Tag Archives: Glenn Williamson

Icefields Parkway, Banff; Jasper National Parks, Alberta, Canada

Canadians help heat up Arizona economy

Canadians love escaping the cold and traveling south to soak up the Arizona sun, but Arizona is becoming more than just a vacation destination for Canadians.

Arizona’s economic climate offers Canadian companies a great place to enter the U.S. market, and Canadian companies are taking advantage of Arizona’s favorable business climate.

More than 350 Canadian companies have opened enterprises in Arizona, making Canada the leader in the number of foreign businesses operating in the state. Arizona has a $6 billion bilateral footprint with Canada, which includes foreign direct investment, trade and tourism, according to Canada Arizona Business Council (CABC). Additionally, Canada is the foreign leader in the number of residential home ownership and commercial property ownership in Arizona. These numbers are substantial for a country whose ties with Arizona are defined by airports and financial institutions.


Arizona’s thriving and profitable business relationship started 60 to 70 years ago, according to Glenn Williamson, CEO and founder of the CABC. That was when western Canadians were first lured to Arizona to escape the cold. The attraction has only grown, and Arizona welcomed almost 900,000 Canadian visitors in 2013, setting a record for the number of Canadians selecting Arizona for travel.

But Williams said the game changer for Arizona’s business relationship with Canada came when the U.S. military began building up the aerospace industry in Arizona.

“Canada has always been a significant player in that supply chain,” Williamson said.

In the 1970s, Canadians began entering Arizona on the commercial real estate level and bought up huge chunks of property, Williamson said. The number of Canadians visiting the state and doing business in Arizona was on a steady growth trajectory before the recession hit. However, unlike how the recession negatively impacted most factors in the economy, Canadians poured into Arizona during the recession and bought very expensive houses, Williamson said.


Fast forward to the present and there are more than 350 business operating in Arizona, employing approximately 50,000 people, Williamson said. The biggest Canadian companies in Arizona include Bombardier Aerospace, which employs 1,000 Arizonans, and Bank of Montreal, which has 400 Arizona employees, according to the Arizona Commerce Authority (ACA).

Trade and investment with Canada accounts for 146,800 jobs in Arizona, meaning 1 in 20 jobs depends on trade and investment from Canada, said Sandra Watson, president and CEO of the ACA.

“Each Canadian company that establishes a presence in Arizona creates jobs and capital investment in our state, generating a positive economic impact,” Watson said.  “Increased activity between Canada and Arizona brings new business opportunities, innovations and solutions to both markets.”

Additionally, Canada as a foreign direct investor is very favorable for Arizona’s economy because it helps insulate the state by providing diversification in the market, said Chris Camacho, president and CEO of the Greater Phoenix Economic Council (GPEC.) Moreover, these jobs generally carry 15 to 20 percent higher wages, he said.


Arizona’s pro-business environment and low operating costs make the state very attractive to Canadian companies.

“Arizona is an open-for-business type of state, which we saw as very attractive,” said Joe Gysel, president of EPCOR Water USA Inc., an indirect wholly-owned subsidiary of the Canadian company EPCOR Utilities. EPCOR began operating in Arizona in 2010 and is now responsible for providing water and wastewater service to 22 communities and seven counties in Arizona and New Mexico, making it the largest privately regulated water utility in both states. Arizona was EPCOR’s entry point into the United States, with its U.S. headquarters in Phoenix. Choosing Arizona was a decision based purely on economics, Gysel said.

Regulatory assets, a competitive tax structure, talented labor pool and strategic location were all characteristics that attracted EPCOR and are continuing to draw other Canadian companies looking for corporate expansion, growth and start up in the U.S. market.

The low cost of operating a business in Arizona is key, experts said. Critical to this is Arizona’s Competitiveness Package. Adopted in 2011, this legislation modernized the state’s tax system, streamlined the regulatory structure and promoted a focus on business recruitment, retention and high-value job creation, according to the CABC.

Arizona’s simplified tax system is also a huge draw for Canadian companies. The state and local tax burden on Arizona’s citizens is the 14th lowest in the nation, according to the Tax Foundation. The tax-friendly environment is comprised of no franchise tax, no business inventory tax and no estate tax. The corporate and individual income tax rates in Arizona are also among the lowest in the nation. Additionally, the state provides companies low workers’ compensation and unemployment insurance rates.


Another major benefit Arizona offers Canadian companies is the access to the growing consumer market. The state’s strategic geographic location offers business unique access to major world markets.

“The most apparent reason you see a lot of Canadian companies out of Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal is because they can get access to the California marketplace from a market that is more favorable from the cost side,” Camacho said.

