While cattle, cotton and citrus, three of Arizona's traditional five C's that school children used to learn were the driving forces behind the state's economy, have faded over the years, the other two - copper and climate (think tourism) remain dominant. And arguably, no company has had a greater impact in the copper arena than the thousand-pound gorilla of copper production - Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold Inc.
An international mining company with headquarters in Phoenix, Freeport-McMoRan has five - out of nine mines in North America - operating in Arizona and three of them are in Southern Arizona.
The company's Morenci mine in Greenlee County is an open-pit mine and processing facility about 50 miles northeast of Safford that Freeport-McMoRan calls one of North America's largest copper producers and one of the largest open-pit mines in the world.
Freeport-McMoRan owns 85 percent of the Morenci mine, with the balance owned by a joint venture partner, said Gabe Doak, a company spokesman. Morenci's copper production, including the joint venture partner's share, he noted, totaled 514 million pounds in 2010.
The company had 2,315 employees at the mine as of the end of 2010.
The Safford mine is 100 percent owned by Freeport-McMoRan and is the company's newest open-pit copper mining complex, first producing copper in 2007. Safford mine is in Graham County, about 170 miles east of Phoenix.
Doak said Safford mine's copper production was 143 million pounds in 2010 and mine employment was 565.
The third Southern Arizona mine, and the closest to Tucson is Sierrita Mine. Near Green Valley, it too is 100 percent owned by Freeport-McMoRan. An open-pit copper and molybdenum mining complex, the Serrita mine produced 147 million pounds of copper and 18 million pounds of molybdenum last year. Freeport-McMoRan employed 1,082 people at Serrita at the end of 2010.
The company's other two mines in Arizona are near Miami in Gila County and a mine at Bagdad northwest of Wickenburg in Yavapai County.
Doak, in a written statement, said Freeport-McMoRan has had a significant impact on the economies of the state and the counties in which it operates.
"The economic benefits derived from our operations not only fuel the local economy, but thanks to the multiplier effect, extend across the economic landscape of Arizona," he wrote.
Doak noted that Freeport-McMoRan contracts with the William Seidman Research Institute at Arizona State University's W.P. Carey School of Business to assess the company's direct and indirect impact on the state, from its operations, supplier purchases, consumer spending by employees, state and local tax revenue generation and the effects of spending pension income.
"In 2010, Freeport-McMoRan had a total estimated impact of $2.1 billion to Arizona," Doak noted. "Within our Southern Arizona counties, Freeport-McMoRan had a total estimated impact of $920 million in 2010."
Diana Durazo, special staff assistant to Pima County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry, said that while Pima County doesn't have dollar figures on the county impact of Freeport-McMoRan's operations, "the company has been a good neighbor and responsive on projects."
Durazo said the county has had informal dialogue with Freeport-McMoRan mostly through the Green Valley Coordinating Council and has proposed a partnership with the company on a Preliminary Ecosystem Restoration Plan to restore the riparian system in the county-owned Canoa Ranch.
"The Army Corps of Engineers undertook a study to make the project work but to make it a success, we need water," Durazo said. "We've asked Freeport-McMoRan to provide a small allocation of water so that with their partnership, we can restore the major features of the ranch to help drive tourism and economic development."
Durazo said Freeport McMoRan has reported it is considering the proposal.
On the business front, Freeport-McMoRan remains optimistic about the long-term demand for copper globally, driven by China and the developing world, as well as improvement in the developed world's economies, Doak wrote. As such, the company is "aggressively pursuing growth opportunities due to our positive view of the long-term markets for our products and our strong ore reserve positions," he noted.
Some of that growth may come in Southern Arizona. During the first quarter of this year, Freeport-McMoRan began a feasibility study to add mining and milling capacity at Morenci to process additional sulfide ores identified through positive exploratory drilling in recent years. Doak said the study is expected to be completed shortly.
The project would increase milling rates to approximately 115,000 metric tons of ore a day and target 150 to 200 million pounds of incremental annual copper production within a two to three year time frame, according to Doak.
Also under consideration are a further expansion at Morenci mine, expansions at Sierrita and Bagdad, and mining restarts at Twin Buttes and Ajo, he added.
As part of its operational philosophy, Freeport-McMoRan engages with Arizona communities through Community Partnership Panels that consist of community leaders representing various sectors and stakeholder groups in the local area where mining operations are located.
"The goal of the Partnership Panels is to keep communities informed of our operations, respond to questions and concerns, and provide an avenue for the company and community to work together to develop thoughtful solutions to address community issues," Doak wrote.
He added that such panels identified community needs and priorities in two locations, resulting in the company establishing the Graham County and the Green Valley/Sahuarita Community Investment funds in 2009 and 2010, respectively.
"Local community members directly allocate company social investment dollars, which allows for local decision-making, effective prioritization of needs and consideration of projects that will support the long-term success of the area," Doak noted.
Last year, he said, Freeport-McMoRan invested more than $23 million in Arizona communities, most of which were in Southern Arizona, focusing on education, health, environmental improvement and economic development investments.