|The Arizona Republic, 6/9/2003|
Tolleson grows by leaps, in bound
|In the go-go West Valley, Tolleson has taken an unusual approach to
growth. It has been growing its business base rather than its
About 5,000 people live in Tolleson, but 20,000 work there. Landlocked Tolleson, all 6 square miles of it, can't expand by annexing land, so it has taken a different route, attracting employers instead of residents.
"They are a star," said Diane McCarthy, president of Westmarc, a coalition of business and community leaders in western Maricopa County. "I don't know of any other city in all of Arizona that is what Tolleson is. They have a population that, unlike other West Valley cities, is not exploding, because they are targeting industrial and commercial growth."
Among Tolleson's chief employers are meat distributor Sun Land Beef Co., the Albertson's and Fry's food distribution centers, Greater Phoenix Auto Auction, an auto wholesaler and Sysco Food Systems, an institutional food distributor. In mid-April, the American Italian Pasta Company opened a 65-employee factory here. The city is strategically located for companies that deliver goods, situated as it is just south of Interstate 10 and the interchange with Loop 101. But the city doesn't have much land to work with, so it is choosy, said Mayor Adolfo Gamez.
"We have to be very careful in terms of what comes in for development in terms of business, in terms of housing," Gamez said. "We have to be sure it's quality."
Though historically a quiet place, the city has been bustling because of growth in the cities around it.
"The surroundings are growing tremendously, and they are doing a lot of road improvements," noted Mary Lou Rodriguez, 61, owner of A White Orchid Florist, 9113 W. Van Buren St. "There are a lot of factories all over the place."
Though traffic congestion has arrived with the influx of workers, Rodriguez, a Tolleson resident since 1960, is pleased. "For me, I think it's a blessing, because it's going to bring more recognition for the shop," she said.
Tolleson, founded in 1912 by land developer W.G. Tolleson of South Carolina, was incorporated in 1929. It drew income from local farms until the early 1960s, when modern farm machinery and methods drastically cut the number of field hands needed to work the land. In recent years, with a master plan in place and the city's leaders aggressively seeking to expand the city's tax base, residents and shop owners have been looking to the future.
Abel Ruiz, 19, manager of the Subway sandwich shop in Tolleson Plaza, sees things expanding. "I'm pretty sure it's growing, that there will be more business," Ruiz said.
Recently, city leaders have been fighting the possibility that the proposed South Mountain Freeway might cut through the community just west of City Hall. Gamez says it would be catastrophic for the city if the Arizona Department of Transportation chose a 99th Avenue alignment for the freeway. ADOT says that is only one of nine possible routes, however, and construction is still many years away.
Two years ago, residents approved a bond sale of $110 million to, among other things, improve roads, expand the sewer plant and build a new police station. Retail outlets, restaurants and even some hotels are exploring the possibility of opening up in Tolleson, Gamez said. Though Gamez believes the city, whose population is 78 percent Hispanic, will top out at 8,000 residents, he says its prosperity is likely to continue to grow. "In time, we'll be self-sufficient," he said, "and our character will not change in that it's a small, close-knit community."