Copper Area News
Healthcare is playing a two-prong role in the economic development plans of Pinal County.
“On one hand, we are working hard to attract healthcare companies to locate in the county,” said Tim Kanavel, Pinal County Economic Development program manager. “And we are highlighting the availability of a broad selection of healthcare services here to attract the type of high-tech, manufacturing and transportation businesses that will further convert Pinal County from a primarily rural economy based on agriculture and mining to an urban one of futuristic industry.”
To accomplish the former, Pinal County is enticing healthcare firms to consider relocating or opening operations using results from a skills survey conducted at a cost of $200,000 this spring in most of the county. The survey found large number of residents with nursing and medical technician skills that healthcare companies need – especially in the San Tan Valley community where a good deal of the county’s population growth has occurred since 2000.
With the exception of Banner Ironwood Medical Center in San Tan Valley, the hospitals in the county are situated in older areas of the county (Banner Casa Grande Medical Center, Florence Hospital at Anthem, and Banner Goldfield Medical Center in Apache Junction). While the county lost a hospital when Florence Community Medical Center closed in 2012, Kanavel reports that both Banner Health and Dignity Health are looking into building a new hospital in Maricopa. But that one could be several years away, he noted.
The skilled people found in the survey not only can help staff a new Maricopa medical center, but also satellite health centers that perform common medical procedures and feed more critically ill patients to the hospitals. Because of its rapid growth, San Tan Valley has a greater person per medical service provider than other parts of the county.
“We are looking into filling the gaps in medical service availability where they exist, because the healthcare industry provides high-paying jobs,” Kanavel said.
Among the skilled workers identified by the survey are personnel who can become part of the workforce of a healthcare company willing to locate its managerial and sales operations within the county.
The availability of a medical/healthcare infrastructure also is an enticement for other types of businesses to locate in Pinal County, Kanavel explained.
Current Pinal County economic development efforts are aimed at bringing jobs to match the rapidly growing and changing population. For much of its existence, Pinal County was a sparsely populated area dependent on agriculture and mining. But as the suburbanization of the East Valley spread past the border of Maricopa County, the Pinal County population exploded, reaching 179,727 in 2000, then more than doubling to 375,770 in 2010. Few of the new arrivals can be classified as farmers or miners.
Armed with the results of its Skills Survey, Pinal County is citing the presence of a skilled workforce already in place, along with there being plenty of open land on which to build, low taxation, and nearby recreation areas. A good and growing healthcare infrastructure also is a promotional point.
A 2012 survey cited by David Sayen, regional administrator for Medicare Services with the US Department of Health and Human Services, found that businesses do look at the quality of healthcare when they scout an area for adding a branch facility or for relocation.
Most big businesses like to offer a healthcare benefit to their employees and having quality medical providers nearby not only lowers the cost of benefits but also reduces employee downtime should they suffer a medical problem, Sayen said. Nearby medical facilities also enables these companies to arrange for wellness programs they can offer to their employees.
It is a quality of life issue that manufacturers and big businesses care very much about, Kanavel added.
The desirability of a healthcare infrastructure extends into recreational activities. While employees may be near a health clinic should they suffer a dislocated finger playing softball or a shin splint playing tennis, they might not while engaging in outdoor activities like hiking, climbing or hunting well outside of populated areas.
But the ongoing upgrading of county fire districts into fire and medical districts is filling this need. More firefighters are being trained as EMTs (Emergency Medical Technicians) or paramedics so that when a fire truck arrives on the scene, the EMT can treat and stabilize an injured person and, if the injury is severe enough, call for an ambulance. Stabilizing a person suffering a heart attack or a severe laceration in the field improves chances that the person will make it to the hospital in areas where an emergency room may be a 30-minute drive away.