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Arizona Businesses Succeeding

Arizona Businesses That Are Succeeding Despite The Recession Offer Lessons And Hope

Economists are the uncomfortable bearers of bad news. In recent weeks, they have been unhappily explaining that these are dark days indeed for Arizona’s business community.

But don’t tell that to businesspeople who have uplifting stories to tell amid the downdraft of Arizona’s recession.

While it’s true that Arizona’s economy is out for the count, many businesses are hardly on the ropes. They are succeeding, each in their own way.

But first, a look at that pesky economy.

It’s surprising some businesses are doing well because the experts are hard pressed to find any corner of Arizona’s economy that is untouched by the recession.

“I wish I had something positive to say,” says Tim James, a professor of economics at the W.P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University. “It’s quite difficult to see any sector doing well … What could possibly happen to make things worse than they are? I can’t think of anything.”

James does point to one exception — discount stores such as Wal-Mart, Costco and Sam’s Club that sell the necessities of daily living. They are prospering, but “nobody will be immune to any of this at the end, as even the Wal-Marts will suffer,” James says.

Also apologetic is Marshall Vest, an economist at the University of Arizona’s Eller College of Management. Asked if there is any sector of the state’s business community that is well positioned and poised to take advantage of the recession, Vest responds, “The short answer is I don’t know. Most industries are feeling the effects of the recession.”

Yes, it’s tough out there. But there are success stories and those businesses offer lessons on how others can ride out this rough economy.

When Robert Meyer joined Phoenix Children’s Hospital in 2002 as president and CEO, the nonprofit medical center for acutely ill pediatric patients was juggling several urgent problems. Arizona was in a recession, a shrinking investment portfolio had eroded the hospital’s capital base, cash reserves were dangerously low and the organization was facing a $46 million loss for the year while incurring the cost of moving from its location within another Phoenix hospital to its own free-standing building at 19th Street and Thomas Road. Meyer, who had been through five prior recessions in health care, focused on two areas — internal operations and strategic planning — and took steps that got the hospital back on its feet.

The hospital had no internal billing-and-collection procedures, no budgeting system and a few outsourcing contracts that were axed because they offered little value in Meyer’s eyes.

“We developed our own patient accounting department, which yielded tremendous improvement in our ability to bill and collect money,” Meyer says. “We started a budgeting system. The hospital had done a lot of outsourcing with a lot of companies and some of them were terminated.”

Meyer wanted a short, simple strategic plan that covered 18 months to two years — as compared to hospitals’ standard five years — and looked outside the health care industry for a sound planning tool. He found it at The One Page Business Plan Company in Berkeley, Calif. Soon, each of the hospital’s major programs had a one-page plan within a relatively brief strategic plan, and progress was tracked online against milestones.

The payoff came as early as 2003, when the hospital generated $3 million in net income. With its books in the black, the hospital took steps in 2004 to cement future success by implementing several new clinical programs. Profits grew to $49 million in 2007.

In today’s recession, Phoenix Children’s Hospital’s primary business offers opportunities for new growth. Meyer says the number of children in the Valley is expected to increase from 900,000 in 2003 to between 1.5 million and 1.7 million in 2025. To meet the needs of its growing patient base, the hospital began rolling out a $588 million main campus expansion in 2008 — only six years after nearly succumbing to financial ruin.

Paragon Space Development Corporation, a small aerospace engineering and technology development firm in Tucson, is succeeding in tough times because most of its business comes from NASA.

“We’re a little bit out of the consumer economy’s ebb and flow,” says Taber MacCallum, CEO and chairman of the board. “What we are going to feel is the federal government’s response to the recession, not so much the recession itself.”

He expects his company’s work with NASA will continue. But things weren’t so rosy during the last downturn. Founded in 1993, Paragon initially booked more commercial than government work and was hit hard by the 2002 recession. It began playing out a variety of business what-ifs to help it prepare for bad times, and business has grown 30 percent to 50 percent annually the last three years.

“You’ve got to create your business model and then run good-and-bad scenarios and make sure you don’t cut so deep that you can’t respond to the recovery,” MacCallum says. “We call them down-and-out and milk-and-honey scenarios. You can do that with a small retail shop and you can do that with a large industry.”

Taber recommends taking advantage of opportunities that arise when other businesses downsize or close.

“This economy has presented a tremendous opportunity for us,” he says. “We’ve been able to pick up new employees and manufacturing equipment from other companies that have had to sell.”

There is also a beacon of hope in the rubble of Arizona’s mortgage industry. On Q Financial, a Scottsdale-based mortgage banking company, is growing as it serves buyers of condos and single-family homes and arranges residential property refinancing. In 2008, it opened new offices in Phoenix, San Diego and Seattle, and its Valley staff grew from 20 in 2007 to 50. In business since 2005, On Q zeroes in on what it can control, says John Bergman, president and owner.

“Every day, month and quarter, we focus on improving things internally that we can control,” Bergman says. “We can’t control the market.”

On Q strives to hire talented operations staff and constantly troubleshoots internal systems, processes and timelines. Business owners must have a firm grip on their financial performance, Bergman says.

“Every month, have financials reported to you in a manner you can use,” he says. “Look at them. You can always adapt and change according to what’s going on.”

On Q also pays close attention to customer service and market share. “We are really aggressive in offering great products to the consumer, and we negotiate for good pricing for our clients,” Bergman says. “No matter what the market does, there is always an opportunity to take a bigger piece of the pie.” Bergman says it’s critical to keep employees energized.

“Let them know that the tougher things get, the better things are when they turn around,” he says. “So you want to focus on the positives in your industry.”

