In May of 2015, in an effort to rid itself of its failed past, TREO (Tucson Regional Economic Opportunities) announced that it was changing its name to Sun Corridor Inc. Now, the Pima County Board of Supervisors is considering rewarding the failed enterprise with a bonus tacked on to the existing $441,000 professional services agreement in place for the fiscal year 2015/2016.
The proposed agreement, according to a memo from Pima County administrator Chuck Huckelberry includes an option for the County to increase Sun Corridor’s by another $210,000 “to provide direct support in advancing County-owned properties and facilities for export-based employment and growth opportunities.” In other words, Sun Corridor will receive private business owners’ property tax dollars to help the County compete with private property owners for tenets.
At the same time Pima County is upping the ante, the TREO – Sun Corridor crew convinced Pinal County to buy their services. Unlike Huckelberry, the less-than-sophisticated clan in Pinal County bought its seat at TREO – Sun Corridor’s table for a mere $50,000 a year.
TREO flew under the radar of businesses and the public until about 2012, when then candidate for Pima County Supervisor District 1, Ally Miller, began to publically challenge the shady organization. Until then, only the Town of Marana questioned why they would spend $50,000 on TREO for what Marana Councilmember Roxanne Ziegler described at the time as “nothing.”
Nothing new is certainly what TREO – Sun Corridor has brought the residents of southern Arizona. According to its website, the organization is only touting the slight expansions in current businesses, and the promise of a new mysterious organization. The website page reads:
First Six Months FY (July – December 2015) Business Development Announcements
GW Plastics is a global leader in plastic injection molding and the contract manufacturing partner of choice for the world’s most successful healthcare and automotive companies. The company plans to add 70 employees to the Tucson operation with an economic impact of $38 million.
Tucson Medical Center is initiating the process to begin construction of a 44,000 square foot, two-story medical office building on the southeast side to accommodate a primary care clinic through TMC One and a wound care center. TMC is expected to hire 61 employees with an economic impact of $60 million.
Mathematica’s main focus is the innovation of software programs to evaluate policy research. The company is expected to hire 75 new employees with an estimated economic impact of $35 million.
Project Alabaster represents a well-known Fortune 500 global provider of cloud-based human capital management systems and workforce solutions for large and small companies. While the company is not yet ready to announce its name, it plans to hire a wide range of advanced services positions, with 450 jobs and a capital investment of $12 million within 3 years. Total economic impact is $485 million. In partnership with the company, we will announce the name as soon as management is ready.
Otto Environmental Systems, a manufacturer and service provider in the collection and container industry, has announced an expansion of 32 manufacturing and assembly jobs at its current location in Eloy, AZ. This project has a capital investment of nearly $6 million and a total economic impact of nearly $9 million.
With the exception of the Project Alabaster, none of the companies are new to the area. Snell took credit for the Home Goods center, but there is little evidence that TREO – Sun Corridor played a role in its move to Tucson.
In 2005, TREO was created to replace the unsuccessful Greater Tucson Economic Council. The two major funding sources were the City of Tucson and Pima County. In 2009, the budget was $2.4 mil, according to a previous ADI article. In that same article, it is noted that since its inception, TREO has had little success and has cost a great deal of money. TREO received $936,000 in public money in 2012. At the time, the head of TREO, Joe Snell received a salary of $313,000, not including benefits. (view documents here) According to documents, his latest salary stands at $345,973.
In his memo, (view here) Huckelberry writes that TREO – Sun Corridor will “leverage” the Arizona Commerce Authority. The irony of this selling point is not lost on those familiar with Arizona Commerce Authority.
Like TREO – Sun Corridor, earlier this year the Arizona Auditor General found that the Arizona Commerce Authority spent more time and money promoting itself and the need for its services than filling the need – jobs – for which the agency was created.
And like TREO – Sun Corridor, the Arizona Commerce Authority had a great deal of success winning continued public funding, but far less success winning companies that actually provide those economic and business opportunities.
In the case of the Arizona Commerce Authority, the Arizona Auditor General found that it had fudged its performance numbers. According to the report, when the Authority reported “on its progress toward achieving its 5-year goals, which are to create 75,000 higher-wage jobs, increase average wages of jobs created, and increase capital investment by $6 billion between fiscal years 2013 and 2017,” it used the numbers based on “commitments companies announce rather than the actual jobs created or capital investment made.”
Ally Miller found the same thing when she went poking around TREO – Sun Corridor back in 2012. Miller questioned TREO’s self-issued report card. At the time, she stated, “I can find no concrete performance data aligning with this “report card” promised to the community. I see an annual report of bumper sticker slogans with nice pictures and little substance. I want performance metrics and those responsible for them held accountable.”
They never materialized and after the ugly sexual harassment scandal surrounding Tucson City Councilman Paul Cunningham on a TRE junket in San Diego, Snell and his troupe were nearly invisible until re-emerging as Sun Corridor.
Pima County Board of Supervisors candidate, Kim DeMarco stated on Monday, “TREO has been in existence since 2005 and the County has very little to show for it. The leader of the organization makes over $300,000 and County Administrator Chuck Huckleberry and the Board of Supervisors, minus Supervisor Miller, continue to fund a money pit. There is obviously a reason they continue to fund this organization even though it has produced few results. That is the question we should be asking. Why do they continue to fund TREO, now Sun Corridor, Inc?”
DeMarco, who is challenging Supervisor Sharon Bronson, concluded, “This is common practice for this County’s Government – irresponsible spending and poor business practices. It is apparent that Chuck Huckleberry, TREO, now Sun Corridor, Inc. and the Board of Supervisors are devoid of the ability to improve Pima County’s economy.”
Many see Snell as nothing more than Rio Nuevo Chair, Fletcher McCusker’s lap dog. As a good lap dog, Snell strokes the right egos and rubs the big shoulders, but in the business-unfriendly environment created by a majority on the Pima County Board of Supervisors, there is really little else he can do to make the region attractive to new business.
On the other hand, the Pima County Board of Supervisors is also being asked to increase the annual maximum allowance for its lobbyist, Racy and Associates, Inc., (view contract here) from $140,000 to $160,000 this year in order to push the gas tax increase the County want passed this year. If successful, that increase just might force Snell to morph from a lap dog into a guard dog tasked with keeping existing employers from fleeing the area.