What grows faster than cotton? Marana

Gabriela Rico

The Town of Marana is poised to grow its population to over 100,000 in the next five years as new companies, both in the town and in neighboring Pinal County, fuel the need for new housing.Thousands of apartments, rental-home communities and single-family homes for sale are under construction or in the pipeline in the town’s core and on former cotton farms north of Tucson.Marana incorporated in 1977, with about 1,500 residents in 10 square miles.Today, the population is over 60,000 and several annexations over the years have spread Marana over 124 square miles.Mayor Ed Honea is part of the third generation of a six-generation Marana family. He has been mayor for 20 years and served on the council for 34 years.

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He marvels at the town’s growth, where he grew up farming cotton on his grandparents’ land.“It’s really just absolutely astonishing,” Honea said. “We’re the fastest-growing community south of Maricopa County.”Growth, he said, was inevitable and intentional.“My philosophy is, if your community isn’t growing it’s dying.”Marana is primarily attracting residents because of jobs both with companies in the town limits and major employers in Casa Grande and Coolidge which have set up operations in recent years.In Coolidge, Procter & Gamble is building a $500 million manufacturing plant that will create more than 500 jobs.Company officials visited Marana.“They were concerned that there’s not a lot of housing in Coolidge,” Honea said. “We’re using that because Pinal is going crazy, and they can’t build housing fast enough.”Procter & Gamble’s announcement came after a surge of economic activity in Pinal County with companies such as electric vehicle manufacturers Lucid and Nokia, semiconductor Chang Chun Arizona, aircraft service ecube and battery manufacturer Cirba Solutions choosing sites in Marana’s neighboring county.The commute from Marana to those jobs is 30 to 40 minutes, Honea said.“I always tease the mayor of Coolidge that we’re going to put him on the economic development payroll,” he said.An average of 100 new homes are going up each month in Marana and, since the pandemic drew more residents to Southern Arizona, developers are eagerly building more.Honea takes pride in people that Marana is the second-largest community in Southern Arizona, “second to that suburb to the south of us,” as he jokingly refers to Tucson.By comparison, the latest Census data shows Oro Valley is close to 50,000 residents; Sahuarita’s population is about 35,000 and Vail’s is about 14,000.Farther south, Green Valley, Rio Rico and Nogales each have a population of about 20,000; Bisbee’s is about 5,000 and Douglas about 16,500.HOUSING IS KEYRecruiting new companies begins with available housing.There are three projects under way of build-to-rent communities with over 1,000 homes that are just for renters, in addition to seven apartment complexes under construction in Marana.Near Tangerine Road and Interstate 10 there are communities under development with thousands of homes for sale and plans for industrial projects that will produce the jobs, said Curt Woody, Marana’s director of economic development and tourism.“In northern Marana alone, there are 28,000 entitled lots for single-family residential and 5,000 have been built,” he said. “We’re just about full speed at this point.”The town markets the community as ready to do business, Woody said.“The town has always had the philosophy of not wanting to be a bedroom town where everyone goes somewhere else to work,” he said. “It’s been that way from the beginning and residents wanted the mix.”With each annexation the town has mapped out zoning for where it makes sense to put industrial projects, retail projects and housing.“We know we’re going to grow and we plan for it,” Woody said. “The reputation we have is that we’re family friendly, we welcome businesses and we welcome growth.”Marana isn’t done growing yet and is looking to annex more land.“If we don’t continue to grow and bring in industry and bring in jobs, our young people are going to leave,” Mayor Honea said. “Two of my kids, both UA graduates, left the area because the work wasn’t there.”RECRUITING RESTAURANTSA growing population attracts restaurants and retail stores.Amanda Wiggins, president and CEO of the Marana Chamber of Commerce, said she chose to live in Marana because of housing availability, schools and the convenience of travel on Interstate 10.“When we were looking for a place to call home, Marana was a shining star for us,” she said of her family’s relocation due to her husband’s job.Shortly after arriving, Wiggins became involved with the chamber.One of the goals is to keep an eye out for local businesses in the rapidly growing town.“A lot of companies are interested in us because of the potential to grow,” Wiggins said.One of the chamber’s initiatives is a restaurant recruitment taskforce to support local restaurants and offer a farm-to-table supply chain.“We want to remain unique,” Wiggins said, “and stay true to the history and heritage of Marana.”
Contact reporter Gabriela Rico at grico@tucson.com

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