Construction of a massive commercial complex in Casa Grande started Thursday with a groundbreaking ceremony headlined by a keynote speech from former U.S. Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao.

PhoenixMart will feature a 1.7 million-square-foot product center on 585 acres, about a mile east of the outlet mall on Florence Boulevard.

The project — which is expected to create thousands of jobs — is backed largely by foreign investors under a 1990 U.S. visa program aimed at boosting U.S. job creation through foreign investment.

Vendors who make minimum required investments receive conditional permanent residence in the U.S. and can lease space in the mart to sell everything from kitchen gadgets to hotel furniture. They are required to create a minimum of 10 full-time, permanent jobs for U.S. workers within two years.

When built out, PhoenixMart will be able to accommodate up to 1,800 vendors. One-third will be from China, one-third from the U.S. and one-third from other countries.

The mart’s target market is retailers, though it will also be open to retail shoppers.

“PhoenixMart’s mission is to empower American manufacturers and distributors, while providing a venue to showcase products to domestic and international buyers,” Jeremy Schoenfelder, PhoenixMart president, said in remarks prepared for the groundbreaking.

Modeled after the Dragon Mart in Dubai, the bazaar-style operation originated in China and is the first of its kind in the U.S.

PhoenixMart will feature manufacturers and distributors in categories including home and hotel; industrial and automotive; electronic and accessories; food and beverage; office and recreation; and fashion and variety.

The company said it chose the Casa Grande site because of Arizona’s rapid growth, close access to Union Pacific’s double-track railroad, Interstate 10 and I-8, and its location in the middle of the emerging Sun Corridor economic region. The location also is in the direct path of the proposed I-11 “NAFTA Freeway,” the company noted.