Canadian investors see future logistics hub with Marana and Pinal County - Inside Tucson Business: Top Stories

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Canadian investors see future logistics hub with Marana and Pinal County

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Posted: Friday, August 26, 2011 12:00 pm | Updated: 9:28 am, Tue Aug 30, 2011.

When Congress established the Canamex Trade Corridor in 1995, it's doubtful anyone envisioned that a Canadian company would have a key role developing the route's Tucson-Phoenix segment. Under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the plan was to build a "seamless super corridor" of freeways, railroads, utilities and other infrastructure linking Canada to Mexico through the western United States.

Although much of the Canamex project hasn't materialized due to the economy and political posturing, the Tucson-Phoenix corridor - central to the anticipated Sun Corridor megaregion - remains in play as an active, desirable and predictable growth area. That potential is what attracted a Canadian land management company to pursue development opportunities along Interstate 10 in Pinal County.

Walton Development & Management, headquartered in Calgary, Alberta, has in recent years become one of the largest land owners in Pinal County. In owns 924 acres among three different parcels along I-10.

"We invest in land in the path of growth," said Benjamin Belkin, Arizona general manager for Walton. "We look for three major components when we buy land. For any given market, its job growth, population growth, and single-family housing permit issuance."

In addition, Belkin's company is heavily focused on transportation corridors, with I-10 being Arizona's "most significant. We also look for rail availability and access as an important component of creating jobs in our markets."

When Walton Development & Management enters a market, it typically acquires a "large footprint" of 5,000 to 15,000 acres. Statewide, Walton has about 9,000 acres of land. It also has holdings in Texas, Georgia, and the Washington, D.C. area.

In Canada, Walton Development & Management has 3,000 acres in seven land development projects. Overall, the firm manages over 60,000 acres in 72 master plans, Belkin said.

The firm was attracted to Pinal County by "the superior transportation infrastructure that exists and is being proposed that will help drive growth there. Plus, there is an available work force that is willing to work," he said.

Along I-10, Pinal County and Town of Marana officials envision something greater than a NAFTA-born transportation corridor. They are talking of developing an inland port: a comprehensive regional shipping and distribution freight hub. Marana is strategically located along 18 miles of freeway.

Pinal Air Park, a 2,080-acre facility, is just north of the Pima County line. On I-10 north of Red Rock, Union Pacific Railroad has proposed building a 900-acre, $200 million switchyard.

Those three components have inspired planners "to take advantage of California's uncompetitive position. There is also growth pressure from Phoenix and Tucson," Belkin said.

The economic development initiatives "being undertaken in Pinal are significant," he added. "Corporate expansion and relocation will occur. One nice thing about doing business there is most people sing the same song. Everybody has many of the same goals, and that is to grow well."

Walton Development's Pinal County holdings include 368 acres on the east side of I-10 across from PulteGroup's Red Rock Village community. Just 1.5 miles north is where Union Pacific Railroad wants to locate its switchyard.

About 10 miles further north in Eloy at the Sunshine Boulevard exit, the firm owns a 277-acre industrial park on the northeast corner. That parcel has infrastructure in place and is partially developed.

The third Pinal parcel is 279 acres of dirt being called Toltec Business Park, on the northeast corner of I-10 and Hauser Road. It has a future as a mixed-use commercial, retail and industrial complex.

"All three parcels have the possibility to have rail service. Depending on the tenants, you could have a powerhouse of industries that could transform this entire region," said Belkin. "The number of jobs at full build-out would be astronomical."

Contact reporter Roger Yohem at ryohem@azbiz.com or (520) 295-4254.

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