The biggest development came in fall with the announcement Apple would revamp a First Solar facility near Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport. Apple will contract out with GT Advanced Technologies to produce sapphire material for Apple products, and the company expects to hire 700 employees in its first year.
Mesa Economic Development Director William Jabjiniak said the project is currently on track, and added there’s a chance the facility could be producing by late January.
While Apple was the biggest news, Jabjiniak said Mesa’s year in economic development was also highlighted by the opening of five new universities that now pockmark the town. Four universities (Benedictine, Upper Iowa, Wilkes and Westminster) opened their doors in either August or September, while Albright College opened earlier in the year.
Along with those five colleges, Grand Canyon University will build its newest campus, expected to house 10,000 students, in the city’s Gateway region.
Gateway was one of Mesa’s busiest areas in 2013, with the Eastmark development opening at the end of May and progress made on the Bridgestone rubber research lab in the region. Another project Jabjiniak cited is the Matheson Air Separation Unit that will provide nitrogen, oxygen and argon to residents.
“That’s a hidden gem,” he said.
While it brought new businesses in, Mesa also created systems to help local companies grow through the opening of THINKspot and LaunchPoint. The former was created to help businesses take the first steps toward their development, while the latter is an accelerator that gives businesses beyond that first level an additional boost.
Many of Mesa’s projects fall under the HEAT initiative, which encompasses health care, education, aerospace and tourism. While Jabjiniak said education rose to the forefront for Mesa in 2013, the three other categories had their own successes: Continued construction of the new Chicago Cubs spring training facility which opens in January, and expansion of the city’s health care options, which Jabjiniak noted to be a $20 billion industry in Maricopa County.
Balancing the East Valley’s economic growth was the continued rebound of the housing market due in large part to the increased job growth. Maracay Homes CEO Andy Warren said the East Valley has done the best in that department in recent years.
It’s created a baseline for the housing market Warren said is based largely on four factors — consumer confidence, affordability, job growth and population increase — that have all contributed to the East Valley’s recent success. Maracay alone opened eight communities across the East Valley — Mesa, Chandler, Gilbert and Queen Creek — in 2013, the most the company had across the Valley.
“The way I look at it, we’re 24 months into a great recovery driven by economic fundamentals,” he said.
Economists who specialize in real estate project the market to make additional gains in the coming years, although at a more sustainable rate than the economic boon which led to the 2008 bust. The rest of the Arizona economy could move along more slowly, as a report by Research Professor Lee McPheters anticipates it will take an additional two or three years for a full economic recovery.
McPheters, who is the director of the JPMorgan Chase Economic Outlook Center at Arizona State University’s W.P. Carey School of Business, anticipates the state will make slight gains in employment growth, personal income and population growth, but will drop in retail sales during 2014.
Despite the tepid report, the three East Valley municipalities project 2014 to be a strong year for their respective areas due in part to strong education reputations across all levels, and from continued gains made during what Tibshraeny called a “banner year.”
“It sets the stage for a great 2014 as well, and not just for Chandler, but the entire East Valley,” he said.
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