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Developer set to build international trade center in Casa Grande

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CASA GRANDE – A Valley developer is set to break ground here on a 1.7 million-square-foot center allowing manufacturers from around the world to market their wares to other businesses.

PhoenixMart, modeled on similar ventures in Dubai and China, aims to attract about 2,000 vendors from industries including automotive, hospitality and electronics when it opens a year from now.

“With a lot of manufacturing going other places, it was time to bring that concept back to America in the terms of a permanent place where basically domestic and international business can occur,” said Robert Cerrone, ‎chief information officer at Scottsdale-based AZ Sourcing, parent company of PhoenixMart.

The project will cost about $150 million, he said.

AZ Sourcing purchased the nearly 600 acres land in August 2011, and Casa Grande initially approved design plans for the project in January 2012, Cerrone said.

He used the example of a Las Vegas hotel to illustrate how business-to-business transactions would occur at PhoenixMart. The hotel’s purchasing agent could furnish the entire building from linens to light fixtures with products from PhoenixMart’s vendors, he said.

“You’ll be able to source it under one roof,” Cerrone said.

With so many distributors and wholesalers, tenants could work together to create new products to suit specific customers’ needs, he said.

Foreign companies will account for about a third of PhoenixMart’s tenants, Cerrone said.

Earlier this year, PhoenixMart received approval to use EB-5 visas, which let foreign nationals obtain green cards if they invest $500,000 in rural areas and create or preserve 10 jobs, according to the project’s website.

Bob Jackson, Casa Grande’s mayor, said obtaining approval for the EB-5 visas was probably the most difficult challenge for a project.

Since AZ Sourcing initially approached Casa Grande, the city’s government has helped PhoenixMart’s representatives with a variety of issues including talking with congressional delegates to have the Department of Commerce approve the visas, he said.

“We’ve tried to do anything we can to help facilitate bringing them into town,” Jackson said.

Jennifer Srock, an area realtor who is in favor of PhoenixMart, said some residents haven’t been as receptive to the idea of foreign investors. During meetings about the project, she said, some people have been in tears over the idea foreign companies coming to the area.

“You’ve got some people out there that are really passionate about staying a small town and also not letting the Chinese invade,” Srock said.

Cerrone said such beliefs are unfounded.

With two-thirds of its vendors expected to be from the United States, he said, the project should help domestic companies sell their products internationally and PhoenixMart could actually encourage foreign companies to bring manufacturing to United States.

AZ Sourcing looked throughout the country for the ideal location for PhoenixMart but settled on Arizona because of the state’s emphasis on manufacturing. Anticipated growth in the Sun Corridor, which includes Phoenix, Tucson and Pinal County, contributed to the choice of Casa Grande, Cerrone said, as did access to Interstate 10 and Interstate 8.

Groundbreaking is planned for November, he said.

PhoenixMart would be developed in phases, Cerrone said, with the first phase being the mart itself.

Apartment complexes, hotels and warehousing would be built for tenants and traveling buying agents visiting PhoenixMart on the property, he said.

While merchants have shown interest in becoming tenants at PhoenixMart, real commitment will come once construction starts, Cerrone said.

“I think that once we finally break ground, and we start moving things forward, we’re going to get a lot more people that are going to be interested,” he said.