Bringing in Business

Economic development organization Sun Corridor Inc. is transforming the economic landscape of the Southwest — thanks, in part, to President and C.E.O. Joe Snell. But what you may not know: Snell almost didn’t make it to the interview.

It was 2005, and Snell’s Skype interview with Sun Corridor Inc. (known at the time as Tucson Regional Economic Opportunities, or TREO) was to begin in just 10 minutes when Snell received a call that his oldest daughter had been in a car accident. “I almost pulled out and said, ‘I can’t do this,’” Snell recalls. Shortly thereafter, however, he learned that his daughter was unhurt. So he composed himself, turned on his webcam, and reminded himself of all that was at stake. As Snell said, Tucson had “all the ingredients to be an economic juggernaut. They just didn’t have the recipe.”

As a young executive, Snell had always nurtured a fierce desire to climb the business ladder. He crisscrossed the country, gaining workforce experience everywhere from New Mexico to Kansas to his hometown of Denver, Colorado, and working for industry luminaries like Peter Coors of Molson Coors Brewing Company. As his career progressed, he traveled regularly to Manhattan as a consultant, helping communities to stimulate their economies.

Eventually, Snell burned out from his perpetual travels and wanted a new professional challenge. It was there that the opportunity to work with TREO presented itself. So Snell relocated to Arizona, and the rest, as they say, was (job-building) history.

Snell’s first order of business was to stimulate the creation of primary jobs in Southern Arizona. He reached out to Harvard University economist Michael Porter, whose expertise identified industry targets that Southern Arizona was best outfitted to grow: Aerospace and Defense, Alternative Energy/Natural Resources, Transportation and Logistics and Biosciences/Healthcare.

Joe Snell, president and CEO of Sun Corridor Inc., refers to himself as a “pitchman,” guiding businesses through the process of choosing Tucson as their new location. Photo by James Patrick.

The economic recession did not make his job easy. But Snell, whose office wall was once ornamented with a sign that read “Never Waste a Good Crisis,” was up to the task. “Executives used to spend two or three years in Tucson and then they would cycle out. What the recession did was compel executives to become more engaged in the community because they had less mobility,” he says. So he began fortifying TREO’s executive board, cajoling retired industry titans such as General Motors executive Dennis Minano and Raytheon C.F.O. Steve Eggen, along with leaders from academia, non-profit and government, to join his team.

But he didn’t stop there. Snell pushed TREO to expand its geographic parameters to cover the megaregion known as the “Sun Corridor” in order to promote economic development of Southern Arizona as a single economic entity. Seizing on the megaregion’s moniker, in 2015 TREO was officially renamed Sun Corridor Inc.

Expansion has been the company’s approach to its on-the-ground work, too. Snell and his team continued to compile a governing board of the biggest brains in the Corridor, including the presidents of the University of Arizona, Arizona State University and Pima Community College and executives from Raytheon, Tucson Medical Center and Cox Communications. “I’m a pitchman,” Snell admits. “But why not send experts out to give a company considering Tucson their insights?”

In 2017, Sun Corridor Inc. had the distinct honor of hosting the Site Selectors Guild Conference. Snell smiles as he recalls leaders from Raytheon and Caterpillar telling conventioneers all that Southern Arizona has to offer companies. Sun Corridor Inc., doubled down on its aggressive efforts to market Southern Arizona by hosting another group of site selectors in February 2018.

Indeed, myriad businesses continue to flock here. Although many Tucsonans are likely already familiar with Caterpillar and Raytheon, numerous additional companies across a wide range of industries call the region home, including mining tech providers Hexagon Mining, the Chinese-based autonomous vehicle technology company TuSimple, and TJX’s affordable home décor retailer HomeGoods. World View Enterprises, launched by a team of former NASA astronauts and aerospace engineers, is also located in Tucson and sends commercial payloads to the edge of space using high-altitude balloons. They hope to offer stratospheric rides to human customers in the not-too-distant future. Recently, Amazon selected Tucson for a new state-of-the-art operation after a national search. The new operation will employ 1,500 and construct one of the largest facilities in Tucson.

As Snell and his Sun Corridor staff continue to stimulate economic growth, they have developed an initiative that they call the “Soft Landing Program,” a concierge service for every member of a business that moves to Tucson. Local experts provide a full desert immersion via Skype concerning everything from the weather to real estate to the downtown renaissance and the latest Wildcats statistics.

And in case potential industry executives still are not convinced to relocate to the desert, take it from Snell himself: “Tucson is the best place I’ve ever lived, and I’ve lived in some really cool places.”  Betsy Bruce

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