The East Valley has experienced unprecedented growth since 1980. With nearly 1.7 million residents and more than 54,000 businesses, community and business leaders alike are looking to the future to prepare for greater global competition. They also are working to sustain a strong and vital economy that will protect and preserve the quality of life that exists in the East Valley’s 17 communities. In this East Valley report, Arizona Business Magazine looks at some of the major economic engines powering the region.
Arizona State University
Arizona State University, the largest public research university in the United States, has been contributing to East Valley and state economic development efforts since 1885, when ASU was initially founded. The university’s core focus is training the labor force and turning out college graduates that will stay and work in Arizona.
ASU is also involved in community efforts, such as bringing the Insight Bowl to Tempe. In addition, ASU Gammage is a major driver of people to local restaurants, stores, parks and stadiums. The university’s research and development efforts produce spin-off companies, as well as attract those that want to be near a research university. The perfect example is SkySong. Scottsdale raised $100 million to partner with ASU and create the innovation park that currently has more than 40 small, startup companies from 12 different countries.
“SkySong is a global portal for metropolitan Phoenix, and companies are attracted to it because they want to be near the university,” says Virgil Renzulli, ASU’s vice president of public affairs. “ASU is one of 100 universities in the country that turn out new knowledge.”
At ASU’s Polytechnic campus in eastern Mesa, the university brought in some of the best solar researchers in the country to work in the research lab.They also have alternative energy research programs in place to look at creating energy from light, and creating regular fuel and jet fuel from algae and bacteria.
“Working with East Valley cities and organizations is important because so many things today need a group effort,” Renzulli says. “It’s all part of the modern knowledge economy infrastructure. ASU wants to see things improve. We are good citizens and the majority of the time we look at what’s good for the East Valley, as well as the state.”
The city of Chandler
With companies moving less nowadays, the city of Chandler is planning to grow its own companies in hopes of diversifying and stabilizing the community’s job market, as well as positioning the East Valley in the global marketplace.
Chandler’s new venture is a wet lab incubator called Innovations, and it’s aimed at young, startup science and technology companies seeking move-in-ready lab space. Innovations is located in a 40,000 square foot former Intel building on McClintock Road and Chandler Boulevard. Space will be available for lease starting May 1. Christine Mackay, Chandler’s economic development director, said Innovations would contain everything — soup to nuts — that a young startup company needs to work and succeed.
Chandler City Council approved a 10-year lease on the building in September, along with $5.7 million to renovate the building. “Many young companies start with a grant or on a shoestring budget, so traditional commercial space is too expensive,” Mackay says. “They need a partnership to succeed until they can commercialize on their own. They could find cheap space without us of course, but they wouldn’t have access to things like business managers and attorneys to help them succeed and move forward.”
Studies show that 80 percent of small companies that start up through incubators succeed — four times the average of other small business startups. Although Chandler has yet to market the incubator, it has received a lot of interest from entrepreneurs and is already 25 percent pre-committed. ASU has expressed interest in leasing space, as well, Mackay says.
“Right now, we’re in the process of forming a team of experts with backgrounds in renewable energies, engineering, biosciences, applied materials, etc., to help us pick companies with the ability to succeed,” Mackay says. “Our hope is that those companies stay in Chandler long term.”
Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport
Allegiant Air began offering passenger service at Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport in 2007, with two aircraft serving eight cities. Today, the airline serves 20 cities with five aircrafts, and this year more than 650,000 passengers are expected to pass through the terminal. In the last two years, Cessna and Hawker Beechcraft have both opened maintenance and repair facilities near the airport. Collectively, more than 35 aviation companies operate at the airport, generating more than $251 million in annual economic activity.
“The work we did in 2006 put the wheels in motion for the Phoenix-Gateway area,” says Roc Arnett, president and CEO of East Valley Partnership. “We make things move and shake to improve business and quality of life in the East Valley.”
William Jabjiniak, director of economic development for Mesa, considers EVP a great partner.
“We look to East Valley Partnership for leadership and policy direction that affects positive change for Mesa,” he says. “It’s also important for the East Valley to have a unified voice and that’s what EVP is for us and our neighboring cities.”
Mesa, which is just shy of 500,000 people, is currently focusing its economic development efforts on four key industry segments: health care, education, aerospace and tourism. The city’s economic development team also is working diligently with existing businesses in the community.
“Economic development is based on relationships, which we are trying to grow with existing businesses and the brokerage community,” Jabjiniak said. “About 80 percent of growth in a community comes from existing businesses, so essentially they are the bread and butter.”
One of Mesa’s biggest retention projects over the last several months has been hanging onto the Chicago Cubs. The Cubs have been holding spring training in Mesa for more than 50 years and provide the state with an annual economic impact of $52.2 million. In late January, officials with the Cubs announced the team would stay put in Mesa — if a new, multimillion-dollar stadium and practice complex is built.