It was billed as a salute to Raytheon's 60 years in Tucson, but it was also a salute to teachers and the vital role education plays in the local economy and national security.
And that was just fine with Raytheon Missile Systems, Southern Arizona's biggest employer, and its president, Taylor Lawrence.
More than 600 business and education leaders braved rush-hour traffic on a cold, rainy night Thursday to fete Raytheon's six decades as an economic engine for Tucson in a fancy event at the posh Loews Ventana Canyon Resort.
It could have been a typical back-slapping event, but at Raytheon's insistence, it became a benefit for the company's biggest charity - Tucson Values Teachers - and a rally for supporters of education.
The sold-out, $75-per-ticket event raised $25,000 for the education advocacy group.
Lawrence, Raytheon's local chief since 2008, said he was overwhelmed by the show of support.
"To me, it shows not only an appreciation for Raytheon, but for the things we're trying to do in the community in education," Lawrence said after the event, noting that he evangelizes about the importance of education every chance he gets.
"It's not just about us as Raytheon a company, but it's about our country," he said. "Having a strong teacher base that can really motivate and inspire the next generation of students is really important."
Organizers said they plan to hold the event annually, awarding a "Raytheon Spirit of Education" award to recognize major education supporters.
During the event, several speakers praised Raytheon for its commitment to improving education, including its support of Tucson Values Teachers and a three-year-old internship program that places middle- and high-school teachers in summer jobs.
The internship program is a collaboration of Tucson Values Teachers, the UA College of Education, with funding from Science Foundation Arizona. Besides Raytheon, participating companies include the UA/Biosophere 2, Texas Instruments and Sundt Construction.
Lawrence recognized 14 local teachers who are getting their master's degrees through part of the program, giving seven in attendance commemorative copper coins.
Lawrence received a plaque from outgoing Mayor Bob Walkup and Mayor-elect Jonathan Rothschild, commemorating the 60 years since predecessor Hughes Aircraft started missilemaking operations in Tucson.
Rothschild and Lawrence met for the first time before the event, and the mayor-elect pledged to work to keep Raytheon growing in Tucson.
"I need to be able to show the folks at Raytheon, that when we need to, we can come together as a community, like we have here tonight, and help Raytheon, and our science and technology community really prosper and grow with Raytheon as our anchor employer," Rothschild said.
The city and Pima County have been working on land and traffic issues surrounding Raytheon's main plant complex at Tucson International Airport. Last year, the company passed over Tucson to build a new missile final-assembly plant in Huntsville, Ala., partly because of space and safety concerns around the airport plant here.
Lawrence said he's encouraged by the progress of the Tucson efforts.
"Obviously, there are some significant things for the future to ensure that we can continue to grow here in Tucson, because we've looked at other places in terms of growth, and we've been a little constrained here, but I'm pleased with the progress," he said.
AT A GLANCE
Raytheon Missile Systems, part of Waltham, Mass.-based Raytheon Co., had 2010 sales of $5.7 billion and is Southern Arizona's largest employer, with 10,500 full-time-equivalent employees at the start of 2011, according to the Star 200 survey of major employers.
Contact Assistant Business Editor David Wichner at email@example.com or 572-4181.