Arizona is one of the only states within a day’s drive of California, the ninth largest economy; Texas, the 13th largest economy; and Mexico, the 14th largest. Canadian companies can reach 65 million consumers per day in Arizona by truck, Watson said.

“Arizona becomes Canadian beachfront property to South America,” Williamson said.

Arizona’s strenghtening workforce is also continuously fed by the state’s higher education system. The workforce in metro Phoenix offers a rich talent pool, Camacho said. The quality of the labor resources in Arizona was a compelling factor in EPCOR’s decision to locate it’s U.S. headquarters in Phoenix, according to the company. Arizona offers a number of top-quality universities, technical and trade schools that companies such as EPCOR are looking at during site selection. High-level education and training are key to companies growing in the utility space, experts said.

Arizona’s high quality of life, low cost of living and the low cost of commercial real estate are other huge draws for Canadian companies.

“One in five homes in Arizona is owned by a Canadian and that made coming to Arizona quite easy,” Gysel said.


In 2014, Matt Behmer’s Flagstaff-based Traditional Roofing Inc. was acquired by Canada’s Flynn Group of Companies. The Flynn Group of Companies is made up of seven companies and employs more than 4,000 people in 26 locations across North America.

“A lot of it had to do with the fact they saw growth opportunity here,” said Behmer, now director of operations in the Southwest for Flynn. He attributes the opportunity to grow, climate and logistics as the three main factors that brought Flynn to Arizona. According to Flynn, it saw Traditional Roofing as a perfect fit culturally and strategically to become a springboard for the company’s growth in the region.

In addition to the robust suite of advantages designed to help attract foreign businesses, Arizona-based economic development groups have laid the groundwork to facilitate the attraction of these companies. They accomplished this by engaging company decision makers in Canada and showing them Arizona’s many attributes and opportunities. The recruitment of Canadian companies has been a collaboration of economic development organizations, chambers of commerce, cities, towns, academic institutions and the business community.

“The ACA works closely with companies to educate them on Arizona’s value proposition and programs, which can help advance their corporate success,” Watson said. The ACA leads targeted sales missions every 30 to 60 days to select Canadian markets. In the past year, the ACA has led six such missions, Watson said.

GPEC is also on the front end of attracting Canadian firms.

“We take mayors on hosted road shows in Canadian markets to sell the advantages of operating in Metro Phoenix over other places,” Camacho said.

Despite all the success, Canada still doesn’t receive the same attention as other foreign countries, such as Mexico, when it comes to discussions on trade, investment and future growth. Mexico has a significant footprint in the state, but the business relationship between Mexico and Arizona has a huge way to grow compared with the state’s relationship with Canada, Williamson said. The benefits of Canadian companies doing business in Arizona and the impact on the state’s economy far exceeds the attention it receives.

Despite the lack of attention, experts agree that Arizona’s colossal business relationship with Canada will continue to grow and strengthen.

“Since 2009, Arizona’s exports to Canada have increased nearly 25 percent,” Watson said. “We expect to see trade and investment between Canada and Arizona increase exponentially moving forward.”

International business - AZ Business Magazine April 2008

International Business Opportunities Increase In Arizona

Arizona leaders are pushing the state’s businesses to the international forefront

When principals from United Kingdom-based txtNation, a technology solutions provider, wanted to spread their global wings they turned to Arizona to set up a U.S. location. Similarly, when the German firm Ubidyne, a wireless technology developer, was looking to establish its first U.S. global footprint, it zeroed in on Scottsdale and SkySong, the Arizona State University Scottsdale Innovation Center, to make an imprint. Ditto for Sebit, a Turkish e-learning company. Somehow, the Grand Canyon State is on the international radar these days.

Obviously, Arizona’s expansive blue skies and mountain vistas are appealing to these international companies. But the strategy behind such international business in Arizona hasn’t occurred by accident — it has been clearly mapped out by statewide economic development officials keen on building Arizona’s economy far beyond tourism, real estate and retirement mainstays.

Today, Arizona is playing on the global business stage and it is not a bit part. In 2007, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce, Arizona exported $19.18 billion worth of goods to a collection of countries around the globe — up from $18.28 billion in 2006.

The bulk of Arizona’s exports came from the Valley. According to 2006 figures from the U.S. Census Bureau, the metro Phoenix area logged almost $11 billion in exports, placing it in the top 20 metro areas nationwide. Tucson exported more than $3.2 billion worth of goods in 2006.

Based on the 2006 figures, Arizona’s increase in exports outpaced that of Texas and California. In addition, Arizona’s per capita exports in 2006 were at $2,966, besting Utah, New Mexico and Colorado.

