Most Arizona legislators and business leaders now recognize the value of international commerce to the state. It hasn’t always been that way, but today there is broad agreement that exports from Arizona and foreign direct investment into Arizona from around the world create jobs and community growth. After all, 95 percent of the world’s population is outside the U.S., along with 70 percent of the world’s purchasing power. Why not tap into that power?
Arizona has made relatively slow progress with international trade compared to states such as California and Texas. Those states have each made greater per capita investments to encourage local companies to export and foreign companies to invest locally. Arizona is ranked in the bottom of U.S. states for foreign direct investment — No. 31 — according to the U.S. Department of Commerce. This creates an excellent opportunity for improvement.
With exports, the picture is a little better. Arizona businesses have done a reasonably good job of selling their products overseas. Exports from Arizona-based companies increased to $19.2 billion in 2007, contributing to good job and tax revenue growth. These figures rank Arizona as the 17th leading state for exports.
People all over the world know about the Grand Canyon, but few know about businesses within Arizona. Exports can help build global awareness of Arizona businesses, making the state a more viable candidate for foreign investment. That’s important because foreign companies investing in Arizona pay higher wages than local companies, and with today’s sputtering economy, the state’s economy needs all the help it can get.
According to the Greater Phoenix Economic Council (GPEC), if Arizona could increase foreign direct investment to be the 17th ranked state as it is with exports, it would attract 84,000 more jobs and $12.5 billion more in capital investment. How’s that for an economic shot in the arm?
“We need investment to capture strategic industry growth for Arizona, like Germany-based solar companies,” says Rod Miller, vice president of international economic development for GPEC. “In the current environment, increasing our investment in economic development initiatives will support a quicker and stronger economic recovery.”
Miller’s data shows a return in capital spending and taxes of as much as $110 for every dollar spent attracting companies to Arizona. GPEC is making progress despite Arizona’s low per capita investment. The good news is that many know what’s needed. The bad news is that Arizona, like other states, faces a challenging budget crisis.
It has been against this backdrop of both opportunity and challenge that the Arizona International Growth Group (AZIGG) was founded in 2007. AZIGG was created to provide a place for Arizona-based business owners to gain all the international information and connections they need to be successful overseas. Each of the existing business-support organizations has a piece of the international puzzle, but none has a full view of importing, exporting, international company attraction and international company retention. AZIGG brings it all together, including forums to attract and retain foreign companies.
AZIGG has quickly attracted more than 1,000 members from the Arizona business and business-support community. The group meets monthly to hear international business speakers and discuss ways to help Arizona-based businesses to export or to attract foreign direct investment.
AZIGG encourages cooperation between local international business and cultural groups, including the consulates, the Department of Commerce, GPEC, other city economic development resources, the Phoenix Committee on Foreign Relations, the World Affairs Council of Arizona, financial institutions working with the U.S. Export-Import Bank, trade associations such as the Arizona Technology Council, and international business service providers such as accounting, insurance, marketing and legal firms. AZIGG allows each resource to address the group monthly to keep business owners aware of the most recent ideas, news and opportunities.
In the same spirit of cooperation, the global law firm Squire, Sanders & Dempsey is stepping forward as the first business sponsor for AZIGG. This month, the firm is hosting the AZIGG International Business Fair at its law offices in Downtown Phoenix in order to make local businesses aware of all the services available for companies to grow internationally. Arizona and Arizona-based businesses need to be especially creative to compete against other states for opportunity dollars.
AZIGG encourages both government and private business actions to grow international development. Monthly meetings feature Arizona-based entrepreneurs such as Lee Knowlton of Kahala Corporation (which owns Cold Stone Creamery), Colin Christie of MX Secure and Omar Sayed of Succeed Corporation, all of whom are pioneers for Arizona in connecting their companies to the global market place. Similarly, global service firms such Squire, Sanders & Dempsey show leadership to help others succeed internationally.
Business owners now have more choices with less risk to grow their businesses internationally. Their success ultimately will result in a more balanced and sustainable economy for Arizona. Besides AZIGG, the U.S. Commercial Service’s Export Council and foreign consulates are available as resources to Arizona-based business owners. Additional resources are available on the AZIGG Web site, in AZIGG monthly meetings and as part ofthe AZIGG International Business Fair.
Besides international sales growth, there are other initiatives that all residents of Arizona can support to create a more level playing field for companies based in Arizona. They include:
- More direct international flights to Sky Harbor International Airport.
- Sending a clear message that Arizona is a state open to legal immigration.
- Improving education from below average to above average in the U.S.
- Providing tax incentives to attract capital-intensive industries.
- Supporting international sales with education and infrastructure to increase exports.
Doug Bruhnke is president and founder of the Arizona International Growth Group (AZIGG) and CEO and founder of Growth Nation. For more information, visit www.azigg.com