Gilbert has morphed from being a community full of operating farms into a sprawling suburb where people live while commuting elsewhere for work.
This week, the Town Council will meet with its economic advisory board to talk about the results of a Morrison Institute study looking at ways to move it back in the other direction - more jobs within the town limits, with health care a primary target.
The town's economic development staff and the chamber of commerce have been at the fore of the study, which in the first phase concluded Gilbert should concentrate on bringing health care jobs to town and keeping them, building on the foundation created by two recently opened full-service hospitals and one emergency room-only facility.
Economic development manager Dan Henderson said he and others have consulted far-flung business interests to get a feel for what Gilbert can do to attract more job centers. He found one of the first steps could be to make the town better-known as an option for business centers.
He said that while talking to one businessman from out of state, "when asked about Gilbert, he said he knew it was a quality community with a reputation for high growth, but while it was a growing community, he said it really hadn't crossed his mind as a business destination."
The man's response to Gilbert's efforts to establish a "preferred company environment" was positive. "He said, 'Wow, that's really innovative of a community,' " Henderson said.
The Morrison Institute, which is affiliated with Arizona State University, recommends that town leaders actually diversify their economic focus beyond health care to science, technology, engineering and math.
"If one sector has a weak period, or a prolonged weak period, you've got more legs to stand on, and they can all feed off of each other," Gilbert spokesman Garin Groff said.
The study recommends that town leaders focus their incentives on attracting jobs from these core areas while concentrating on the assets the town already has going for it.
This is already starting to happen on its own, with the council approving zoning last week for an expansion of the Celebration Centre for Integrated Healing, even before the project - a holistic treatment and research center - breaks ground.
The project next door to Mercy Gilbert Medical Center will now cover 18 acres and is the result of the vision of East Valley developers Bill and Sherry Lund.
Bill Lund has been heavily involved with building the entire area around Loop 202's interchange with Val Vista Drive, including the hospital and the Santan Motorplex.
Before the zoning was approved Tuesday, Lund said one major tenant was negotiating to rent about 30,000 of the roughly 200,000 square feet that the Celebration Centre will eventually occupy.
The council will hold a special meeting at 7 p.m. Tuesday in council chambers at Gilbert Municipal Center, 50 E. Civic Center Drive, to talk about the study and other issues with the economic advisory board.
Some council members have said the board may need to be downsized to be more effective.