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Sierra Vista economic luncheon offers positive outlook

SIERRA VISTA — Overall, and Sierra Vista’s and Cochise County’s economic outlook is on a positive path.

During the Sierra Vista Economic Focus Luncheon held at Cochise College on Friday afternoon, a full room of representatives of nonprofits, realty organizations, city staff and council members and many other groups heard data on the city and county’s economic standing and outlook.

Robert Carreira, the chief economist at Cochise College’s Center for Economic Research, presented statistics on everything from unemployment to new home starts.

Carreira said things are getting much better than they were over the last decade.

“A couple of pieces are lagging, like job growth and new home construction, but home sales are looking very good. In fact, they are almost where they were during the last boom,” he said. “That will eventually give rise to new constructions.”

In 2018, there were 210 new-home permits in Cochise County, an increase from 2017, and 68 new-home permits in Sierra Vista, five more than 2017.

When it comes to the labor market, Fort Huachuca remains the largest employer in the area.

The unemployment rate in Sierra Vista is 5 percent, compared to 5.6 percent in the county and 3.9 nationally.

“In Cochise County, we’ve seen consistent job losses for most of the past decade,” Carreira said.

Though job numbers have fluctuated month to month, Carreira said job growth does look positive moving forward.

“I see job growth picking up this year and moving forward, of course, more jobs is always good thing,” he said. “Though unemployment rates are OK, as far as job creation I expect to see this year be the first year for job growth in a decade.”

Carreira said that population declines seem to be behind us and we can expect normal population growth, about 1.5 percent growth per year.

In Sierra Vista last year, the population grew by 3.5 percent and countywide it grew 1.5 percent.

Meanwhile, retail sales are up by 1 percent in Sierra Vista this year and 2.4 percent countywide.

“Although we saw growth last year in retail sales, this industry still faces challenges — primarily internet shopping and a general shift in consumer preferences, with millenials and young shoppers opting for things like health, wellness and experiences over retail goods,” Carreira said.

Sierra Vista City Manager Chuck Potucek presented about a recent trip taken by himself, Mayor Pro Tem Rachel Gray and several other community leaders to Washington, D.C., where they were able to advocate for the needs of the community with Arizona’s federal government representatives.

Some of the topics brought up on that trip were the Gila River adjudication, military construction, sequestration and the value of keeping the Unmanned Aircraft System program going at Fort Huachuca. Potucek noted that Alabama’s congressional representatives are pushing to have all UAS operations moved to an Army post there.

He also talked about some of the development that has happened in the city, like Canyon Vista Medical Center and new restaurants like MOD Pizza, as well as Fry Township cleanups, a desire to bring more events to the city and beneficial partnerships.

“I think they (the public) need to keep an eye on the council’s strategic planning process, that’s going to lay out types of projects and programs we’ll be rolling out over the next couple of years,” Potucek said. “As long as we keep working and leveraging partnerships, I see good things ahead.

“It’s very nice to see positive things happening.”

Going forward, Carreira said, the outlook for both the city and county are strong.

“In terms of economic growth, we are still near the bottom but we are moving in the right direction,” he said. “By most measures, things are looking very good now and looking even better looking forward.”

To learn more about the Center for Economic Research, the economic outlook for Sierra Vista and the rest of the county and the economic review presented at the luncheon, visit www.cochiseeconomy.com.

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Coming together: Vendors, officials from both sides of the border gather at SonoraFest

SIERRA VISTA — The sounds of Mariachi music, the scents of delicious Mexican sweets and coffee, and a rainbow of colorful crafts and goods filled the Mall at Sierra Vista on Saturday morning.

SonoraFest, a two-day, binational celebration that brings entertainers, vendors, and officials from Sonora, Mexico, to Sierra Vista, kicked off its third year in Cochise County this weekend. The unique festival is an effort of the Tucson and Sierra Vista Hispanic chambers of commerce, the City of Sierra Vista, the Mexican Consulate in Douglas, and the State of Sonora to promote international commerce between Mexico and the U.S.

Although talk from President Donald Trump last week of closing the U.S./Mexico border due to an influx of migrants had officials a “little worried” about the fate of the festival, it looked set to be the biggest yet, said Dan Valle, Sierra Vista Hispanic Chamber of Commerce international director.

“It kicked off very well, and we’re starting to see the crowd building now,” said Valle on Saturday morning. Organizers expected about 10,000 folks to visit the festival over the weekend, up from around 7,000 in 2018, he said. “I predict by 3 o’clock this place is going to be packed.”

With a staggering variety of goods on display from 55 vendors — ranging from artisan food, to high-quality, hand-crafted leather bags and shoes, to unique artwork — there was something for every taste.

One of the most unique vendors was Morena Mia Artesanias of Navajoa, Sonora, about an eight-hour drive from Sierra Vista. A curious crowd gathered around the booth’s elaborately decorated cow skulls, created by mother and daughter Ana Maria Ramirez Esquer and Arrena Garica.

“I think it’s a really positive thing,” said Garcia, adding that it was their first time at the festival. “It’s great to support artists in this way, and share their work in Arizona.”

Alaciel Canevett Lopez of Ibacan Premium in Hermosillo, who hopes to begin selling the business’s artisan salts and seasonings in U.S. stores, also said that the festival was a great initial step towards that goal.

“It’s a really good opportunity for Sonorans to come here and have their products get known in the United States,” she said.

Sierra Vista resident Judy Taylor was also perusing SonoraFest for the first time and said she would likely come again next year.

“It’s really interesting,” she said. “It gives you a taste of Mexican culture — I like the samples and the entertainment, and everyone is very friendly.”

The festival was a great opportunity for Sonoran vendors to show their goods to new potential markets, said Sonora Secretary of Economy Jorge Vidal. He was among the many state and local officials from Mexico and Arizona who came together at the festival.

“It’s good for Arizona and good for Sonora, trying to improve this common commercial relation that we have,” said Vidal.

As SonoraFest continues to grow, its organizers hope attendees continue to see the “excellent relations” between Arizona and Mexico, said Valle.

“It gives us the momentum to bring people in and showcase what Sonora’s all about,” he said.

SonoraFest continues until 4 p.m. on Sunday. For more information about the festival, visit http://sonorafestaz.com/.