Scottsdale’s Economy Evolved From Farms To Full-Spectrum

Scottsdale’s Economy Evolved From Farms To Full-Spectrum

By Joan Fudala

A century ago, Scottsdale’s economic engines were citrus, crops, cattle and cotton – produced on family-owned and -operated farms and ranches. Today, Scottsdale’s economy is driven by a full spectrum of businesses – tourism, healthcare, technology, services, retail and entrepreneurial enterprises. How we got from point A to B is a trip through Scottsdale’s ever-changing economic vitality.

J.L. Davis opened the first business in the small settlement of Scottsdale in 1897 – a general store on what is now the southeast corner of Main Street and Brown Avenue. The location was also Scottsdale’s first post office; Davis served as the town’s first postmaster. He and his family lived in a modest home behind the store. A few years after opening, he turned the business over to his employee, Sara Coldwell Thomas, thus making the general store the first woman-owned business in Scottsdale. Mrs. Thomas, a widow raising three children, sought the assistance of her brother-in-law, E. O. Brown, who moved his family from Wisconsin to Scottsdale to help run the store.

One might consider E.O. Brown to be Scottsdale’s original “serial entrepreneur,” as he not only ran the general store but also had a sizeable cotton farm (where HonorHealth-Osborn is today), is the namesake for Brown’s Ranch/DC Ranch (which he ran with his sons, nephew and partners), and started (with partners) Scottsdale’s first electric company, Farmer’s Bank (now the Rusty Spur), a cotton gin on Second Street and a water company. Brown Avenue is named in his honor.

Scottsdale’s oldest continuously operating business is Cavalliere’s on the northeast corner of Brown Avenue and Second Street. Mary Alice and George (“Cavie”) Cavalliere brought their tin blacksmith-shop-on-skids to Scottsdale in 1910 after working on a local canal project (where the shop was dragged along the canal bank by a team of horses). A popular business in this agriculture-oriented community, the blacksmith shop was upgraded to the present adobe structure in the 1920s. As horse-powered farm machinery and transportation gave way to mechanized equipment and cars, the Cavallieres converted the shop to produce ornamental ironwork for resorts, businesses and homes. Today, a third-generation George Cavalliere continues to operate the ornamental ironwork shop. It is listed on Scottsdale’s historic register.

The Underhill family took in the first paying guests at their house on the northwest corner of Scottsdale and Indian School roads starting in the 1890s. Mary and Ed Graves bought the property circa 1910, added small tent cottages and opened a combination guest ranch/health camp called Graves Guest Ranch. Thus they launched both Scottsdale’s tourism and healthcare industries. Without the benefit of air conditioning, Graves was only open from late fall to mid-spring. There were no doctors or nurses on site, but recuperating guests benefited from warm, dry, clean air/climate, meals of local fresh produce (especially citrus, other fruits and vegetables) and outdoor exercise (horseback riding, croquet, walking).

During Scottsdale’s first six decades in the late 1800s, local farms and ranches drove the economy. Founder/namesake Chaplain Winfield Scott was an enthusiastic farmer and promoter, taking baskets of his successful food crops (barley, grapes, figs, alfalfa, plums, pears, oats, nectarines, raisins, peaches, apricots, peanuts, sweet potatoes, grapefruit, lemons, potatoes, limes and almonds) to reporters at The Phoenix Herald to gain publicity for Scottsdale’s agricultural opportunities. He also raised dairy cows on his ranch, as did many of his new neighbors. Scott, along with William J. Murphy, helped establish the Salt River Valley as a citrus-growing region.

Marjorie Thomas (1909) and Jessie Benton Evans (circa 1913) were the first professional artists to settle in the Scottsdale area, and received private commissions as well as government contracts. After World War II, many artists and craftspeople settled or returned to Scottsdale and began an arts-crafts-fashion industry that also boosted tourism. The nucleus of the arts and crafts industry in post-war Scottsdale was the Arizona Craftsmen center, opening in the former Brown’s General Store at Main Street and Brown Avenue in the spring of 1946. During the 1950s, art studios, craft shops, jewelers and fashion houses opened throughout downtown Scottsdale. Frequent art and fashion shows promoted these creative businesses and their uniquely Scottsdale products.

