The doors remain closed at the new workforce support office in Sonoita after months of waiting for internet service to be hooked up. Photo by Marion Vendituoli

Eastern Santa Cruz County employers and job seekers will soon have access to local resources when a satellite office of Arizona@Work opens at the old courthouse in Sonoita. The main County office of Arizona@Work, located at 610 North Morley Avenue in Nogales, received a federal grant to build a satellite office in Sonoita. The state-wide federally funded workforce network delivers no-cost employment readiness services to help the unemployed return to work (or start work) and helps employers recruit, develop, and retain employees.

Irasema Olvera, Workforce Development Program Manager for all Santa Cruz County, told the PRT that the office in Sonoita has been renovated and is ready to staff; however, before they can open, the county needs to install internet access. The library will also be able to share the internet services. 

Olvera said she plans to staff the satellite site on a part time basis, perhaps two days a week, and expand opening hours and staff as demand for services increase. 

“Once we see the pickup in our traffic, then I’ll probably hire somebody full time, hopefully from over there, to run the center,” she said. 

A variety of services will be offered to both job seekers and employers, including: posting resumes on a statewide database; offering career guidance and assessments; matching job seekers with opportunities; hosting job fairs; assisting veterans and disabled job seekers; and sponsoring youth programs.

Olvera said they will also offer adult education for those who need to learn the English language and, under some conditions, offer short-term training for those seeking a new career. Soft-skill training like writing resumes and interview practice sessions will also be available. Depending on income criteria and funding sources, school youth, out-of-school adults, and dislocated workers will be able to obtain a technical degree. 

Arizona@Work plans to partner with employers throughout the county to determine their needs and help to fit the right people in the right jobs. They can pre-screen applicants, assess skills, offer space for interviews, and customize employee training for those who need additional job skills. 

“My biggest target is those out-of-school youth that are between 16 and 24 who either dropped out of high school or want to start working,” said Olvera.

Olvera added that during the COVID period everything went online, and with the spotty internet across parts of the county, it was difficult to deliver services. They are now seeing an uptick in participation and success placing people in jobs from their Nogales location. 

Olvera said the new office at the old courthouse in Sonoita was renovated, furnished and ready to open since this past August but for the lack of internet connectivity. 

“It was supposed to go in last August, then the next month, then the next month and we just got the runaround as CenturyLink postponed the work,” said Olvera. 

County Manager Jennifer St. John said in December that CenturyLink had visited the site, provided options to dedicated internet service to the building and the county would select the option. In February, however, St. John said that the County was now working with Lumen to provide broadband access. 

“The Board of Supervisors approved an agreement with Lumen for broadband so we should be ready to go,” she said. “However, past experience has shown that Lumen is not quick to ‘install/turn on’ broadband services so unfortunately we still don’t have a date [for opening] but we feel as if things are moving forward.”

In March 2018, County officials proposed to close the Sonoita Court and move all judicial proceedings to Nogales. Many local residents opposed the closure, resulting in town hall discussions and numerous visits to the county complex in Nogales to speak against the proposal. 

The County Board of Supervisors voted to abolish the court. Operations ceased in December 2018, leaving only the library, Sheriff’s Department offices, and County storage behind.

Over 80 residents responded to a local survey on repurposing the facility, with 75% favoring a visitor’s center, community resource center, and an indoor farmer’s market. Many also supported an outdoor park, senior exercise classes, a computer tech room, recreation center, and multi-purpose rooms.

Over three years have passed. None of the community’s proposals have been implemented. The Farmer’s Market concept was shot down by County Manager St. John in September 2021, citing a county resolution that prohibits any for-profit use at county owned facilities in Sonoita and Tubac. In contrast, the Board of Supervisors recently unanimously approved a for-profit use of county facilities at the Old Courthouse in Nogales and granted a lease to Arizona Minerals, Inc. owned by South32.