By Sandra Watson, Arizona Commerce Authority President & CEO
Something big, bold and exciting is happening in the Grand Canyon State.
The state has emerged as a free market frontier where cutting-edge companies are testing and experimenting with autonomous vehicles and is becoming a hotspot for tech talent.
And month after month, it’s a popular destination for California companies looking to expand, relocate and scale their ideas without burdensome regulations.
Arizona has established itself as the new champion for innovation in the United States.
In just a few short years, Arizona has skyrocketed to the top of rankings showcasing the state as one of the fastest-growing entrepreneurial ecosystems in the country. And, none of this happened by accident.
This environment has attracted a sophisticated mix of global technology giants, innovative startups and everything in between.
At the heart of this success lies a common denominator: the Arizona Commerce Authority (ACA), a public-private entity that has proven to be a national model for economic development.
Led by Arizona Governor Doug Ducey, the ACA brings together leaders from private industry, state government and academia, leveraging their expertise to grow and strengthen the state’s economy.
During its first five years, the ACA has worked with some of the most respected names in industry to create more than 87,000 projected new jobs and secure $9.5 billion in capital investment.
Modernized Government = A Modern Marketplace
Behind these impressive figures lies a modern marketplace that embraces new ideas and has allowed 21st century business models to flourish in Arizona.
As an entrepreneur himself, Governor Ducey has set into motion a private-sector mindset that has established Arizona as a premiere destination for innovation.
From the ride- and rental-sharing economy to autonomous vehicles, Arizona has rolled out the red carpet for digital-age pioneers looking for a new frontier to scale their ideas.
Arizona was one of the first states to welcome self-driving vehicle testing. In 2015, Governor Ducey issued an executive order instructing state agencies to “undertake any necessary steps to support the testing and operation of self-driving vehicles on public roads within Arizona.”
Today, Waymo, Uber, GM and Ford all test autonomous vehicles on the state’s mix of wide-open roads, urban streets and desert test tracks. Arizona startup Local Motors developed “Ollie,” the self-driving bus.
In addition to self-driving vehicles, Arizona has allowed ride-sharing companies like Lyft and Uber to scale their operations in the state, and has fiercely supported the rental-sharing economy for companies like AirBnB. The state has made crowdfunding easier for early-stage companies and it’s lifted burdensome caps on the craft beer industry, allowing microbrewers to flourish on a national level.
Without a doubt, Arizona has the recipe companies look for when they make decisions about where to locate, start or expand: a great quality of life, exceptional talent, limited regulation, and access to capital.
Arizona has added another ingredient: predictability. This is vitally important as innovations in the marketplace push traditional business norms. Sometimes in government there can be a tendency to regulate new industries, as systems have difficulty adapting to new models. In Arizona, these new models are embraced and encouraged.
In fact, one of Governor Ducey’s first action in office was placing a moratorium on new state rulemaking, and earlier this year he unveiled RedTapeAZ.Gov, a reform aimed at reducing unnecessary regulations that stand in the way of job creation and economic growth.
This modernization of government has received national attention and catapulted Arizona to its current status as the best place to launch, test and scale new ideas.
Multiple news organizations have highlighted this, including a cover story in the National Review, titled “Doug Ducey’s Blooming, Booming Desert.” This was followed by a column by conservative icon George Will, headlined “An Oasis of Liberty in the Arizona Sun,” and a piece by Steve Forbes, “In Arizona, Conservative Government Creates Jobs.”
Top Tech Talent
In short, Arizona is being noticed by the highest-level decision-makers in the technology community.
Global leaders like Apple, Uber, GoDaddy, Avnet, ZipRecruiter, Raytheon, Boeing, and Axon (formerly TASER) have selected the Grand Canyon State to start or grow their operations.
Earlier this year, Intel – the world’s leading chipmaker – announced a $7 billion expansion in Arizona with plans to create an additional 3,000 high-quality jobs at the most-advanced semiconductor facility in the world. This significant investment is in addition to the $9.5 billion secured during the ACA’s first five years.
“Besides the many attributes that make Arizona such an amazing place to live and work, there is a commitment by the Governor and our state’s leaders to develop policies that contribute to business success,” said Sandra Watson, President and CEO of the Arizona Commerce Authority. “This includes tax reform, regulation reform and continually developing our vibrant, welcoming entrepreneurial environment.”
Arizona consistently ranks at the top of major U.S. cities for technology talent, jobs and market growth. CBRE ranked the Greater Phoenix region the second-largest market in tech job growth – behind only San Francisco.
The 2017 Kauffman Index placed Arizona at No. 4 in entrepreneurial activity, and Bloomberg ranked Arizona No. 6 for technology company density as well as a top 10 state in STEM concentration.
This is all made possible because of a supportive business community that works together to accomplish goals in economic development. In Arizona, there are more than 70 incubators, accelerators and coworking spaces. There were only a handful of these spaces about five years ago.
The Arizona Commerce Authority has put a tremendous amount of effort into strengthening this ecosystem, developing programs like the Arizona Innovation Challenge, one of the country’s largest business-plan competitions, and Venture Madness, a competition presented in partnership with Invest Southwest which connects investors with the most promising startups in the region.
Over the past few years, more than $1 billion in total growth capital has been invested into Arizona, and over the past 20 years, thirty-five Arizona companies have filed for an IPO – companies like GoDaddy, LifeLock, JDA Software, Microchip and most recently, Carvana.
A Top Destination For California Expansions
Arizona has attracted many California companies, including Apple, Google, Lucid Motors, Silicon Valley Bank, Uber, Union Bank, Weebly, Yelp and ZipRecruiter – as well as many, many others.
The ACA has worked with more than 50 Californian companies that have committed to creating nearly 10,000 new jobs and $3.2 billion in capital investments in Arizona.
“Arizona’s deep talent pool and active lifestyle make it an ideal location for ZipRecruiter’s brand, culture and growing team,” Ian Siegel, CEO and co-founder of Santa Monica, Calif.-based ZipRecruiter, said when the company announced its expansion in Tempe last year. “We were blown away by the quality of local candidates for our expansion.”
The ACA expects this momentum to continue. Through collaborations with industry experts, visionaries in academia, as well as economic-development research, Arizona is poised to leverage its legacy of big thinking and innovating well into the future.
With a population of more than 6.8 million people and projected steady growth, Arizona’s talent pool will only get bigger and better. Maricopa County, home to the Phoenix metro area, is the fastest-growing county in the U.S., and Phoenix recently surpassed Philadelphia to become the fifth-most populous city in the country.
A recent report, Arizona in 2017: More People, More Jobs, put it this way: “Arizona’s economy appears to have had solid momentum going into 2017, as evidenced by the continued slide in the unemployment rate and growing list of corporate relocations and expansions.”
This growing job market will be fed by a talent pipeline from the state’s three world-class universities – Arizona State University, Northern Arizona University and the University of Arizona – as well as private universities such as Grand Canyon University, Embry Riddle Aeronautical University and robust community college systems.
U.S. News & World Report named Arizona State the most innovative university in the country the past two years, and found that five of the nation’s top seven high schools are in Arizona.
This young, qualified talent pool is sure to find a marketplace that rewards innovation, creativity and hard work.
Visit http://www.expansionsolutionsmagazine.com/arizona_ed for local economic development office directory listings.
Bio: Sandra Watson is President & CEO of the Arizona Commerce Authority. Ms. Watson brings more than 20 years of economic development leadership experience to Arizona. Under her direction, the ACA leads statewide efforts assisting companies to locate, expand and grow – bringing high-wage jobs and capital investment to Arizona.