COCHISE COUNTY, AZ (Tucson News Now) - Cochise County has been awarded a $475,000 grant to help improve infrastructure serving the Willcox wine industry and surrounding area.
The Arizona Commerce Authority funding will help pave Robbs Road and improve Arzberger Road, both major routes used by wineries and other businesses located in the Willcox Bench region.
The County applied for the Economic Strengths Project Grant as part of its strategic plan to support the growing Arizona wine industry, which it regards as a primary regional economic driver.
The Board of Supervisors has highlighted the wine industry as a focus area in its recently adopted strategic plan, which placed economic development as the top priority.
"We recognized that the wine industry is an important part of the County's economic future and we believe the award of this state-funded grant affirms that belief," said Board chairman Peggy Judd, whose district includes the Willcox Bench.
The Willcox vineyards currently grow 75 percent of the grapes used by wine makers across Arizona and many have indicated they plan to invest and expand their businesses in the next three to five years, bringing up to 100 new jobs to the area.
However, some of the dirt roads serving the region, in particular Robbs Road, have proved to be a challenge in terms of transportation, excessive dust, monsoon flooding, and attracting wine tasters.
"The development of Robbs Road and Arzberger Road will significantly impact area vineyards and other agricultural businesses, who have said they plan to expand and grow jobs as a result of this proposed project," said County Administrator Ed Gilligan. "The long-term outcome of these improvements has far reaching, positive implications not just for the Willcox area, but for southern Arizona and the state. The County would like to thank the Arizona Commerce Authority for its willingness to invest our economy."
Dan and Barbara Pierce, owners of Bodega Pierce and Saeculum Cellars, operate their vineyard and tasting room on Robbs Road.
"Receiving this grant is a huge shot in the arm to our burgeoning wine industry in Cochise County," said Barbara. "Collectively, the wine industry has invested millions of dollars in developing vineyards, production facilities and tasting rooms. The paving of Robbs Road will bring Arizona, the United States and the world to our doorstep. We feel so fortunate to have the professional support of the Board of Supervisors and administrative staff. This will enhance the economic growth of the wine industry and bring more development to Cochise County."
Infrastructure improvements are also expected to positively impact Coronado Farms, the area's largest employer which is planning a multi-million dollar expansion of its dairy operation. The company actively supported the County's application by committing a financial investment in the $698,000 project.
Work on the road improvements is expected to be completed within 18 months.
Cochise County has taken a progressive step forward to meet the growing needs of its modern workforce.
In a move approved by the Board of Supervisors at its regular meeting on May 22, the County has contracted with Automatic Data Processing (ADP) to manage its timekeeping and payroll processes.
The new program is expected to go live in January 2019 and will allow employees to focus more on providing quality services to local citizens.
"No County employee will be involved in the check cutting process. That will be handled by a company that specializes in that," explained County Administrator Ed Gilligan, adding the automated system will enable the organization to more easily stay updated on Federal employment and tax regulations. "It allows us to focus talent on the management of our workforce and to make good financial decisions."
The County conducted extensive research into a number of companies offering payroll services, before choosing ADP. The internationally renowned business serves thousands of clients, including three other Arizona counties.
"It's a very solid, large company," said Supervisor Pat Call. "This is a huge step forward for this county."
The company's state-of-the-art technology will allow County employees to access payroll, leave, and benefits information 24/7 from their computers or mobile devices.
"It will be intuitively easy for employees to manage," said Gilligan. "ADP has platforms tailored to our workforce needs."
The cost to the County will be a one-time investment of $94,300, followed by an annual recurring cost of $188,138 for a 60-month period.