By Sandra Watson, Arizona Commerce Authority President & CEO
Expanding or relocating a business is a complex decision. Companies evaluate many factors, including a state’s business climate, operating costs, geographic location, infrastructure, and, perhaps most importantly, the availability of a skilled, talented workforce. As innovation advances and technology continues to transform industries, ensuring companies have access to a workforce with the necessary skills is critical for states to remain competitive.
According to CNBC, Arizona is winning “the biggest battle in the war between states for business” with its ranking as one of the top two states in the country for attracting a skilled workforce. Our state also consistently ranks high in many other third-party assessments of labor supply. Labor market data provider Emsi named Arizona’s most populous county, Maricopa, as number one in the nation for talent attraction in 2018.
Here in Arizona, we’re been proactive in creating unique workforce development programs to maintain a healthy talent pipeline, from the high school level and beyond. Manufacturing talent has been a particular area of focus as the industry continues to grow in our state.
Arizona is a global leader in advanced manufacturing, particularly semiconductors, aerospace and defense, optics and medical devices. Manufacturing employs over 160,000 Arizonans currently and in 2017 contributed more than $27 billion to gross state product. Bard, Boeing, Hexcel, Honeywell, Intel, Medtronic, Raytheon and many other industry leaders operating here make a vast array of complex products, ranging from stents to microchips to missiles and satellites. In fact, our state is home to the nation’s second-largest employment in guided missiles and space vehicle manufacturing with 14,243 workers.
A large number of these manufacturers are located in the 130-mile corridor along Interstate 10 between Phoenix and Tucson, which has seen significant growth in the last several years.
Between 2013 and 2018, manufacturing job growth in this region was 8.8 percent, well above the national rate of 5.4 percent. The companies that operate in these three counties — Maricopa, Pinal and Pima — collectively employ nearly 90 percent of Arizona’s manufacturing workforce.
And more companies have recently committed to operating in the region.
Raytheon will hire up to 2,000 for its missile systems facility in Tucson. Lucid Motors is establishing the facility where it will manufacture its luxury electric cars in the City of Casa Grande and is expected to hire more than 2,000 people. In nearby Coolidge, Nikola Motor Company is projected to hire 2,000 people at its zero-emissions commercial truck manufacturing plant. Arizona’s available workforce was one of the reasons Nikola selected our state following a competitive review of 30 sites in nine states.
“Arizona has the workforce to support our growth and a governor that was an entrepreneur himself,” said Trevor Milton, CEO and founder, Nikola Motor Company. “They understood what 2,000 jobs would mean to their cities and state.”
Arizona also understands exactly what kind of workforce these companies need — a steady pipeline highly skilled in advanced manufacturing.
Responding to this need, our team at the Arizona Commerce Authority, the business community and academia worked together and formed a unique, first-of-its-kind partnership, resulting in a charter signed by three community college districts to collaborate on a standard high-tech manufacturing curriculum for students.
Under the guidance of the Arizona Commerce Authority’s Office of Economic Opportunity — and with input from Lucid, Boeing and Raytheon — the Maricopa County Community College District, Central Arizona Community College and Pima Community College districts formed the Arizona Advanced Technology Network. As of the 2019-2020 school year, four colleges within the three districts are now offering the standard curriculum that meets rigorous third-party industry credentialing standards and supports the advanced technical job growth within the corridor.
Advanced Technology Network students can earn Industrial Technology certificates from the highly regarded National Institute of Metalworking Skills (NIMS) as well as an Associate’s of Applied Sciences in Automated Industrial Technology degree. The NIMS certifications and AAS degrees can be used for entry and mid-level technician positions. NIMS creates stackable credentials that are mapped to functional job roles within the region, and nationally. The schools use common third-party vendor equipment, and common course titles, descriptions and numbering systems.
This partnership is projected to increase the trained technician pipeline by 25 percent for the entire corridor. It not only enhances the labor supply but also serves as a tool in attracting more quality manufacturers to the region, making Arizona a destination of choice for high-tech manufacturing firms. The collaboration ensures graduates can meet the needs of private industry anywhere and everywhere across the state. Employers can be confident that no matter which school a candidate attended, they will have received the same high-quality training and credentials.
It’s commonplace to describe initiatives of this type as a “win-win.”
The Arizona Advanced Technologies Network is a win-win-win. It’s a win for Arizona students who will enter the job market with skills that will enable them to maximize their earning potential and thus ensure a strong future for themselves and their families. It’s a win for manufacturers operating in Arizona, which can rely on a consistent, highly-qualified workforce to drive their growth and success. And collectively, it’s a win for Arizona’s communities that will benefit from a healthy, vibrant economy.
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