Walter Smith opened the town’s first car dealership in 1918 in the small downtown area – at a time when Scottsdale had only two paved streets. During the 1960s, car dealerships – requiring more land for showrooms and lots – migrated south to McDowell Road, eventually nicknamed “Motor Mile.” Another migration of dealerships occurred in the 1990s, when many moved to the Airpark area. Today, dealerships are located throughout Scottsdale and on its borders with Phoenix and the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community. Wouldn’t Mr. Smith be surprised that one can now buy a car online or from the multi-story car vending machine (Carvana) along the Route 202 freeway?

Scottsdale merchants established the Scottsdale Chamber of Commerce in 1947 to help promote business and tourism opportunities in Scottsdale. The chamber also held public hearings to discuss whether Scottsdale should finally incorporate as a town. Until incorporation in June 1951, the chamber served as a business watchdog (before business licensing and inspections were handled by the town government) and boosted tourism by running ads and printing brochures.

When Motorola opened a plant on McDowell Road at Granite Reef in 1957, Scottsdale entered the hi-tech business era. Motorola’s educated, active workforce created new demand for housing, schools, healthcare, services and amenities that changed Scottsdale’s land-use and economy from farming to a mixture of business, retail, tourism and services. Motorola (now General Dynamics) also created an alternative to Scottsdale’s downtown area as a business location.

The tourism industry remained small and seasonal until after World War II when car and plane travel, as well as air-conditioning, spurred demand. Scottsdale’s first two year-round resorts – Hotel Valley Ho and Safari Hotel – opened in 1956 and catered to tourists as well as those relocating here for business opportunities (especially Motorola). During the 1980s, new resorts – like the Hyatt at Gainey Ranch and the Scottsdale Princess – became more luxurious, with amenities such as spas, golf courses and a mix of dining options. According to the Experience Scottsdale website, today there are 50 hotels and resorts, 51 golf courses and approximately 900 restaurants in the Scottsdale area.

To meet the needs of a growing, baby-booming and aging population, the first two hospitals opened in Scottsdale in 1962. City Hospital of Scottsdale opened on Osborn Road in May; Physicians and Surgeons Osteopathic Hospital opened on McDowell Road in July. By November 1962, City Hospital had become Scottsdale Baptist Hospital, then became Scottsdale Memorial in 1971, and today is the multi-hospital/clinic/research provider, HonorHealth. Mayo Clinic opened in Scottsdale in June 1987. Numerous other health and wellness businesses have opened in Scottsdale since the 1960s, giving rise to what is known as Scottsdale’s Cure Corridor.

Thanks to the vision of the Seventh Day Adventists, who owned the property now known as the Scottsdale Airport and Airpark, the City of Scottsdale gained not only a municipal airport in 1967, but also benefited from another location for business. The first businesses opened in the Thunderbird Industrial Airpark in 1968 – Casa Precision, Delavan and Telos. In 1976, Armour-Dial opened a research and development facility in the Airpark that put the area on the map among businesses throughout the U.S. that might be looking to relocate or expand. By the end of the 1990s, the Scottsdale Airpark had become one of the top three employment centers in Arizona.

During the 1990s, two innovations had a significant impact on Scottsdale’s economy: The internet gave Scottsdale businesses new local and global opportunities for e-commerce, and the completion of the Loop 101 freeway gave greater access to customers and employers of Scottsdale businesses.

According to the City of Scottsdale’s “Scottsdale by the Numbers” demographics fact sheet (see, healthcare, finance and technology comprise the top employers in Scottsdale, and most residents work in management or office jobs. Top employers by number of employees are: HonorHealth, Vanguard, CVS Health, City of Scottsdale, Scottsdale Unified School District, General Dynamics, Mayo Clinic, Nationwide, Yelp and GoDaddy.

Who can predict what the year 2019 might bring to Scottsdale’s economic evolution? Stay tuned, and shop local! 