The sleek, black motor coaches with the swoosh down the side are hard to miss in the Gila Valley. Their arrival means that Ryan's Express has returned, along with a possible economic recovery for the area.

Ryan's Express is a charter bus service and chauffeured ground transportation service company with locations throughout California, Arizona and Nevada.  

The last time the transportation service provider had a local facility was in 2006/07 when it operated a hub south of Safford and had a contract with Phelps Dodge to shuttle workers to the Morenci Mine.

This time, the buses were hired by Jacobs Field Services, which is the main construction company for Freeport McMoRan Copper & Gold's projects at its Morenci Mine.

As construction workers descend upon the area, the economic shot in the arm is clearly evident. While no official study has been made, when the local mines ramp up construction, a lot of dollars are redistributed throughout the Gila Valley in a variety of ways, including at local retail businesses, restaurants, home and apartment rentals, gas stations and the hotel industry.

According to Jeff Holloway, a subcontracting manager for Jacobs, his firm has a two-year contract with FMI for construction services at the Morenci Mine and will need between 1,300 to 1,500 workers to be sufficiently staffed. Currently, Jacobs has about 400 employees working at the site, and construction is set to be ramped up.

"There's not enough people (in the area) to fill all the positions," Holloway said.

He encourages local workers to apply for the available jobs, and Jacobs has opened a hiring center at the old Clifton High School. The center accepts applications, performs pre-employment drug testing and certifies its welders. Jacobs subcontracts some of its services, but most of the work is done by the company's employees, and there is a variety of job openings.   

To help satisfy the need for employees, Ryan's Express will bus workers from Safford, Duncan, Willcox and Lordsburg, N.M. Curr-ently, two 56-seat buses are running from Safford to the mine, but Ryan's Express Phoenix General Manager Mich-ele Payton said the fleet will likely expand to nine buses, with four based in Safford alone. The buses are also available for hire for other events and have transported the Eastern Arizona College's football team to its away games the past few Saturdays.

To help maintain its fleet in the area, Ryan's Express has leased a property at 870 E. Highway 70 and is working with the city and a general contractor to make improvements, including creating a shop area. The company plans to have a local maintenance facility at the site.

"We're making a commitment," Payton said. "I've gone from being the general manager in Phoenix to transitioning out here to be the project manager for this. That's how dedicated we are to it."

Ryan's Express is looking to hire local drivers and maintenance workers. For more information call Payton at 480-381-9443, Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Currently, the buses make daily runs to the mine and are free to Jacobs’ employees. The program helps keep the Clifton/Morenci area from becoming congested with traffic and allows employees to rest or enjoy DVD entertainment as they are shuttled to and from work.  

The buses also help make the roadways safer for all travelers because weary graveyard shift workers no longer have to drive themselves home.

Payton said she has enjoyed her time getting the bus service re-started in Safford and considers working here to be a vacation from the hustle and bustle of Phoenix.

"It's quiet; it's laid back," Payton said. "People are really friendly everywhere you go. "Everybody's just really friendly and eager to work, too. It's beautiful here, and I love Clifton; it's adorable."

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