Finally, an answer to that age-old question: “Why did the chicken cross the road?”
To get to the Ak-Chin Indian Community’s Industrial Park—the site of Hickman’s Family Farms with enough hens to generate 4.3 million eggs per day.
In 2002, the egg producer built a ranch at the Ak-Chin Industrial Park, leasing nearly a third of the park’s 110 acres.
Ak-Chin is an O’odham word meaning “place where the wash loses itself in the sand,” referring to a type of farming that relies on washes—seasonal flood-plains created by summer rains and winter snows. By extension, agriculture is a major source of income for the tribe, one of the largest farming communities in the U.S. The tribe grows cotton, barley, potatoes, alfalfa and corn among its crops on 16,000 acres cultivated by Ak-Chin Farms Enterprise, which employs more than 80 people.
“…[S]o the egg farm was a natural match for us,” said former tribal Councilwoman Maria Hernandez, a member of the Ak-Chin Industrial Park Board.
The Industrial Park—officially known as the Santa Cruz Commerce Center—draws an annual income of about $1.5 million, and current production levels at the egg farm generate approximately $1 million a year in direct payment revenues to tribal coffers. Additional income is generated through the tribe’s sale of feed for the chickens. The tribe purchases chicken waste as fertilizer for Ak-Chin Farms to grow grain that in turn is sold to Hickman’s to feed the chickens. “It’s a circular-motion, mutually-beneficial, symbiotic relationship,” explained Phil Entz, property manager of Santa Cruz Commerce Center.
Various other tenants lease office and warehouse space on the remaining acreage of Ak-Chin Industrial Park, which is divided into two sectors: industrial and retail/commercial. Among businesses currently operating in the industrial sector are agricultural equipment distributors; the retail/commercial lot presently includes recreational facilities like Desert Star Gymnastics. Businesses requiring general access and therefore visibility are situated along the main Maricopa Casa Grande Highway (Highway 238).
According to tribal statistics, the Ak-Chin Indian Community of less than 1,000 residents is the number one employer for the entire Pinal County region. The tribe’s Harrah’s Ak-Chin Casino & Resort in Maricopa, Arizona alone employs more than 800 people.
Hickman’s Egg Farm is privately-owned and does not provide employment numbers or annual revenue estimates. But, according to Hernandez, a good number of tribal members are gainfully employed at the egg farm.
Hickman’s has been a family-owned and operated business since 1944 when barnyard fowl began laying eggs in Grandma Hickman’s back porch roost in Arizona. Today Hickman’s has two production facilities in Buckeye, Arizona, as well as the one on Indian land in Maricopa. Collectively, some 4 million caged laying hens, and another 400,000 allowed to roam freely, live at the three sites. The Ak-Chin facility holds approximately 230,000 chickens for egg production.
“Although the Ak-Chin Industrial Park has a diversified portfolio, they still embrace farming and take pride in their production of food—just as our family does,” said Sharman Hickman, who added that a farm mathematician once calculated that Hickman’s produces 1.01 billion eggs in a year (enough to provide one day’s breakfast for China).
“We’re working to see how far we can go with this relationship, learning about profit margins for both Hickman’s and the tribe,” said Industrial Park Board Chairman and tribal member Charles Carlyle. “It’s a challenge, because we’ve never done anything like this before, but we’re glad to have them here.”
Meanwhile, the board has plans to add new tenants to the increasingly attractive location of the park—it will soon be easier to access due to upgrades to the regional airport. The tribe purchased the former Phoenix Regional Airport in 2006, renaming it the Ak-Chin Regional Airport in November 2011.
“A million dollars worth of improvements to the facility are scheduled to be completed soon [with a grand opening slated for December 14], and we are already negotiating several offers involving potential new tenants based on the airport project,” Carlyle said.