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Tolleson – keeping up with success

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Downtown Tolleson at night. Photo by Jorge Quintero

Nestled on six square miles of land, the City of Tolleson has an impressive list of employers and economic development projects that belie its small size and population (6,500 residents).

With its history firmly rooted in an agricultural past, this city in the southwest part of the Valley has reshaped itself into an industrial and economic powerhouse. The small community boasts employers hailing from 30 different Fortune 500 companies. Those companies include PepsiCo, which owns a Gatorade manufacturing plant there, Home Depot, which has warehouse operations, and long-time mainstays Kroger and Albertsons, grocery store behemoths with distribution plants inside city limits.

During the workday, Tolleson’s population swells to 20,000 with workers commuting to their jobs. Since 2011, 23 projects have been completed, are under construction, or will be soon. 

Trucking dealerships, Freightliner of Arizona and Rush Trucking Center (a Peterbilt dealership), provide tax revenues to the city coffers, along with the American Italian Pasta Company and Bay State Milling, a Massachusetts-based flour company. None of these are the city’s largest employer. That distinction goes to JBS Packerland, Inc., a beef processor.  

The focus on attracting industrial development has allowed the city to get through the economic downturn of 2007-2009 relatively unscathed, note city leaders. “Our community was not reliant on those fickle sources of revenue: retail and housing development,” says Paul Magallanez, the city’s economic development director.

To be sure, the transition from agricultural to industrial town has been occurring over the past 20 to 30 years, anchored first by an Albertsons distribution center. During the boom years, when most of metro Phoenix was growing by leaps and bounds with housing developments and retail projects, Tolleson was successfully wooing the industrial projects that many other communities rejected. 

So, while the city would have liked more housing and retail projects, it relented on those goals and shifted its economic development focus to what it already had success with – attracting industrial projects that complemented its existing base of businesses. That meant more warehouse distribution centers.

“During the downturn there were not a lot of retail projects,” said Magallanez. “So, we shifted our focus to trying to do projects related to existing industries, specifically warehouse distribution. We experienced success even though the economy wasn’t cooperating.”

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This Article appears on the November 2013 issue of LPM under Features

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