Story by Britain Eakin

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As fall temperatures dip into the 20s across the U.S., it’s easy to understand why people like living in Tucson.

Some local organizations hope to capitalize on the quality of life in Southern Arizona by transforming what they call the Sun Corridor into a global economic powerhouse.

The Sun Corridor stretches from Prescott to Nogales, and is one of the nation’s fastest growing economic regions.

Leaders from various sectors held a public forum in Tucson last week to discuss strategies to attract investors and highly skilled residents to the region.

“The ability to attract talent to the Sun Corridor is the same conversation that’s going on in the Front Range of Colorado….the same conversation is going on in Texas. Whoever wins...that race, is going to win the game,” said Joe Snell, president of Tucson Regional Economic Opportunities, which co-sponsored the event last week.

The key to winning is improving higher education in the state, Snell said.

George Hammond, associate director of the Economic and Business Research Center at the UA's Eller College of Management, also said he thinks education is vital to Arizona’s economic growth. The state once ranked well above the national average of those with college educations, but now it's much closer to the national rate, he said.

“That’s a bit troubling because…the share of the population with a bachelor’s degree or better is one key determinant of long-run income growth, for both the state and local areas," Hammond said. "That suggests that we may see somewhat slower income growth than average in the Phoenix and Tucson areas going forward."

In addition to improving education, some are focused on growth balanced with environmental concerns.

The state won’t see the same kind of sprawl development it saw before, according to John Shepard, senior advisor at the Sonoran Institute’s Tucson office, which works on balancing growth with conservation.

Becoming more of an international trade corridor could require additional warehouses for distribution, more highways and railways, and maybe even another runway at Tucson International Airport, said Shepard.

Tucsonans should be involved in the conversation about the Sun Corridor’s development, he added.

“There’s going to be trade offs, and choices as we grow. And I think that’s a conversation we still need to have. What are the trade off's and choices that we’re willing to make? Because it’s not going to be the way that it used to be, but it can still be a great place to live,” Shepard said.