BENSON — On Wednesday, Southeast Arizona Economic Development Group held its first network luncheon in 18 months, attended by 50 members of the community.

“We’ve been holding these networking events every couple of months for a number of years now, but because of COVID we were forced to discontinue them temporarily,” said George Scott, SAEDG director. “They’re by invitation only, and typically draw between 40 and 60 people, so I was pleased with Wednesday’s turnout.”

Different businesses and organizations are featured at each luncheon. Presenters provide attendees with updates about expansions, new services and programs. Held at Cochise College Benson Center, the program’s agenda included updates from Cochise College, the Benson Hospital, Excelsior Mining Corp. and the city of Benson.

In addition, Republican Juan Ciscomani, a senior advisor to Gov. Doug Ducey, announced his decision to run for U.S. Congress in Arizona’s second congressional district, vying for the seat currently held by Democrat Ann Kirkpatrick, who is not running for re-election in 2022.

Raised in Tucson, Ciscomani is the son of Mexican immigrants.

“I understand the immigration process from a very personal perspective by seeing my family go through that journey,” he said.

Border security, trade with Mexico and immigration are some of Ciscomani’s areas of focus.

“I’m from the community, I understand our issues and I will fight for the things that matter the most,” he said.

Barbara Richardson, dean of outreach for Cochise College Benson and Willcox centers, talked about new programs and technologies the college offers.

“Even though we’ve really been displaced for the last 18 months, Cochise College has not slowed down,” said Richardson, who touched on a number of new offerings the college has initiated. “Last fall we opened a new cybersecurity lab at our downtown center. We also opened a brand new automotive technology center on our Sierra Vista campus,” she said

A new state-of-the-art imaging suite at Benson Hospital is currently under construction. Ashley Dickey, hospital human resources and marketing director, presented an update about the $4 million, 5,000-square-foot project which started in March. Completion is expected in late November or early December.

Located on the northwest side of the hospital campus, the addition will house all radiology equipment in one area, to include the CT, X-ray, ultrasound and a dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry scan. The convenience of an easily accessible, comprehensive radiology suite represents a huge improvement for hospital staff and patients, Dickey said.

A copper mining operation west of Willcox along Interstate 10 is producing about 150,000 pounds of metal a month, according to Robert Winton, senior vice president of operations for Excelsior Mining.

“Operations started January of 2020 and we ran into some technical challenges within the well field on the Gunnison side of the project,” said Winton, who spoke of steps Excelsior is taking to deal with the problems as operations at the mine are ramping up.

“As an update, we are operating, we are producing copper, and we’re looking at putting those challenges behind us as we work at ramping this operation up,” Winton said.

Benson City Manager Vicki Vivian presented a list of changes the city is experiencing.

City-owned San Pedro Golf Course is now being managed and operated by OB Sports, an organization with expertise in golf course operations. The move is expected to bring improvements to the course while saving the city money.

Along with a list of improvements and additions to city facilities, a Jack in the Box and a Burger King are coming to Benson.

“We have a national builder who is interested in purchasing 191 lots in five already approved subdivisions, which is exciting news for Benson,” Vivian said.

“We also have plans for a large Circle K with a gas station at Prickly Pear and Fourth Street. It’s a 5,600-square-foot facility.”

In addition, Maverick is proposing a new fuel facility with food services at State Route 90 and Village Loop, said Vivian. “That’s going to be a great facility and a great addition to the city of Benson,” Vivian said.

Vivian said Benson Police Chief Paul Moncada will be retiring after 46 years of service with the city.

“That’s something we’ll be moving forward on now as we start recruitment for a new chief,” she said.

Non-profit SAEDG serves Cochise County and Southeast Arizona.

“Our goal is to help create and expand the economic base of Southeast Arizona and surrounding communities,” Scott said. “I want to thank Cochise College for allowing us to use the Benson Center as a venue for our network luncheons. We expect to hold our next luncheon sometime in November.”