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Trump’s Arizona Visit Spotlights New Permitting Process For Phoenix

President Donald Trump's visit to a local Honeywell factory making N95 masks made headlines, but it was the five-week process behind the facility's conversion that was the real news.

The usual protocol to prepare a Honeywell building for mass production is nine months, but this time, it took the company only five weeks to complete the entire process. The masks will be added to the supply for the Strategic National Stockpile for healthcare, safety and emergency services workers.

The trip Tuesday was Trump’s first outside the Washington, D.C.-area since the coronavirus outbreak shut down most businesses and events. Local planners said the project could not have come together without significant teamwork.

President Trump visited Honeywell at Sky Harbor Airport.

“All of the bureaucracy was removed from this project on both sides so it could get done,” said Christine Mackay, a spokesperson for the city.

“We first heard about the possibility of this project in mid-February and everything was finalized by the first week in April with an anticipated start date of May 15, so we knew we had five full weeks to open," she said. "Everyone had a common goal and the game of ‘beat the clock’ was on from there.”

The 60K SF building is not new to crisis conditions: It originally opened in 1942 and was used for designing and producing engines during World War II. The building itself is now owned by Honeywell, but it sits on a long-term land lease from the city. The building had been used as a storage warehouse for aerospace parts for well over a decade.

A sped-up collaboration apparently worked. Production began last week on April 30, a full two weeks before the targeted May 15 date. Fast-tracking permitting was the key, planners told Bisnow.

Trump’s Arizona Visit Spotlights New Permitting Process For Phoenix

“The biggest challenge was for permitting approvals to make sure the city codes, fire codes and UL certifications were valid,” Mackay said. “After our first conference call, our engineers quickly identified the permitting issues that could arise, so we requested a list of all possible equipment that could be used to identify equipment that is not certified in the United States.”

Honeywell is still in the process of scaling up production, with a goal to produce as many as 10 million masks or more at the Phoenix site. The company also has a second factory in Rhode Island with the same production goals.

“We just started production last week, so we do not have daily production numbers yet, but we are ramping up to produce millions of masks each month,” said Eric Krantz, a spokesman for the company. “We are on track to hire 500 people for operations and initial interviews have been handled virtually with on-site visits for final interviews.”

Honeywell CEO Darius Adamczyk introduced Trump to the audience, which included Arizona Gov. Dough Ducey and Arizona Sen. Martha McSally.

Trump’s Arizona Visit Spotlights New Permitting Process For Phoenix
Security officials check the grounds as President Donald Trump arrives in Phoenix via Air Force One.

To pull it off, Honeywell executives and facility management led by Operations Manager Eric Parks worked closely with several city of Phoenix departments including aviation, fire and inspections to get production up and running prior to the presidential visit.

The city said that streamlined processes it had designed for commercial real estate came into play immediately for the Honeywell site.

“This was the first time we attempted a project like this on such a large scale on such short notice,” Mackay said. “We had projects for tools we use on a daily basis, but for a slower pace.”

Those tools include self-certification when an architect takes a class from the city of Phoenix. That allows them to receive appropriate permits in 24 hours and an inspection process and permit that is completed in an average of three days.

Even with those tools, the final inspection lasted until 4 a.m. The plant opened on April 30. 

The city said the tools it had in place for working together are a template for future corporate partnerships looking for prime real estate in the city.

“We know that CEOs talk to each other, so we hope they get the message after today’s event,” Mackay said. “Smaller cities have the ability to adapt quickly like this, but most big cities do not, and that is what makes Phoenix different.”