PHOENIX (AP) A new $600 million copper mine isn’t expected to open until mid-2008 near Safford, but it already has boosted the small southeastern town’s economy.
“The economy is on the upswing and that hasn’t happened in a long time,” said Jim Palmer, a Graham County supervisor and Safford native. “The hotels are full, the restaurants are packed and there’s a ’help wanted’ sign in every window.”
At the Phelps Dodge Corp. mine site, 8 mi. north of town, 500 construction workers are building roads, putting in utilities and erecting steel for buildings that will process ore from nearby hills into copper.
By March, 1,000 workers are expected on the site. They will be in addition to the 200 people who have come to work at Phelps Dodge’s new central laboratory and its process technology center, where engineers and scientists look for new ways to mine and produce copper.
Safford also is home to Phelps Dodge’s central office, which oversees operations at the company’s mines in Arizona, New Mexico and Colorado.
The mine will employ approximately 500 people and generate 250 support jobs in the area after the construction crews leave in 2008.
The economic activity that has accompanied the mine has business people and civic leaders excited about the prospects for the community of approximately 9,000 residents.
“We’ve been doing a lot of ribbon-cuttings,” said Wayne Griffin, vice president of the Graham County Chamber of Commerce and manager of Safford Title Co. “You used to have to drive to Tucson or Phoenix to shop. Now the stores are coming to us.”
A Wal-Mart Super Center and a Home Depot opened in the spring and there is a new Hibbett Sports sporting goods store.
But with the prosperity also have come big-city problems, such as traffic congestion, housing shortages and climbing real estate prices.
Demand for housing has ballooned as construction workers and Phelps Dodge technical workers pour into town. That has pushed up rents and home prices, and with the mine workforce expected to double by spring, they are likely to go higher.
Real estate agents report that home prices have increased 40 percent during the past year and rental rates have more than doubled.
A one-bedroom apartment that rented for $400 a year ago is now going for $900.
Fernando Arreola, who came to Safford from El Paso, Texas, to work on the mine project, brought a recreational vehicle to live in. Others sleep in their cars or bunk four to a room at a hotel.
Still, the new jobs mean more young people can remain in Safford instead of moving away to find jobs.
“Our best no longer have to leave,” Palmer said.