From Agriculture to Aerospace

Greater Yuma Economic Development Corp.
Written by Robert Hoshowsky

Yuma County is proud to be the home of both established and new businesses with a talent pool of young, available, and educated workers, many long-time industries, and access to a population of 1.5 million people within a seventy-five-mile radius. The Greater Yuma Region borders Mexico, providing the added advantage of maquiladora – Mexican factories that manufacture for export – which enables U.S.-run companies to get materials from or have shared operations and labor with Mexico.
“It is quite a windfall for this entire region to have the workforce capacity and education that we have,” says Greater Yuma Economic Development Corporation President and Chief Executive Officer Julie Engel.

To facilitate business expansion or relocation, the Greater Yuma Economic Development Corporation (EDC) serves as a one-stop shop, providing assistance and information including demographics, quality of life information, corporate site selection, and a great deal more.

Yuma was incorporated as a city in 1914 but remains known as a prime agricultural growing area and the nation’s leader for winter-grown produce, including broccoli, cauliflower, celery, onion, and lettuce, amounting to approximately $3.7 billion annually for the southwestern Arizona region. “The job industry here in Yuma is greatly supported by agriculture,” says Engel. While some family-owned farms still exist in Yuma, most are contracted with corporate entities like the Dole Food Company, Del Monte Foods, Fresh Express, and Taylor Farms.

“We are coveted by a lot of companies whose major markets are California and the Southwest,” says Engel. “They can operate out of here and serve all those customers.”

Food businesses Dole, WhiteWave Foods (owner of Del Monte), and GreenGate Fresh are found here. Yuma’s newest food company is Almark Foods, which produces one million hard-boiled eggs a day. The area has been driven by agriculture for decades and continues to set manufacturing and food production safety standards, such as detection, traceback, and leading research into the implementation of a new ill step procedure in fresh produce.

As a result, Yuma is home to other food processing and manufacturing businesses and has a surplus of labor trained in related areas such as food safety and the automation of food production. In terms of economic impact, agriculture is first in Yuma, followed closely by the United States Armed Forces and its connected industries, as well as tourism, and manufacturing.

“The defense industry itself – combined with our military – is our second-largest industry sector,” states Engel. Its primary sectors even overlap. Local agriculture companies are partnering with defense contractors and using technology devised to detect dangerous chemicals used in conflicts, combined with drones to fly over fields to uncover E. coli and prevent outbreaks.

Yuma is proud of its long-time military presence and traditions, with two bases, the Marine Corps Air Station Yuma (MCAS Yuma), and the U.S. Army Yuma Proving Ground (YPG), along with numerous defense contracting companies in the area.

“Yuma’s year-round flying weather makes MCAS Yuma and YPG perfect for training,” states the Yuma County Chamber of Commerce. “The close relationship the military has within the Yuma community allows Marines to train in a realistic urban setting that would not be allowed in other communities. Yuma’s military roots are extensive, and those traditions will not be slowing any time soon.”

The military has been an integral part of Yuma ever since 1851 when the U.S. Army founded Fort Yuma. During World War II, Yuma’s air base trained legions of pilots and was a training ground for part of Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm, providing extensive integrated operational testing and transitioning from the AV-8B Harrier aircraft to the F-35 for the Marine Attack Squadron 211 (VMA-211).

As well as being the premier test area for pilots, the Marine Corps Air Station Yuma also manages the Barry M. Goldwater Range, spanning over a million acres. The site along the Southwestern Arizona-Mexico border was established in 1941 and sees hundreds of elite marines come out for the ‘Top Gun’ course, culminating in scheduled activity with the City of Yuma. Citizens get involved with a staged rescue, insurgency, and downed helicopter simulations.

Additionally, MCAS Yuma hosts the respected weapons and tactics instructor (WTI) course for marines and offers advanced aviation techniques, tactics, and procedures for all aircraft used by the military.

The Yuma Proving Ground trained troops during WWII but has also welcomed non-military clients and activities, including automotive giant General Motors’ desert test center and NASA engineers who tested parachutes for the Orion spacecraft, an exploration vehicle designed to transport humans farther than ever before. The testing, dropping an Orion model 25,000 feet from a C-17 aircraft, simulated the descent astronauts will experience.

As the U.S. Army’s premier test facility, the Yuma Proving Ground is where defense contractors do all of their rigorous testing, including ballistics and off-road vehicles. Contractors at the Marine Corps Air Station are supporting the F-35 stealth fighter, the Harrier Jump Jet, the Osprey – which combines the speed of a fixed-wing with the abilities of a helicopter – and the Apache, the world’s most advanced multi-role combat helicopter. “Some contractors are there for a shorter time, and others are permanent,” comments Engel.

The Marine Corps Air Station Yuma and the U.S. Army Yuma Proving Ground have a growing military population of over eleven thousand people including families, a police department, and a large number of contractors. “It is an incredible neighbor,” says Engel.

For its large and available labor force, the Greater Yuma EDC is primarily targeting aerospace and food production industries. It has great access to infrastructure. The Marine Corps Air Station is a shared-use facility with the Yuma International Airport, which has 220 acres of private land secured to military specifications. As a result, many large contractors are operating on the civilian side because of military security.

“Those two assets play very nicely together, and it is attractive for contractors who need to be close by, but there’s no room for them on the military side, so they come to the civilian side and are just across the runways from their client.”

Yuma is expanding its aerospace presence and benefiting from the recently-approved bill for commercial space traffic. It is currently developing a commercial spaceport targeting five hundred kilogram and smaller rockets – possibly up to one thousand kilograms – which will be deploying microsatellites. Rather than focusing on large rockets with humans on board, Yuma will capitalize on its unique market, as it does not have any airspace constrictions, such as overflight.

From its southern location and with a polar orbit trajectory, rockets will be able to get over the Sea of Cortez in less than seven seconds. “We will be pursuing space in that vein, having a very specific niche market that we are targeting,” comments Engel. “We are not trying to be a spaceport like those in Colorado or Oklahoma; we are going to be a small operator that is going to make sense for smaller companies wanting to launch satellites into lower earth orbit.”

The space industry is currently a billion-dollar industry and projected to increase to a trillion dollars by 2025, so the need for suitable locations to launch satellites will increase, and Yuma is well-suited for satellites being sent into lower earth orbits.

Yuma is also known for its renewable energy sector and has one of the largest robotically-run utility-scale solar fields. Yuma County also has rooftop solar companies, world-class installers, and repair technicians, as many new industries are deploying solar as an energy option for their facilities.

The City of Yuma’s population is approximately 110,000, with a metropolitan statistical area (MSA) of 250,000. Households in Yuma County have an annual income of $44,967, with over twenty-six percent of residents earning more than the national average each year.

The City of Yuma has various means to encourage business growth and development, including an economic development incentive fund, construction sales tax reimbursements, on the job training grants, income tax credits, no tax on manufacturing equipment, and many others.

Well-known companies call this home, including Johnson Controls, Shaw Industries, door and window manufacturer Associated Materials Inc., Northwestern Industries, space and defense company AQST Space Systems Group, and medical device manufacturing and sterilization companies Martech Medical Products and Centurion Medical Products.

“We know that we make sense for many industries,” says Engel. “Our location is ideal for reaching the Southwest market, and we have all the support mechanisms needed to be successful here.”



The Health of our Oceans

Read Our Current Issue


Up in Smoke

June 2024

To Make a Northwest Passage

May 2024

From Here to There

April 2024

More Past Editions

Featured Articles