley’s identity. Additionally, Main Streets is a forward-thinking approach to the changes happening in our community. By creating a special place, Oro Valley will increase its attractiveness to young professionals.

Another aspect of being a complete community and drawing top talent is housing. Right now, Oro Valley is the most expensive sub-market in the Tucson region. Additionally, the community is known for its mostly single-family housing pattern. Young professionals at the start of their careers need housing options. They might not be able to afford a single-family home, or may not want to settle in a permanent location yet. Additionally, diverse housing is essential to overall community health. Residents should be able to find housing to accommodate every stage in their lifecycle. The town is currently exploring options to encourage a broader scope of housing types in order to help serve the larger community needs.

Work collaboratively: Landing high-quality employers is a very competitive process regionally, nationally and internationally. The town works closely with Sun Corridor Inc., an employment attraction and expansion organization, and other communities in the region to gain employer interest in Southern Arizona. It’s a joint marketing and attraction effort because the economic benefits of high-quality employment expansion benefits the entire region.

The town will continue to move forward with residents’ ideas and feedback. Taking deliberative steps to implement the vision and guiding principles of the voter approved Your Voice, Our Future, General Plan will be essential in realizing Oro Valley’s potential as a complete community. Oro Valley needs to continue to grow employment by sharpening its competitive edge and attracting young professionals. These efforts will ensure that Oro Valley has a bright future ahead.

By Bayer Vella, Oro Valley Community and Economic Development interim director - Explorer Newspaper, 4/18/18