Along with increasing exports, economic leaders’ are also working to bring more international businesses and foreign direct investment to the state.

“We strive to put Arizona on the international map,” says Barry Broome, president and CEO of the Greater Phoenix Economic Council and one of a handful of statewide economic experts pushing for Arizona’s global business success, in large part with his role in an economic statewide partnership called the Arizona Global Network (AGN). “Arizona is emerging as an incubator for international firms expanding in the U.S.”

The AGN includes economic brainpower from Flagstaff to Tucson to Yuma and everywhere in between. All have partnered with the goal to put Arizona’s business on the international scene. This stepped-up spotlight can be attributed to a number of factors. But for txtNation Director Michael Whelan, the decision for his firm came down to the fact that Arizona is a state on the ascension in the international business community.

“TxtNation chose Greater Phoenix due to its location, being a West Coast city on the rise,” he says, adding there is a global sense that Arizona is becoming an international “entrepreneurial hotbed” and that it also played a role in the expansion process.

Northern and Southern Exposure

Of course, Arizona has long counted its brother and sister to the North and South — Mexico and Canada — as global business family partners. These efforts continue today.

Glenn Williamson has experienced success in the international business market. He’s founded, sold and run various enterprises, but today he’s gunning for Arizona to build successful partnerships and business relationships with Canada. Much like Canada’s wide-open lands, the opportunities are vast.

“Our primary goal is to push bilateral trade between Canada and Arizona to the $5 billion mark by the end of 2008,” says Williamson, founder and CEO of the Canada Arizona Business Council (CABC). “We are well on our way to achieving that goal.”
Canada is Arizona’s No. 2 global trading partner behind Mexico. In 2006, according to U.S. Department of Commerce numbers, Arizona exported more than $5.3 billion worth of goods to Mexico compared to just more than $1.8 billion to Canada.

Williamson says the CABC has several primary goals. First, besides significantly increasing the trade between the two countries, the CABC is seeking a direct flight between Montreal and Phoenix, while also upgrading the seasonal flights between various Canadian cities and Arizona. Then, there is fostering the huge impact of Canadian residents who are interested in, or already are, doing business in Arizona.

“Gov. Janet Napolitano gets international business, the tourism folks get it, Tucson gets it and the Arizona Department of Commerce gets it,” Williamson says. “Now, we have to convince everyone else.”

Williamson is quick to praise statewide efforts such as AGN and calls statewide leaders, including ASU President Michael Crow, key catalysts to pushing Arizona onto the international business stage.

“ASU is huge in these efforts,” he adds. “We need their brainpower to make this successful. Everything is pointing in the right direction, but we need to put the pedal to the metal.”

International EDU

Besides Crow’s intensity at ASU and the hotbed of activity at SkySong, which Julie Rosen, ASU’s assistant vice president for economic affairs, touts as an atmosphere of “unparalleled opportunity,” other educational institutions in Arizona are aiming for the international business beacon.
Consistently ranking in the top echelon of international business schools, the Thunderbird School of Global Management has operations in Latin America, Asia, Europe and Russia. The school has forged public sector partnerships like those with ASU to better compete in the international education arena. Over the past two years, Thunderbird has pioneered significant relations with ASU, especially ASU’s West campus and the School of Global Management and Leadership (SGML).

In addition, the Arizona Department of Commerce has foreign trade offices in London, Mexico and Japan, as well as investment offices in Ireland, Japan and Hong Kong.

“Broadly, business executives and community leaders recognize that attracting out-of-state and foreign direct investment and business, as well as increasing trade, should receive significantly more emphasis to secure Arizona’s growth and provide good, well-paying jobs,” notes Gary Waissi, dean of the ASU SGML. “There are several organizations with advanced initiatives working aggressively on these areas.”

ASU, GPEC, AGN and others are continually pushing for increased international business opportunities in Arizona. But, as Arizona Department of Commerce Director Jan Lesher points out, while exports and international business opportunities continue to increase in the state, there is a baseline that needs to be established before Arizona can truly “go global” now and into the future.

“Arizona companies need to establish first a solid domestic market, and then consider expanding to national markets,” she says. “International customers can be ideal for Arizona-based businesses; however, this is a decision that needs to be done carefully — international means a company must have the resources, market know-how and commitment to stick with it.”

It’s a point not lost on those who, like Lesher, are continually working to cultivate these relationships.

“It is all about recognizing that in today’s world, business is truly global,” Waissi says. “And at the same time knowing there is a need to strategically diversify in select industries.

For more information visit the following websites: