East Valley finally on the high-tech map - East Valley Tribune: Columnists

News commentary East Valley finally on the high-tech map

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Jim Ripley is the former executive editor of the East Valley Tribune. Contact him at jimripleyaz@gmail.com.

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Posted: Wednesday, February 23, 2011 7:00 am | Updated: 5:14 pm, Mon Mar 7, 2011.

They are the East Valley’s big picture guys.  

They look at the region’s science, technology, aerospace, medical, and higher education assets and they see the enormous opportunity to market a region as a whole to the rest of the world.

Never was it clearer that Gilbert Mayor John Lewis had blossomed into a big picture partner of Mesa Mayor Scott Smith’s than at Lewis’s state of Gilbert speech last week.

“This chart is one in which I put no boundaries between (Gilbert and) Mesa, Queen Creek and Chandler and even Tempe,” Lewis said displaying a slide as he turned his address to economic development.

The slide is entitled “Gilbert Science & Technology Triangle.”

But the triangle starts in Chandler and ends in Mesa.

It starts at the Intel facility southwest of where Price Road empties into Dobson Road and sweeps east all the way to the east side of Power Road to include Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport.

Lewis dates the arrival of science and technology in the East Valley to Intel’s setting up shop in Chandler in 1980.

“All of a sudden,” Lewis said, “some of the expertise (from Intel) provided the need for some of the facilities …”

The “facilities” he cited were largely what he called biomed and health-care oriented. Among them the Banner MD Anderson Cancer Center, which opens this fall, and the Celebration Stem Cell Centre, which opened last fall. Both are in Gilbert.

But he also gave a nod to what Mesa and Gilbert are referring to as the Power Knowledge Corridor along Power Road that includes ASU Polytechnic and A.T. Still University in Mesa, which focuses on osteopathic medicine.

Lewis positioned Intel as the start of it all before last Friday’s announcement that the computer chip giant was going to cast an even bigger shadow by building a $5 billion dollar addition to its manufacturing complex in Chandler.

(He had learned from Intel at an economic development conference last fall that a single Intel plant is supported by 1,700 businesses — mostly local — tied to the procurement process. Chew on that for a minute as you digest the importance of Intel’s announcement.)

Lewis’s regional perspective was undoubtedly influenced by a private breakfast attended by the mayors of four largest East Valley cities — Tempe, Chandler, Gilbert and Mesa — last Wednesday.

The meeting was hosted by Mesa Mayor Smith and explored how the four cities could work together.

“We each have assets which individually are valuable and create opportunities,” Smith told me. “But when you put them all together they add up to more than a collection of individual assets. The whole is greater than the sum of the parts. Why not do whatever you can to take advantage of that?”

I pointed out that efforts to forge a regional collaboration are not new.

Tempe and Mesa were at the epicenter of the creation of the East Valley concept as a counterpoise to Phoenix’s power. But with retail prosperity, the growth of Arizona State and the economic influence of Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, Tempe’s interest faded.

The Chandler Historical Museum ties that town’s emergence from the Great Depression and first population growth spurt to the development of Williams Field (later Williams Air Force Base).

The World War II field was on land purchased by Mesa, but the closest town of any size was Chandler and much of the economic benefit went there.

But after the base closed and Chandler’s Price Road corridor began to prosper, the city withdrew from an East Valley partnership determined to find new uses for the base.

So what could hold East Valley cities together? What has changed?

Plenty, Smith said.

For starters, the completion of loops 202 and 101 have connected the East Valley “in a freeway grid system that is almost unmatched.”

Another factor is that there is more economic asset parity. He pointed to the recent emergence of the biomedical corridor that “ties Gilbert and Mesa together at the hip.”

There is also the success in transforming a defunct Air Force base into Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport and ASU Polytechnic.

And, of course, Boeing in north Mesa continues to roll out the planet’s most feared attack helicopter. In short, every East Valley city can bring something to the table.

There are the mature defense and technology businesses, such as Boeing and Intel, and the new biomed kids on the block.

“There has been quite a bit of development and maturation that has elevated us as a region to a new level,” Smith said.

“I don’t think we were ready in the past.”

Jim Ripley is the former executive editor of the East Valley Tribune and is the current chairman of the Mesa Historical Society, which contracts exhibition services with the city of Mesa. Contact him at jimripleyaz@gmail.com.

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