Recently crowned the third-fastest-growing region in the country, Pinal County is far from king when it comes to supplying jobs for new residents.
There are 170 jobs for every 1,000 people in Pinal County. That sags far below the 450 jobs per 1,000 residents in the metropolitan Phoenix area, according to a study by the Central Arizona Association of Governments.
“Population is way out-stripping job creation,” said association planner Jack Tomasik, who spoke to community leaders Monday at Superstition Mountain Country Club.
Spurred by the Valley’s unquenchable housing frenzy, the county’s population climbed 11.5 percent from July 1, 2006, to the same date last year, U.S. Census Bureau statistics show. The surge lifted the county’s population to 299,246.
But instead of new businesses building up around those households, thousands of commuters filter daily along two-lane roads and cramped freeways to work in neighboring Maricopa County.
Droves of would-be homebuyers gravitated to Pinal County, where homes were more affordable, but local officials didn’t seem focused on job development, said Rayna Palmer, who heads up the North Eastern Pinal Economic Partnership.
“They weren’t looking down the road,” Palmer said.
Now, cities and towns are starting to zone off land for job centers, not just strip malls, she said.
The jobs that already exist in northeastern Pinal County are limited.
Roughly 90 percent of jobs are in six industries, including government, construction and retail, Tomasik said. That leaves clear gaps in areas, such as health and social service, local finance and restaurants, he said.
But the daily flow of workers into Maricopa County isn’t unusual, said Dawn McLaren, a research economist at Arizona State University.
Houses typically spring up on the outskirts of major metropolitan areas, which have high job concentrations, and form “bedroom communities,” McLaren said.
“People can’t afford to live right near work because the value of the land is too high,” she said.
Jobs are also found in convenient locations, such as close to freeways, McLaren said.
A lack of transportation routes is a major hurdle for Pinal County in its quest to garner more employers, Palmer said.
New freeways and railways are in planning stages and will hopefully take shape within the next decade, she said.
“We can only nip at the surface until those roadways are constructed,” she said.