The Bridgestone tire company has broken ground on a new research facility in Mesa to find better ways to produce biorubber from the Guayule plant. Shea Joachim, Economic Development Project Manager for Mesa, will talk about the plant.
Ted Simons: The Bridgestone Corporation broke ground on a new research facility in Mesa to produce bio rubber from a desert plant. Good to have you here.
Shea Joachim: Thanks for having me.
Ted Simons: Bridgestone, a tire rubber company, what are they building again?
Shea Joachim: There's actually two components to the project. There's the bio rubber research process center which we built in Mesa. Also an agricultural corporation to be built down in Eloi. It's a multimillion-dollar investment for Bridgestone to explore guayule as a source of rubber. It'll help Bridgestone meet the growing global demand for rubber, and relieve some of the reliance on the tree that's currently the primary source for rubber production today. Down in Eloi they will cultivate the plant, just like a shrub. They will ship it to Mesa, the feed stock will be used in the processing center. It'll be located on approximately 10 acres of property just a couple miles east of the Phoenix Gateway Airport. Probably most importantly it'll support 40 high-wage jobs.
Ted Simons: We're looking at the plant right here. This is the site for the research center?
Shea Joachim: That's correct.
Ted Simons: And the center should eventually look like a pretty nice high-tech operation, correct?
Shea Joachim: Over time they hope to expand. If they can improve the commercial scalability of the process they look to do a full-grown production facility.
Ted Simons: Where is the plant naturally found? It's around here somewhere?
Shea Joachim: It's all over in New Mexico, northern Mexico, and Arizona.
Ted Simons: And how does it become rubber? We're not being too technical about it.
Shea Joachim: I'm not the guy for the technical stuff. My understanding is there's a natural presence of rubber within the bark of the shrub. The process extracts that rubber from the plant and it can be used in products like shoes, tires and whatnot.
Ted Simons: And cheaper to make than synthetic rubber or more environmentally --
Shea Joachim: I think that's the challenge. If they can produce it at a price that's competitive, it'll start to relieve some of the reliance on the havea tree, the current primary source of rubber.
Shea Joachim: This is what we call the Mesa Gateway area.
Ted Simons: By the airport.
Shea Joachim: Correct.
Ted Simons: Is it under development?
Shea Joachim: We have a lot of things going on down there right now. A freeway under construction, State Route 24. Our airport is growing like gang busters.
Ted Simons: Sure, sure.
Shea Joachim: And this is just a couple miles east.
Ted Simons: Tell us about state route 24.
Shea Joachim: What's being built is really the first extension of State Route from Loop 202 to about Ellsworth road if you're familiar with the area.
Ted Simons: Going north?
Shea Joachim: Going south. It'll be right to the east side of the airport.
Ted Simons: Isn't First Solar and Fuji Film in the vicinity?
Shea Joachim: Fuji is right across the street from the location of the Bridgestone plant.
Ted Simons: How many jobs?
Shea Joachim: 40 to start. We hope to see the job growth come, as well. High-wage jobs, so above average wages and they will primarily be technicians and researchers. Those are the types of jobs we're trying to grow in Mesa, that's very much in line with our strategy which we affectionately call Mesa HEATT, health care, education, aerospace, technology and tourism.
Ted Simons: Give us some more information here as to what the goal is, and what the process has been and what you've got going so far.
Shea Joachim: Yeah. So you probably have heard about our education initiative which recently resulted in five high-quality higher learning institutions coming to Mesa. Albright College, Westminster, Wilkes University, Benedictine University, and Iowa University. They are a strategy to complement our workforce effort. We believe there are sectors within the healthcare umbrella that are really strong, the opportunity to Mesa, and we look to take advantage of that.
Ted Simons: Has it been easy to convince the Mesa folks?
Shea Joachim: I'm glad you brought that up. We are extremely fortunate to have the mayor and council we have right now. They are very forward thinking. They have set the economic strategy for us, Mesa HEATT. Some of these products, like Bridgestone, provides a certain comfort level for companies to make this investment in our community, they will not be just supported they will be celebrated in Mesa.
Ted Simons: Tell us why Bridgestone -- have they had a presence in Arizona in the past?
Shea Joachim: I'm sure there's been some retail presence. As far as a research facility, I'm not sure. Why they chose Mesa, these big investment decisions there are always a variety of factors. The guayule shrub is grown there. But also, the East Valley boasts a very deep and talented workforce. They can meet the immediate workforce needs and future human capital needs. Water, sewer, gas and electric was all at this site. Bridgestone could be starting right away and could meet the deadlines set by the company for the investment.
Ted Simons: I'm sure Mesa residents would especially want to know about incentives. Did it cost the city -- How much to get them to that location?
Shea Joachim: No tax incentives involved, there's no fee waivers involved whatsoever. It's a relatively underdeveloped portion of the city, surrounded by large industrial users. The only thing we were able to work out with Bridgestone, they asked for a temporary deferral of street improvements on Mountain Road, and the City Council supported that. That's really the only deal point we had as a project. It's a great project all around.
Ted Simons: When does the first Bunsen burner fire up out there? When does the research start?
Shea Joachim: They hope to have the facility operational by 2014 and hope to have their first rubber trial run in 2015.
Ted Simons: Sounds like fascinating stuff, a lot going on in Mesa. Thanks for joining us.
Shea Joachim: Thanks for having us.
Shea Joachim:Economic Development Project Manager, Mesa