Losing their clout: Four of Arizona’s five Cs not what they used to be

Kate Jacobs//August 9, 2011

Losing their clout: Four of Arizona’s five Cs not what they used to be

Kate Jacobs//August 9, 2011

Arizona’s famous five Cs have been used as a quick way to describe the economic engines that drive the state.

Representations of copper, cattle, climate, cotton and citrus are all emblazoned on the Great Seal of the state of Arizona, although these industries are not the forces they once were.

As times have changed, the state’s economic drivers have changed. The consensus among state historians is that the state’s historic five Cs should possibly be replaced, or at least augmented with a few new Cs.

They do agree, however, that one C has withstood the test of time, and likely will continue to do so into the future, although that may be because it isn’t dependent on the trends or economics of the moment.

While no one is calling for changing the state seal, one Arizona institution — considered an embodiment of all things Arizona — says the original five Cs’ heyday has since passed.

“I like the five Cs just for old traditional reasons, but in all honestly they don’t have the clout that they used to,” says Marshall Trimble, Arizona’s official state historian.


Although people’s reasons for coming to Arizona vary, from seeking fortunes or health to escaping the law or cold weather, the fact is that people always have been drawn to the state. And they continue to be drawn here to this day, be it for a weekend, a week, the entire winter, to start a family or retire.

Early in state history, people flocked to Arizona for the hot dry climate, which was thought to cure many ailments, including lung-related afflictions such as tuberculosis and asthma, Trimble says.

As the state grew into a retirement destination, developers and health care professionals saw the need for age-specific amenities. Since the planned communities are designed for clients of above-average means, they have attracted world-class hospitals to the area, Arizona historian Jim Turner wrote in his 2011 book, “Arizona: Celebration of the Grand Canyon State.”

He mentions that the state’s famed retirement community Sun City is conveniently a “very short ambulance ride” to the hospital. Historically and currently, people have come to Arizona in search of good health. The difference is now they come for the top-notch health care institutions versus the alleged curing properties of Arizona’s climate, he says.

The state is not only attractive to people ready to retire either.

Tourism, the other side of the “climate” coin, brings in billions of dollars each year according to the Arizona Hotel and Lodging Association. Visitors spent

$17.7 billion in 2010 in the Grand Canyon State, according to the group’s latest numbers.

“It’s clear that the tourism industry has developed into one of Arizona’s most prosperous and sustainable employers and revenue generators,” says Kristen Jarnagin, vice president of communications for hotel and lodging association. “Tourism is Arizona’s only industry that positively impacts all 15 counties and has been the lifeline for many rural communities who formerly relied on mining, farming and other industries that are no longer viable.”

Although tourism’s impact on state coffers can’t be ignored, Jarnagin keeps an eye on other states that also boast lots of days of sunshine each year.

“While tourism was included in Arizona’s five Cs as ‘climate’, that too has changed and this multi-billion-dollar business can no longer rely on sunshine to draw visitors,” Jarnagin says. “There are plenty of beautiful places boasting sunshine, golf and resorts and they’re spending millions in marketing dollars to target our customers.”

State historian Trimble, however, takes some solace in the stability of the state’s climate and its ability to continue to attract visitors.

“There’s a magic about Arizona,” Trimble says. “That’s our ace in the hole. We always have that.”


The size of the state’s cattle industry hasn’t changed much during the past 100 years. However, when compared to the state’s economy as a whole, the industry’s piece of the pie has dwindled significantly.

“We are generally as large as we’ve always been from a cattle population perspective,” says Bas Aja, executive vice president of the Arizona Cattle Feeders Association and longtime cattle industry lobbyist. The highest head count of Arizona cattle was about 1.4 million during the 1970s. The current number is down from that number just a little bit, Aja says.

Today, the approximately 2,000 people living and working on 900 ranches in the state account for about 3 percent of the state’s economy overall, inching up to as much as 5 percent in some rural areas, Aja says. One hundred years ago, when the state’s economy was much smaller and less diverse, the cattle industry represented about 50 percent of the economy, he adds.

Arguably, the most important part of the cattle business is land. Vast swaths of land are required to provide enough food and room for grazing cattle. However, a sometimes confounding mix of public- and private-owned grazing land can cause headaches for the state’s ranchers.

Environmental regulations have created challenges for the industry. Plants and animals on the endangered species list dictate where cattle can and cannot forage. The list “creates an uncertainty as it relates to the federal lands portion of a ranch,” Aja says. The industry is now “more reliant on private land.”


Cotton first flourished in Arizona around World War I as government contracts were plentiful and profitable. In 1916, the Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company sent Paul Litchfield to scout out locations in the desert southwest to grow the specific type of Egyptian cotton it needed for its tires.

While the monstrous success of the Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company and the existence of places like Litchfield Park and the Wigwam Golf Resort & Spa have cotton to thank, like the other Cs, cotton is still grown in Arizona, but it just isn’t the economic force it once was. Don’t tell that to Rick Lavis.

“Since 1917, cotton has been one of the most prominent cash registers for Arizona agriculture for many years,” says Lavis, of the Arizona Cotton Growers Association.

