Sahuarita: A young person’s playground?

A runner uses the trail around Sahuarita Lake on Sept. 7. Sahuarita Lake is a fully stocked, man-made lake located in the Rancho Sahuarita master-planned community. (Photo by: Michelle Jaquette/Arizona Sonora News)

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Who would have thought that Sahuarita would become more than a sleepy bedroom community?

Sahuarita was incorporated as a town in 1994 with about 2,000 residents. Twenty-four years later, it boasts 30,000 residents, making it one of the largest communities southeast of Tucson.

Sahuarita saw a 600 percent increase in population between 2000 and 2010. The growth rate has since slowed to about 2 percent yearly, and the significant population demands more business development.

A 2018 citizen survey administered by the town revealed that almost 25 percent of respondents would decide whether they would stay in Sahuarita based on the availability of local shops and restaurants.

Some retirees live in Sahuarita — the Quail Creek and Rancho Resort communities require at least one resident be age 55 or up — but the town is largely a commuter community as compared to the retiree areas to the south in Green Valley.

Sahuarita residents commute to Tucson for work at Raytheon, Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, the University of Arizona Tech Park and other large sites.

Victor Gonzales, Sahuarita’s director of economic development, hopes to change that.

“The strength of our community is our resident workforce,” he said, “but we don’t have that one or a cluster of major companies in Sahuarita.”

Sahuarita has not always been the easiest place to conduct business.

About four years ago, Gonzalez said, the Starbucks inside Fry’s supermarket was about the only place to meet in public — a testament to Sahuarita’s small-town feel.

Now, inside the town hall is BizHUB, a professional workspace open to the public.

Breaking New Ground

Sahuarita has successfully attracted new jobs for the upcoming year. Northwest Medical Center announced it will open a hospital in the area by late 2019, around the time Gonzalez hopes to have the town’s first tech park up and running.

Construction of the town’s Sahuarita Advanced Manufacturing and Technology Center (SAMTEC) is scheduled to begin in early 2019, Gonzalez said.

Two local tech companies, Hydronalix Inc. and Control Vision Inc., expressed interest in moving into the facility in 2017 after the town snared a $3 million federal grant for the construction of such a park. Hydronalix manufactures lifesaving maritime robotics systems, while Control Vision creates optical sensor and control systems.

The town qualified for a grant from the U.S. Economic Development Administration to build the tech park after the mining company and a large town employer, Freeport-McMoran, announced it was downsizing from 1,200 to 750 employees.

President of Control Vision Daniel Crawford said growing operations at his company mean the workspace he rents from Hydronalix is getting tight.

“We are busting at the seams,” Crawford said.

Originally, construction on the tech park was scheduled to begin in 2018, but it has been delayed as the planning phase extended.

Crawford said he has not officially committed to the tech park and is keeping his options open.

“We’ve involved the tenants as part of the design of the facility,” Gonzalez said of the planning phase.

He is hopeful the businesses will stay committed to the tech park and that the creation of the space will attract more businesses.

Michelle Jaquette is a reporter for Arizona Sonora News, a service from the School of Journalism with the University of Arizona. Contact her at mjaquette@email.arizona.edu.