A project fueled by foreign investors that holds the promise of creating thousands of jobs is scheduled to break ground by year's end in Pinal County.
Called Phoenix Mart, the 1.5 million-square-foot commercial complex will be located on 500 acres in Casa Grande, about one mile east of the outlet mall on Florence Boulevard.
With a minimum investment of $500,000, foreigners receive conditional permanent residence in the U.S. and lease space in the mart to peddle everything from kitchen gadgets to hotel furniture.
They are required to create a minimum of 10 full-time, permanent jobs for U.S. workers within two years.
Already, 300 vendors have signed leases.
"It is exciting," Casa Grande Mayor Bob Jackson said. "It's really going to change the complexion of Pinal County.
"Think about 3,000 jobs in Tucson - that would be huge," Jackson said. "Three thousand jobs in our area practically eliminates our unemployment problem."
Casa Grande has a population of about 49,000 and 10 percent unemployment.
The mart will be able] to accommodate up to 1,800 vendors when built out, Jackson said. One-third will be from China; one-third from the U.S. and one-third from other countries.
While the mart will be open to shoppers, the target customer is retailers.
"You can walk into one shop that sells nothing but spatulas and buy one," Jackson said. "But they're looking to sell 1,000 to a P.F. Chang's."
Modeled after the Dragon Mart in Dubai, the bazaar-style operation originated in China and is the first of its kind in the U.S.
That made it difficult to explain to residents and some who were reluctant to embrace the project, Jackson said.
"There were initial concerns because of the Chinese investment component," he said. "One of the challenges is that it's such a foreign concept - no pun intended."
The Immigrant Investor Program, also known as "EB-5," was created by Congress in 1990 to stimulate the U.S. economy through job creation and investment by foreigners. It is administered by the Department of Homeland Security's Citizenship and Immigration Services.
Foreign investors who have met the job-creation requirement can then apply to have the conditional provision of their residential status removed and receive a green card, said Marie Sebrechts, a spokeswoman for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. After that, business owners have five years in which to apply for U.S. citizenship, she said.
The buzz created by the Phoenix Mart development has resulted in another foreign investment in the area.
Confident that the center of the Sun Corridor will become a nucleus for industrial and commercial development, a Canadian investment company is buying up land in Pinal County.
Calgary, Alberta-based Walton Development and Management now owns 8,500 acres, including several large parcels along Interstate 10, for industrial development.
In the cities of Casa Grande, Coolidge and Eloy, Walton plans to develop shopping centers, office complexes and master-planned housing units, said Tim Terrill, chief operating officer for Walton Development and Management USA.
"We are optimistic about the future," he said. "We continue to see small businesses opening and large businesses looking, especially with news of the Phoenix Mart.
"Plus," Terrill said, "we're in the center of the Sun Corridor."
Walton's investment in the area and the Phoenix Mart are welcome news, said Andrew Gasparro, chairman of the Coolidge Economic Development Group.
"We're excited because we see the growth continuing," Gasparro said.
Did you know?
The Sun Corridor - which stretches from Prescott to the Mexican border - is considered one of the top emerging megaregions in the country.
Under the Immigrant Investor Program, foreigners must:
• Create a new commercial enterprise.
• Create or preserve 10 full-time jobs for U.S. workers within two years of admission into the U.S. as a conditional permanent resident.
• Invest a minimum of $1 million or $500,000 in rural areas or those with high unemployment. Investment can be in the form of cash, equipment, inventory or property.
Contact reporter Gabriela Rico at email@example.com or 573-4232.