Jon Johnson Photo/Gila Herald: Pima Mayor C.B. Fletcher, left, and Santa Claus (GCEC General Manager Kirk Gray) share a moment after the cooperative presented a check to the town of Pima for $375,000 from a USDA program for its OHS facility build.
Zero-interest loan helps the town move forward with more development plans
By Jon Johnson
PIMA – The town of Pima received a Christmas gift from Santa Claus (Graham County Electric Cooperative CEO Kirk Gray) and Utilities Director Jenny Howard on Dec. 20, when they presented Pima Town Manager Sean Lewis and Mayor C.B. Fletcher with a check for $375,000.
The money is a zero-interest loan made possible through a rural economic development loan and grant fund through the United States Department of Agriculture that cooperatives can obtain and then provide to its members to expand their businesses at a low- or zero-interest rate.
“It’s money the federal government sets aside for that purpose to help rural cooperatives,” Howard said.
The money is for the town’s roughly 13,000-square-foot OHS building, now dubbed “Optimal Health Centre.” It is the first loan of its kind in the state of Arizona, according to Gray, and the Co-op is already working on providing another such loan for a second local business.
Lewis said Gray and the Co-op did the research on the program and they all got together and found out that the building and OHS qualified for the loan.
“In a lot of ways it helps us, but, more importantly, it helps the business,” Lewis said. “We wouldn’t have been able to do as much work on the building as we did without this loan. So, if we didn’t have this loan, we would have put up the structure and then it would have been on the business to finish it, which would have put them in a financial hardship and would have made this like a three-year program.”
As it is, the project has been in the works for more than a year. The town purchased the old Graco car lot property after the Pima Town Council unanimously voted to do so at its Oct. 3, 2017 meeting, with the caveat that Optimal Health Systems (OHS) sign a long-term (10-year) lease. OHS is a whole-food nutrition company that has operated in Pima since 2003. It services a variety of people, including athletes, doctors, and people just wanting to improve their health.
The new building will double the businesses’ employees from 20 to 40 and will be a combination of warehouse, retail, manufacturing, and office space. The project has utilized 100 percent local labor to construct the building, including Yentsch’s Concrete, Ward Brothers Enterprise LLC, Hughes Custom Performance, Hughes Plumbing, New Insulation Concepts, E.A. Glass, B&D Air Conditioning and more, including the fabrication and installation of a metal stairway leading from the warehouse to the upper floor.
The facility is attempting to have Food and Drug Administration approval, complete with a pressurized “clean room” where products are bottled, and also has a quarantine room, desks with treadmills, a conference room, and much more. A portion of the building is dedicated for another arm of the company, Gains in Bulk, and Lewis said OHS expects to have the facility up and running sometime in January.
“They can produce their own product here instead of them hiring it out,” Lewis said. “It just creates more jobs and allows them to work at a higher rate, so they can sell more and increase their tax base, which will help everyone.”
Mayor Fletcher said he was ecstatic about how the different groups worked together
Lewis said the town is looking for its next venture and the cooperative is as well.
“There’s no reason for us to be done with this,” Lewis said. “We want to allow the economic base in Pima to grow.”
The program is open to any business in the cooperative’s service area, which includes other parts of Graham County outside of Pima. However, the business must meet stringent criteria, including the increase of jobs, but the cooperative is open to listen to proposals.
“When I took over as general manager, the board of directors charged me with economic development,” Gray said. “It was one of the things they wanted me to do, so I immediately started looking into this rural economic development loan and grant fund, and the second thing I did was sit down with Sean and see how we could make it work.”