Spirit of the Southwest

Sierra Vista Economic Development Foundation
Written by Leon Bracey

In Spanish, Sierra Vista means “Mountain View.” This perfectly describes the city’s scenic location among the Huachuca, Dragoon, Mule and Whetstone Mountains in Southeastern Arizona.
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Such a prime location doesn’t mean the area is resting on its laurels or leisurely pursuits, however; the Sierra Vista Economic Development Foundation (SVEDF) is committed to attracting businesses in a number of sectors to bring new enterprise and opportunity to the City of Sierra Vista and to Cochise County.

Located about 75 miles from Tucson, the City of Sierra Vista has taken advantage of its location and its proximity to Mexico and Fort Huachuca. Executive Director Mignonne Hollis spoke to Business in Focus about the SVEDF’s efforts in attracting and retaining businesses, recruitment, expansion, and development of business alliances.

“We actively promote our economic strength and we focus on three pillars – Healthcare, Government Contracting / Procurement and Unmanned Aircraft Systems,” Hollis explains.

The team also works to attract and encourage new business and to grow existing businesses in the area. “We are target-focused. Our recruitment and retention efforts are revolved around the pillars we have focused on.”

Today, the City of Sierra Vista has a population of over 45,000 individuals, and area businesses serve a metro area of around 60,000. Sierra Vista is the main commercial, cultural, and recreational hub of Cochise County and serves a commercial market of more than 110,000 consumers from both Cochise and neighboring Santa Cruz County, as well as from Mexico.

Nearby is United States Army Installation, Fort Huachuca, with major units such as the United States Army Network Enterprise Technology Command (NETCOM) and the United States Army Intelligence Center; it also serves as headquarters to the Army Military Auxiliary Radio System (MARS). Other units include the Joint Interoperability Test Command, the Information Systems Engineering Command (ISEC) and the Electronic Proving Ground. Fort Huachuca is the world’s largest Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) training facility, home of the US Army Intelligence Center, and Southern Arizona’s 4th largest employer, providing jobs to more than 17,000 people. To be sure, the military and the Department of Defense (DoD) have a substantial impact on the local economy and labor force.

After years of persistent work around the Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) industry, the SVEDF is enjoying the payoff for their efforts and the advantages of having a nearby army base. Cochise County will now be a site for unmanned aircraft systems testing and training. The main test site is located in Benson, Arizona, and the SVEDF is working on including the Bisbee Douglas International Airport as the test site develops in Benson.

The foundation wants this test site to be used by companies to test, train, and learn, and has been working with universities throughout Arizona to provide virtual lab capabilities to bring an educational element to the sites. The goal is also to help incubate new robotic and unmanned systems ventures in the areas of testing, business development research, and the engineering and product development sectors, and companies from across the nation have expressed interest in utilizing the site once it opens. SVEDF has chosen Thompson-Wimmer, Inc. – the nation’s leading provider and consulting firm in assisting Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) entities with safe integration into national airspace – as one of the technical service providers available to clients.

Healthcare is another area of focus for the foundation, and in April, the new Canyon Vista Medical Center opened, to serve Sierra Vista and Cochise County. The 100-bed hospital spans 177,000 square feet and contains a 19-bed adult psychiatric unit and a new wound care center. “It’s a beautiful facility,” shares Hollis. “We worked hard to make sure that it was built in the community and remains viable for the area.”

The opening of the hospital is a milestone for Sierra Vista and Cochise County and is the result of a 20-year effort to build a new hospital for the region. Canyon Vista will be a partner of RegionalCare Hospital Partners and will replace the existing Sierra Vista Regional Health Center (SVRHC).

Additional healthcare facilities in the area include the Raymond W. Bliss Army Health Center (RWBAHC), which provides primary care and services such as an orthopedic clinic, a same-day procedure center, physical therapy, optometry, and preventive medicine consultations.

As well, the Veterans Administration (VA) Outpatient Clinic serves the healthcare needs of eligible veterans living in southeastern Arizona. The clinic’s services include health screening, laboratory services, management of acute and chronic diseases, mental health services, nutrition, optometry services, physical therapy, primary care, radiology, a program for returning combat veterans, social work services, and routine / urgent care procedures including dermatologic procedures, skin tests, dressing changes, and immunizations.

Other companies that call Sierra Vista home include call center Teleperformance, previously Aegis Communications Group, Inc. Teleperformance provides a wide range of customer care services to many of the world’s leading companies including one of the largest health insurers in the U.S., a non-profit regional health plan, and a nationally advertised long-term care referral service. Already employing nearly 500 people in the city, the call center recently added 200 jobs in the customer service field, largely fulltime positions with benefits.

Aerospace and defense technology company Northrop Grumman also has extensive operations in the area, taking advantage of Sierra Vista’s efforts to attract more UAS-related ventures.

In terms of developing new ventures, the SVEDF also maintains a Business Complex – a co-working facility that provides affordable workspace and resources to entrepreneurs in the area. The Business Complex allows newly established or small existing businesses to rent office or cubicle space for a monthly fee and gives tenants the opportunity to access resources that enable them to operate as fully functioning businesses in a professional environment. The Complex also offers business consulting services, facilitated by the Cochise College Small Business Development Center (SBDC) in the areas of strategic planning and marketing resources, and the Arizona Procurement Technical Assistance Center (PTAC), which connects occupants with the resources needed to compete successfully in the government marketplace. The Complex offers tenants such features as copy, scan, fax and print capabilities; a conference room equipped with a 12-seat conference table, projector, retractable projection screen and white board; high-speed internet; and on-site mailboxes.

Due to its proximity to the Mexican border, Hollis says that a number of future plans for the area include strengthening business ties with the country. “With Mexico as our neighbors to the south, we make sure we are working well with them in their target industries as well. This includes manufacturing and working together to strengthen entire region. With our focus on education, healthcare, and UAS, and auto manufacturing in Mexico, having access to a labor pool on both sides of the border is important. We are doing exciting work with our partners to south.”

With desert and mountain views as well as a vibrant, growing and increasingly diversified economy, Hollis feels that Sierra Vista is a great place to not only start a business or find work, but to take time to appreciate the beauty of the area. “We have wide open spaces, perfect weather, and great amenities.”

Known as the “Hummingbird Capital of the U.S.”, Sierra Vista is noted for having up to fifteen species of the bird within the city limits. As well, the unsurpassed views of the night sky have led Sierra Vista to become Arizona’s chosen center of amateur astronomy, with more than a dozen well-equipped amateur observatories in the area and one within the city limits.

Residents also enjoy a variety of attractions within a one-hour drive of the city, including Tombstone, known as “The Town Too Tough to Die,” historic mining town Bisbee, Kartchner Caverns – the only known “living” cave in Arizona – and a number of historic sites and national parks.

With the natural environment a big draw, the Sierra Vista Economic Development Foundation also understands the need to diversify the region’s economy through the recruitment of viable industries that are cohesive with the abilities and expertise within the city. Hollis believes this big-picture view is what has made Sierra Vista and Cochise County a great place to start a business or find a new job.

“Sierra Vista is a good place to put down your roots because of the culture we have here; the opportunities that one has here are what makes the area great. We embrace the spirit of the Southwest and entrepreneurship.”

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