In 1980, Arizona had 630,000 acres of cotton, Lavis says. The industry hit its low in 2009 with 145,000 acres, but he says it has rebounded during the past two years. He expects to see 270,000 acres of cotton in Arizona by the end of this year.

Arizona has 409 farms growing cotton, with an average of 545 acres each. The entire processing, distribution and utilization chain equates to 11,000 jobs and $430 million in business revenue according to the National Cotton Council of America.

In 2008, a pound of cotton from Arizona sold for approximately 58 cents, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture “Crop Values 2010 Summary” report. Lavis estimates the current cotton price from $1.25 to $1.40 per pound.

Polyester provided some competition for cotton in the 1960s and 1970s, Lavis says, but the cotton industry worked hard to improve its product and market cotton as the natural fiber that it is, he adds.

Demand for cotton has increased in recent years. Lavis attributes what he calls “tremendous growth” to a shortage of cotton, primarily in China. China is one of Arizona cotton’s biggest buyers and one of the largest suppliers of cotton products.

During the past decade, cotton has migrated south as the fields once located in Maricopa County began to be utilized for Arizona’s once-hot new “C” — construction. “Most of those (Maricopa County) cotton fields are now growing homes,” Lavis says. Pima County is now home to the majority of Arizona’s cotton fields.

Lavis still holds onto his faith in Arizona cotton, especially for non-urban areas of the state. “Cotton has tremendous impacts on small communities in Arizona,” he says. He adds that cotton isn’t going to get knocked off the list without a fight.

“Those rows of white on the state seal are cotton,” Lavis says. “Cotton is an original five C, and nobody will replace us.”


Art Martori, owner of Martori Farms headquartered in Scottsdale, has basically waved the white flag in the battle to produce citrus fruits profitably in Arizona.

Total citrus production during the 2009-10 season in Arizona plummeted 27 percent from the previous season, according to the USDA Citrus Fruits 2010 Summary.

Martori says he used to have 4,800 acres of citrus planted at his Arrowhead Ranch facility north of Peoria. “Now it’s housing,” he says. It wasn’t an increase in construction that led to the takeover as much as it was the decline of citrus, Martori adds.

Citrus “has not been a profitable crop… for a long time,” Martori says. Like many of the other five Cs, it wasn’t always that way.

Starting in the 1950s, “we had a good run for 30 or 40 years,” Martori says. “Now it’s dwindling again.”

Rising fuel prices make fighting frost and shipping more expensive than it used to be, Martori says. He cites poor quality frost insurance and competition from California brands as additional factors in the crop’s downturn.

Martori says the tough economy has people asking themselves, “What do I really need in my diet?” And they may be choosing bottled or canned fruit for financial and convenience reasons.

One bright spot for Martori is his freezer business, which he said it is up

20 percent due to increasingly better quality frozen foods and America’s need for efficient products.


It is conceivable that the Legislature officially christened Arizona the “Grand Canyon State” in 2011 to promote tourism — since it is estimated to represent between 7 and 8 percent of the state’s total economy. Maybe the state’s other popular moniker, the Copper State, was left behind since the mining industry represents about 2 percent of the economy today.

Psycho-analysis of lawmakers’ motivations aside, Arizona is still the king of domestic copper production and in copper deposits. According to the Arizona Department of Mines & Minerals Special Report 24 from June 2009, 1,310,000 metric tons of copper with an implied value of $9.34 billion was mined in the United States in 2008. Arizona’s portion, 830,000 metric tons valued at $5.93 billion, accounted for approximately 63 percent of that total.

Mining was a giant industry prior to the 1970s, says Turner, the Arizona historian. Labor strikes at that time resulted in increased government regulation and oversight, which in turn, pushed some mining operations offshore to places like Papua New Guinea and African countries, Turner says. By the 1980s, many Arizona mines had either drastically reduced production or shut down altogether.

But, as China’s and India’s economies continue to grow, so do their nearly insatiable demands for construction and manufacturing materials, including copper. “Mining is coming back,” Turner says.

The Mining & Minerals report estimates worldwide demand for copper at approximately 15 million tons annually with an increase of about 575,000 tons per year. China’s demand for copper represents 22 percent of the world supply.

According to the Arizona report, between wiring, plumbing pipes, valves and brass goods, appliances and other hardware, an average American home contains about 440 pounds of copper.

Unfortunately the healthy demand for copper around the globe doesn’t directly translate into unbridled success for Arizona copper mines. The report cites concern for the future.

“The consumption rate of copper is equivalent to three mines being depleted each year,” the report says. “It has been estimated that copper may run out in

25 years, assuming a growth rate in usage of 2 percent per year.”

The report indicates that new copper could be getting harder to find.

“There have been 56 copper discoveries made in the last three decades; the rate of discoveries peaked in 1996,” the report says. “Of the 28 largest mines,

21 are not capable of expansion; many of these will be exhausted between 2010 and 2015.”

Turner says citizens who reside near areas of planned mining projects generally have a “not in my backyard” state of mind.

“Although mining continues, … the industry is no longer one of the main employers or economic drivers in the state,” Turner says in his book, “Arizona: Celebration of the Grand Canyon State.”

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