Mesa to Sink $10 Million into Elliot Road Expansion for Tech Corridor

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Article originally posted on AZ Central on April 20, 2018

Mesa will sink $10 million into improvements along Elliot Road from Ellsworth to Signal Butte roads to alter the stretch into a “technology corridor.”

The changes will expand Elliot from a single-lane road to a three-way stretch in both directions. The area, once just another vast stretch of Arizona desert, is now home to some of the fastest growing residential communities in metro Phoenix, including Eastmark, and a $2 billion Apple “command center.”

The City Council voted on a $10 million contract April 16 with Nesbitt Contracting Company, approving street widening, storm-water harvesting areas, new street lights, landscaping, a new traffic signal and and other aesthetic improvements.

The major infrastructure investment comes as leaders hope the once-deserted stretch of desert will turn into a hub for technology companies.

“I see it a lot like Price Road corridor (in Chandler) or like Silicon Valley, once you build it, the others will come,” Kevin Thompson, the Mesa councilman representing the district that includes the tech corridor, said.

But whether the $10 million in improvements is worth the taxpayer investment remains to be seen. The area is expected to see an influx of data centers over the next few years.

Will Elliot Road be metro Phoenix’s next tech hub?

William Jabjiniak, Mesa’s economic development director, said the push to develop the stretch of Elliot Road into a tech corridor is “all about the jobs.” However, it’s unclear how many jobs the area will host, as nearly all of the data centers are still in early phases.

Companies that have bought on the Elliot Road tech corridor include:

  • Tech-giant Apple is by far the biggest name on the road. The company confirmed in 2017 that it would invest $2 billion in a “command center” on Elliot and Signal Butte Roads.
  • Niagara Bottling announced a 450,000-square-foot highly-automated bottling facility in the area last year, bringing about 50 jobs to Elliot Road.
  • Digital Realty, formerly Dupont Fabros, bought more than 50 acres of land with plans to develop a data center,  according to the city’s economic development office and property records. No specific construction has been announced.
  • Technology company EdgeConnex also recently bought property along the corridor with plans to develop a data center, according to city documents. A spokesman would not say how many jobs the proposed data center would bring.
  • Not to be confused with EdgeConnex, networking company EdgeCore recently broke ground on a 1.25-million-square-foot data center campus, according to the city. The Denver-based company is investing about $150 million into the data center.

Data centers aren’t necessarily regional employment centers, according to Bart Hobjin, an economics professor at Arizona State University. They are often highly automated and need few people to operate.

But Mesa officials are looking beyond the data centers — to the tech companies that will want to “cluster” around the centers, Jabjiniak said.

“Often data centers attract other high-tech companies,” he said.

That’s why the city aims to boost its infrastructure around the area, trumpeting special dark fiber connections useful to companies with high-tech operations.

Jabjiniak also said the big companies behind the data centers will generate a substantial amount of tax revenue. Mesa isn’t offering tax breaks to companies coming to the corridor, instead focusing on boosting infrastructure. The state does, however, offer tax breaks for data centers.

Hobjin concurs with Mesa’s strategy, especially as companies in California relocate to less expensive states, like Arizona.

“We have the skilled local labor supply,” he said.

Transforming Elliot Road into a three-lane road

The $10 million in taxpayer dollars will go to installing three lanes in each direction on Elliot, a median and bike lanes. The road will also get new streetlights to match neighboring Eastmark’s streetlights, a traffic signal at Crismon Road and signs to advertise the “tech corridor.”

Thompson says the roadway improvements will help neighboring communities such as Eastmark, which need the expanded infrastructure to keep up with the pace of development.

“I’m hopeful that we’ll end up with an employment corridor to go along with that,” he said.

The $10 million came out of money originally set aside to improve Pecos Road and about $1.8 million from Maricopa County, Thompson said. Mesa recently annexed the roadway from the county for its technology corridor plan.

Mesa isn’t inventing the idea of technology corridors, it’s a strategy undertaken by economic developers across the country and in neighboring Chandler’s Price Road Corridor. Mesa is also trying to turn its once-sleepy downtown into a hotbed of start-ups, called an innovation district by city planning experts.

And if the $10 million gamble pays off, the economic benefits could have an effect beyond Mesa, as people from across metro Phoenix gather around job centers.

“If a zone like this is a success … this is not only beneficial for the city of Mesa, this is beneficial for the whole metro area,” Hobjin said.

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