The State, its universities and business groups work to make Arizona a high-tech powerhouse.
When the new millennium arrived, high-technology activities in Arizona were on a slide. The industry was unable to keep pace with the job demands of an expanding population or match employment growth in other economic sectors. That was then.
The state’s high-tech picture is much brighter now. Semiconductor, aerospace, defense and optics firms continue to be major forces in Arizona’s tech industry. But there’s also a growing presence of companies specializing in biotechnology, information technology, nanotechnology, renewable energy and other areas that fit under the high-tech umbrella.
A roll call of companies with their headquarters or major divisions based in Arizona is an impressive one. That list includes names you should recognize, such as semiconductor powerhouse Amkor Technology, optical-engineering firm Breault Research Organization, On Semiconductor and the highly diversified Avnet Inc. It also includes a high-tech Who’s Who: Raytheon, Intel Corp., Honeywell International, General Dynamics, Boeing, Motorola, W.L. Gore & Associates and IBM among others. And they have been joined by relatively recent arrivals such as Jobing.com, Ensynch Inc., Google, Monster, Amazon.com and PayPal.
“With Boeing, General Dynamics, Honeywell, Intel and Raytheon, you’ve got some big players here,” says Ron Schott, executive director of the nonprofit Arizona Technology Council.
Also, while the bulk of these companies are spread across Maricopa and Pima counties, Arizona Department of Commerce spokesman David Drennon points to significant aerospace, defense and agricultural technology activity in the Yuma area and the growth of bioscience in Flagstaff.
None of this happened by chance. It took, Schott says, a lot of hard work by a lot of different groups and individuals.
“If you set up a positive business climate, these people are very, very intuitive and they’re intelligent,” Schott says. “And if they see things that are happening, people who are trying to make it a positive business state, they recognize that.”
The steps that led to the current high-tech business climate are numerous and varied.
Gov. Janet Napolitano formed the Council on Innovation and Technology in 2003 to generate new development strategies. Later, the Legislature passed such measures as the Angel Investment Tax Credit Program to entice investors, and the “sales factor” tax bill, which led to Intel committing $3 billion in a new Chandler-based 300mm wafer-fabrication facility.
Other important developments include the formation of Science Foundation Arizona and the Translational Genomics Research Institute, or TGen.
Also vital is the role being played by the University of Arizona, Arizona State University and Northern Arizona University. It’s no coincidence Google took up residence on the ASU campus.
Alaina Levine handles corporate relations for the U of A’s College of Science. She also coordinates the Professional Science Master’s Degree Program, a workforce development program that serves Arizona’s high-tech industry.
“Individual business leaders know that if they’re going to start a company here or if they’re going to bring a company here, clearly they need to know that they’re going to be able to staff it with very talented individuals and that there has to be a critical mass of those individuals,” she says. “Otherwise, it’s not worth the investment of moving or starting the company here.”
Arizona Business Magazine Dec-Jan 2008Likewise, those universities need to be widely respected for their academics and research programs. The highly regarded Eller College of Management at U of A and the Biodesign Institute at ASU are just two examples of the level of academic excellence found in the state.
Arizona’s rapid growth translates to a need for even more high-value jobs in the tech sector. And further industry growth will require the availability of vital business resources outside of the dominant population centers.
“It’s a positive, glass half-full scenario here in the state,” Schott says. “That doesn’t mean we don’t have problems, but we’re trying to work and focus on those problems and improve the environment the best we can.”