By Sandra Watson, President & CEO, Arizona Commerce Authority
In Tempe, Arizona, pure drinking water is being created out of thin air.
What sounds like magic is actually advanced technology created by Cody Friesen, an associate professor of materials science at Arizona State University. He founded Zero Mass Water in Arizona in 2015, with a mission to make clean water an unlimited resource worldwide. The company’s SOURCE Hydropanel uses the power of the sun to convert water vapor from the air into liquid water.
Creating innovative solutions to sustain growth is in Arizona’s DNA. The Hohokam who settled here centuries ago brought the region to life using a system of canals to transport water, allowing agriculture to flourish.
This spirit of determination, creativity, and survival is engrained in Arizona’s history and culture.
The state has developed significant expertise in innovative management and conservation techniques, setting a standard for others worldwide. While the population has grown steadily over the years, water use is essentially the same today as it was more than half a century ago. In fact, some Arizonans are using less water: in Phoenix, residential gallons per capita per day use has fallen 30 percent over the last 20 years. Overall, the state has banked nearly three trillion gallons of water for future use, enough to supply the City of Phoenix for nearly 30 years.
Therefore, it’s no surprise that Arizona has become a hotbed for companies like Zero Mass – pioneers advancing transformative emerging technologies that have the potential to solve global challenges like water scarcity.
Zero Mass has raised over $100 million in venture capital funding, including a recent $50 million C1 round led by BlackRock’s Innovation Capital unit. The company currently employs more than 100 people at its Tempe headquarters and is scaling quickly to meet the demand for its cutting-edge solutions.
Another forward-thinking Arizona innovator is Footprint, a manufacturer headquartered in Gilbert that uses technology and materials science to create sustainable packaging. Launched in 2013 by Troy Swope and Yoke Chung, two former Intel engineers with a vision to eliminate single-use plastics, Footprint was named to FastCompany’s 2020 list of the 50 most innovative companies in the world. The company makes a wide range of biodegradable, non-toxic food packaging products and was selected as the official Foodware Sustainability Partner for Super Bowl LIV in Miami, Florida. Footprint has more than 1,200 employees and factories in both Arizona and Mexico.
Food packaging isn’t the only area in which Arizona is leading the way, but also in the production of food itself. For generations, the state has been an agricultural powerhouse, thanks to technology, innovation, and research to perfect farming techniques in an arid climate.
Today, this $23.3 billion industry supports 138,000 jobs on 26 million acres of farms and ranches in Arizona. The state ranks in the top ten in the nation for organic sales and in the top three for lemon production. At $2 billion in sales, Arizona is the nation’s largest supplier of lettuce and leafy greens during the winter months, most of which is grown in the fields around Yuma, an area that receives even less rain than Phoenix – just over three inches a year.
Here too, private-sector companies are choosing Arizona as the location to advance new agricultural technologies.
AgJunction, headquartered in Scottsdale, is a global leader in precision agriculture solutions. The company’s signature product, the Wheelman, creates auto-steering tractors that improve farm efficiency and reduce harmful tilling. Phoenix-based Botanisol Analytics uses optics technology developed at the University of Arizona to detect chemicals in plants to find toxins, nutrients, and other materials while the plants are still in the field. CropTrak of Tucson helps farms and agricultural supply chain companies digitize paper-based tracking, auditing, record keeping, and field collecting so farms can better manage risk and satisfy sustainability reporting requirements.
Agriculture may very well be the dominant market for the use of Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS), with the potential to completely revolutionize and transform farming. In one such application at a University of Arizona’s agricultural center in southern Arizona, engineering students are developing and commercializing a drone to pollinate date palms, which will increase safety and lower the cost of pollination. Goldman Sachs predicts within five years, the agriculture sector will be the biggest user of drones in the country and the second-biggest in the world.
Recognizing the power UAS technology has to improve productivity and sustainability in many industries, Arizona has taken a proactive approach and embraced its development. In 2018, under Governor Ducey’s leadership, the Arizona Commerce Authority established AZSkyTech. The initiative draws upon the collective strengths of national, state, and private industry partners to safely advance the development and deployment of UAS in Arizona.
These projects just begin to scratch the surface of the incredible work happening in Arizona, across industries ranging from water and ag tech to advanced manufacturing, personalized medicine, automated vehicles, renewable energy, virtual learning, the internet of things, and more. Emerging technologies hold great promise and offer unique ways to improve the lives of people all over the world. They present opportunities to relegate food shortages to history, ensure universal access to clean water, reduce human impact on the environment, make transportation safer, improve health care, educate millions of people, and create economic prosperity.
Arizona has served as a true champion for these technologies. Governor Ducey continues to advance his vision for creating the best environment to test, launch, and scale new ideas and new business models. A commitment to pro-innovation policies, light regulation, and affordable operating costs encourage speed to market and provide the perfect platform for success. Perhaps most importantly, Arizona provides a steady supply of top talent with the skills modern companies are seeking, fed by world-class colleges and universities.
Arizona – often referred to as “the start up state” – was built by resilient pioneers with the tenacity to shape their own future. This legacy continues today, with groundbreaking research and bold private-sector advancements focused on ensuring a bright future and vibrant communities for generations to come.