Power corridor of knowledge, possible jobs - East Valley Tribune: Ahwatukee Foothills

Power corridor of knowledge, possible jobs

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Posted: Saturday, December 12, 2009 12:00 am | Updated: 3:36 pm, Sat Dec 22, 2012.

Power Road has long been considered the spine of east Mesa and is a crucial artery for traffic heading up through Gilbert from Queen Creek and San Tan Valley.

Widening planned for Power Road stretch

Power Road has long been considered the spine of east Mesa and is a crucial artery for traffic heading up through Gilbert from Queen Creek and San Tan Valley.

Widening planned for Power Road stretch

But Mesa Mayor Scott Smith sees something else when he looks at the thoroughfare: a string of schools serving all ages of students, which can be used to attract employers to a historically suburban area that needs them.

He began promoting what started out as a Mesa-centric idea about a year ago. Smith reached out to the Gilbert Town Council at a joint meeting this week to make the case for a joint effort marketing the road that forms a nearly 7-mile-long border between the communities.

“We’ve both been very successful as bedroom communities, and we’re both seriously under-jobbed,” Smith said.

Done right, Smith said, the “Power Road Knowledge Corridor,” as it is being dubbed by officials, could earn the south East Valley an international reputation for collaboration among the public, private and education sectors.

Smith said it’s too early to say how many jobs might be generated by the corridor. But he thinks there could be enough to keep Mesa and Gilbert’s young people from having to move to other parts of the state and nation. It could also draw people from the Superstition Vista area of Pinal County once that area, now mostly state-owned land, is developed.

The corridor begins on the north with Mesa Community College’s Red Mountain campus at McKellips Road and ends on the south with a hub that is formed around Arizona State University Polytechnic, next to Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport.

It also includes A.T. Still University, which is a mile west of Power, at Baseline and Recker roads, and the $90 million M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, an arm of the University of Texas, which just broke ground in Gilbert for a new facility next to Banner Gateway Medical Center.

The 'Power Road Knowledge Corridor’

View 'Power Road Knowledge Corridor' in a larger map

ATTRACTING GOOD JOBS

Smith said in an interview this past week that Mesa and Gilbert could expand historic images as family-centric communities by attracting more of the high-paying jobs that both lack.

“Quality economic growth is the ultimate in family-friendliness because when you live and work in the same place, you have time to coach Little League or go to PTA meetings or go to kids’ concerts,” he said.

Gilbert Mayor John Lewis said he first talked to Smith about the idea a couple of months ago as the two began planning for the joint council meeting, the first such summit in about eight years.

Once the concept was explained to him, Lewis said he became a supporter.

“There are many reasons to brand it. There are many reasons to identify it. Economic development is at the top of the list,” Lewis said.

Smith said the Knowledge Corridor “brand” could be built initially by posting signs on Power and along Loop 202. The funding could be determined by meetings with representatives of Gilbert and other “stakeholders.” He is hopeful those will begin early next year.

But the signs may not appear immediately, and there may not be very many, at least to start with.

“Obviously, signage is not inexpensive, and the cost would rest with the town (Gilbert) and city, and the other partners who might be involved,” Lewis said. “It may not be realistic with everybody’s budget concerns to do it all at once.”

Other possible ideas for getting the word out include cable TV channels operated by both Mesa and Gilbert, social media, brochures and other venues.

HELP FROM THE OUTSIDE

Many officials support the concept but feel outside factors could have a lot to do with how high a profile the corridor will have.

Gilbert Vice Mayor Linda Abbott uses the Research Triangle created among several prestigious universities in her home state of North Carolina as an example. She said it takes research, the kind often accomplished with hefty grants from upper levels of government, to get the kind of recognition that Smith is angling for.

“Gilbert and Mesa solely by themselves need to have buy-in from the state Legislature and the congressional delegation in order to have an international reputation,” Abbott said, adding she does support the branding concept being outlined by Smith.

Lewis said Abbott makes a good point. “The good news is there is research going on, but we’d like to have more,” he said. “As a specific request that more research be done, just the mere fact that there is a knowledge corridor, there is kind of an invitation to come in and join the rest of the groups that are here.”

ACCELERATING BUSINESS

Mesa City Councilman Scott Somers, who represents southeast Mesa, including the ASU Poly campus, is at the forefront of an effort to create a “business accelerator” to help businesses translate research being done at the school’s engineering and applied science programs into jobs and profits.

The campus’ airport location can make it attractive for businesses, as well as shape the kind of research being done, he said.

“Green slime for airplane fuel. That’s everyone’s favorite example,” Somers said, referring to efforts to develop ways to convert algae into energy.

The accelerator would have offices, staff and other resources to help entrepreneurs coming to build off the discoveries being made at the campus.

He, too, said research grants will be a key factor in determining the future of the corridor. Somers is concerned about the budget-related consolidation of programs, which moved some department heads off the Mesa campus. He said it may reduce expectations and interest in the campus.

“In order to get that $60 million grant to your campus, you need not only high-quality research, but the program itself needs to be based there,” he said.

Keith Hjelmstad, ASU vice president and dean of the College of Technology and Innovation, said the recent changes will make the entire university stronger and will not have a detrimental impact on the Poly campus.

He said he’s very supportive of the overall push to use his and other campuses to market the region.

“I’m glad the mayors are all thinking about education as a very important partner in economic development, because we are. That’s what we do.”

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