“The air is filled with Sandhill Cranes for as far as the eye can see,” Andy Terry told me as he gave me an early morning tour of Willcox, AZ (population 3,733) where I was doing a half day session with their new economic development group and local citizens. Willcox had just completed their 13th Annual Wings Over Willcox, which brings in many birding enthusiasts to see the 122 species of birds that winter there, including 30,000 to 40,000 Sandhill Cranes. We saw several Vs of birds flying over when doing our tour in the agricultural area outside of the town.
Willcox is a quaint town that was built as a railroad town and has maintained its old downtown adjacent to the railroad tracks. It wouldn’t take a lot of renovation to turn the downtown into more of a tourist attraction like neighboring Tombstone and Bisbee.
Willcox is in the north of Cochise County, the SE most county in AZ. Cochise is a huge county, covering 6169 square miles. It is big enough to fit the states of RI and CT inside with land left over. With a population density of only 20 per square mile, it is still very rural but growing quickly. In the past 30 years it has more than doubled in population and every indication is that the growth could be accelerating.
One of the main attributes of the area is its rich, diverse agricultural potential. With over 40,000 acres of cropland surrounding Willcox supported by an easily accessible irrigation water farmers grow everything from hay to exotic Asian Pears. We drove by apple, peach and pistachio orchards. Several wineries are in the works. Willcox is also known for its U-Pick Orchards, which bring in visitors from Phoenix and Tucson.
The new ED group has some rich resources to work with as they develop a strategy for bringing in new jobs and creating new opportunities in Wonderful Willcox.