Mesa laying groundwork for airport-area business growth - East Valley Tribune: Mesa

Mesa laying groundwork for airport-area business growth

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Posted: Friday, January 20, 2012 10:48 am | Updated: 4:43 pm, Fri Jan 27, 2012.

The area around the Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport is supposed be growing into the largest employment center in the East Valley, but several companies have passed up opportunities to move there in the past year.

It's not because they don't like the location or that Mesa doesn't want them.

Instead, companies have told Mesa that the area around the airport doesn't have buildings big enough or modern enough for them to set up shop quickly. So they move onto other locations, perhaps even other states.

Mesa and the airport are fighting back by constructing the largest building in the area, and leasing it to an aircraft maintenance facility that's projected to employ 400 workers with median salaries of $100,000 a year.

It's part of a broader strategy of making land or even buildings available in short order to lure high-tech, high-wage companies.

Mesa on Monday is expected to approve a $180,000-square-foot building for Able Engineering, which repairs aircraft parts for airlines, cargo haulers and the military. The airport authority will spend $20.5 million on the building, which Mesa will lease and then sublease to Able. In exchange, Able will pay a lease rate that covers the cost of debt, and it will employ at least 400 workers and invest at least $6 million at the site. Also, Able will sign a 25-year lease. The 10-month construction project will start in April.

Vice Mayor Scott Somers said the deal with Able is a creative way to get high-wage jobs in the Valley.

"We're able to bring them here not on a giveaway, but the incentive is to help them finance so that they can grow," he said.

Mesa considered building the facility after three or four other companies rejected Gateway-area projects because of a lack of existing facilities, Gateway project manager Scot Rigby said. Mesa struggled to have sites in the area a few years ago but has been building roads, water lines and other features to make the area attractive to other employers, Rigby said.

"The amount of space that's available to develop continues to expand," Rigby said.

Mesa City Manager Chris Brady said one of the most critical elements to attracting employers is having sites that they can develop quickly. That was key in getting the nearby First Solar manufacturing plant, which is scheduled to open with at least 600 employees and eventually several thousand.

"The longest part of the conversation with First Solar wasn't about their tax incentives, it was about how fast are you able to get the infrastructure for us," Brady said.

The city is spending $71.5 million to $87.8 million on roads and other infrastructure in the next several years to prepare the Gateway area for private development. Mesa estimates that could generate nearly $1 billion to $1.8 billion in development. Those projects include First Solar's plant, the proposed Gaylord resort, educational institutions and aerospace firms.

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