Ex-mining towns work force evolves

Ex-mining towns work force evolves

Sahuarita’s work force is changing. Once an economy steeped in agriculture, ranching and mining, it is quickly evolving into one largely based on technology and administrative and medical fields.
The area now known as Sahuarita ”” named “little saguaro” in the mid- to late 1800s ”” has been an agricultural hub for centuries. The Santa Cruz River was a draw to the Hohokam people, who had established a large agriculturally based village by the ninth century.

In the 1800s, ranchers moved in, and by 1906 there was a mining boom prompting the construction of a railroad connecting Tucson and the Twin Buttes mines to Sahuarita. Many of the town’s streets and landmarks are named after mines in the area.
Today the burgeoning business in town is construction of new homes. The once-rural community has grown from a population of 3,242 in 2000 to more than 19,000 this month. The new housing developments have attracted an educated work force with no place to work ”” yet ”” causing residents to drive into the Old Pueblo for employment.

Responses to an April work-force survey the town of Sahuarita sent to residents showed more than 34 percent indicated they are college graduates, 14.6 percent have master’s degrees and almost 3 percent have doctoral degrees. Nearly half the respondents said they drive at least 31 miles round trip per day to work and 17.5 percent said they drive 51 miles or more per day. “As the population grows, the workforce within Sahuarita is changing to a community with more people commuting to Tucson,” 15 minutes north, said town spokeswoman Barbara Dolan. Raytheon Missile Systems in Tucson, for example, has 11,000 employees, 825 of which commute from the Sahuarita and Green Valley areas, said spokeswoman Sara Hammond. “In the past, people used to work more locally at the mines and other types of jobs, and now people are commuting to Tucson for administrative and health-care jobs,” Dolan said. “It’s part of our long-term economic development strategy to have a diverse work force that can work locally because we don’t just want to be a bedroom community.” The highest concentration of careers, according to the work-force survey, were in management and administrative jobs, 15 percent, and the health-care field, almost 12 percent. When asked about their job aspirations, more than 18 percent of Sahuarita residents said they would like careers in the health-care industry, and almost 15 percent said they wanted careers in a management or administrative field. “The shorter-term goal is attracting retail and services people need, and part of the longer term is developing industry and local jobs,” said Dolan. “I think Carondelet will be a huge factor in that too, but the hospital is not looking to open a full-service hospital for five to six years.” Recently, Carondelet Health Network purchased 20 acres in the heart of Sahuarita. It expects to open a 78-bed regional hospital near Sahuarita and La Villita roads by 2011. In the next two years, however, Carondelet officials expect to develop part of a 36-acre medical services campus. Carondelet has programs to train its own nurses to staff the hospital, said Letty Ramirez, vice president of marketing and planning for the Health Network, and by the time the hospital opens, she anticipates there will be a pool of health care workers living in Sahuarita. “By the time the hospital opens we feel we’ll be able to staff it very nicely,” Ramirez said. “We also realize there’s a whole influx of new residents moving into that region, and they’re finding they are health care professionals and individuals interested in pursuing the health care field.” The Sahuarita Unified School District is already anticipating the opening of the hospital. Construction is expected to begin in 2008 on a new high school in the Rancho Sahuarita area. The district is in preliminary talks with Carondelet for support if the district governing board decides to make medical technology the focus of the high school, said Tom Murphy, clerk of the board. “That’s one of the exciting things we’re trying to do is expand our partnerships,” Murphy said. “What they (Carondelet officials) are looking to do ”” and we are too ”” is locally growing our own work force ”¦ to prepare our students and move them into a medical field.” Individual Sahuarita-area residents and employees looking to advance their skills are preparing for a change in the local workforce. Marie Cory, coordinator for the Green Valley Community Learning Center minutes from Sahuarita, has seen an increased interest in the computer classes offered by the center. “It used to be people in Green Valley who took our computer classes, and now we’re finding people from businesses in Green Valley and surrounding areas taking our classes. “More and more people are coming out to take classes,” Cory said. “There is a big demand.” Sahuarita resident Lisa Kemper, who is branch manager of the Green Valley Community Food Bank, is anxious for new employers to come to the area. “I work with people every single day who are unemployed or underemployed and really having a hard time finding a job,” she said. “At the food bank we’re serving the working poor. There definitely needs to be jobs closer to home for them. “They just need a job that pays more than minimum wage. It just breaks my heart. They try so hard. Gas is so high, they just can’t make ends meet.” Kemper said job training for Sahuarita residents would help, too. Kemper’s husband, Kevin R. Kemper, an assistant professor at the University of Arizona, commutes to Tucson for work and doesn’t mind the 20-minute drive each way. “I wouldn’t want to work anywhere else, any other location than where I work,” he said. Still, he said, it wouldn’t work if both he and his wife commuted into Tucson. “If we each worked in Tucson, I don’t think we could make our life work,” Kemper said. It would be harder on him and his wife to care for their four children and attend their after-school events, such as baseball games. “It’s helpful for one of us to be down there with children,” he said. Rancho Sahuarita resident Ray Frieders also doesn’t mind the 35- to 45-minute daily commute to his job at Cox Media. He said maintaining a distance between his home and a larger city has improved the quality of his family’s life. “I don’t mind the drive. It’s all freeway driving for me,” he said. “I like the fact that it (Sahuarita) doesn’t have that much because it kind of forces us to have better family values.

“When we lived closer to town, we spent our free time going to stores. Now we’re more into the community. We spend time with friends, we have the great pool and clubhouse, and we save more money than we probably did when we were nearer to things.”

Source: www.azstarnet.com

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