Reeling financial markets commonly create a phenomenon known as the flight to quality — money moves from the stock market to the safety of bank accounts and certificates of deposit. Such is the case with the current recession, and Northern Trust Bank has seen a resulting increase in deposits and new banking relationships, which in turn has generated increased lending.

“We have, in many respects, been in a very nice situation when there has been a flight to quality in the banking business,” says David Highmark, chairman and CEO of Northern Trust’s Arizona bank. “The flip side during this liquidity crisis is that our loan volume is two to three times our normal amounts. Our earnings will be very strong, because today we are collecting so many new relationships that will materialize into new earnings down the road.”

Highmark emphasizes the importance of successful companies staying focused on their core business, a theme also repeated by Paragon and On Q Financial. Northern Trust’s primary business is lending to and managing assets for wealthy individuals and companies.

“We have never wavered from that core business,” Highmark says. “If there is a formula to survive in bad times, in our case — and I think in general in all industries — it is sticking to your knitting. Don’t vary from your core business.”

Tucson, Arizona

Southern Arizona Trying To Set The Stage For A Post-Recession Surge

Like the rest of the state, Southern Arizona has been in a recession since 2007, and at least one prominent economist says the situation won’t be getting better anytime soon.

“My forecast is that it’s going to take a while to get (credit markets) straightened out again and functioning as they should,” says Marshall Vest, director of the Economic and Business Research Center at the University of Arizona’s Eller College of Management. “I think that takes up most of 2009. Then we have all the excess housing that needs to be absorbed. That’s going to take some time and we’re not really absorbing the housing right now because credit markets have been essentially frozen. So, I think it’s the end of 2009 before the economy really regains its footing. I think we’ll start to move up in 2010. By move up, I mean the economy will once again begin to expand and enter a recovery phase.”

Joe Snell, president and CEO of Tucson Regional Economic Opportunities (TREO), says that despite the already deteriorating economic conditions, Tucson still managed to draw new companies and expansions in 2008.

“We’re definitely seeing a slow down in a lot of ways, both in the recruitment of companies and the expansion of companies, but not a massive downtick,” he says. “Our pipeline is as full as it’s ever been. But what we are seeing are companies that may have been ready to announce a $100 million expansion in November saying, ‘We’re going to wait on that until January, we’re cautious, we want to see what’s going to happen in the next three months.’ ”

Last year, the region still saw growth in the health care, bioscience, alternative energy and aerospace industries. Of particular note was the purchase of Ventana Medical Systems in Oro Valley by Swiss drug maker Roche for $3.4 billion. Roche also announced plans for a $100 million expansion at Ventana that would increase employment from 750 to about 1,000. In addition, Roche purchased more than 17 acres of land around the Ventana site to expand the location.

“Possibly the most significant thing we can point to though, is that 57 percent of the successful projects were in our targeted industries, and that’s important because those targeted industries represent quality rather than quantity, meaning, closing the wage gap,” Snell says. “Historically, Tucson has ranked somewhat below both the state and the national average in wages. So we’re rapidly moving in the right direction to close that gap. To me, that’s a big takeaway.”

Southern Arizona has not been immune to the effects of the housing market collapse and its devastating impact on the construction industry. For example, one of the first companies TREO recruited, window and doormaker Pella Corp., announced in November 2008 that it was idling its Tucson plant, affecting 65 workers. When Pella first located to Tucson in 2005, company officials said it had plans to employ more than 400 people at its facility.

Still, as Vest points out, since the construction boom was not as great in Southern Arizona as it was in the Phoenix area, the drop has been less precipitous. For example, year-over-year job losses in the construction industry in October 2008 stood at 4,000 in the Tucson metro area, according to figures from the Arizona Department of Commerce. In the Phoenix-Scottsdale-Mesa area, 30,000 construction industry jobs were lost during the same period.

“Commercial (construction) is still in relatively good shape. Vacancy rates are moving up, but they are still fairly low. Tucson didn’t see the construction boom in commercial that you saw in Phoenix, so, commercial construction here in Tucson doesn’t have as far to fall,” Vest says. “For residential, the indicators that I see are pretty comparable to Phoenix, except for the housing price data. I don’t think the declines have been quite as large (in Southern Arizona).”

Snell says that so far, Southern Arizona has managed to hold its own on employment.

“We have losses in construction, but we’re gaining it on biotech, we’re gaining it on solar, we’re gaining it in logistics companies. I think right now we’re sort of a wash,” he says.

Vest, however, expects more job losses across the state as the recession drags on through 2009. In fact, comparisons of unemployment rates from 2007 and 2008 already are startlingly eye opening.

In October 2008, the unemployment rate for the state, the Phoenix metro and the Tucson metro stood at 6.1 percent, 5.5 percent and 5.8 percent, respectively. In October 2007, the state’s unemployment rate was 3.9 percent, Phoenix’s was at 3.4 percent, and Tucson came in at 3.9 percent.

“I think the unemployment rate will likely reach 8 percent before we’re through,” Vest says.

Vest adds that rate is in line with the jobless figures of the last major recession of the early 1980s. Back then, unemployment peaked at 13 percent in the state, 8.9 percent in Phoenix and 10.5 percent in Tucson.

Fortunately for Southern Arizona, Vest says, the region’s economy is considerably more diverse than it was in the early ’80s. But with credit still tight and the housing market stuck in freefall, Vest cautions about being too optimistic on the strength of a recovery.

“I really think this recovery is probably going to be muted. I don’t see us rebounding very strongly. The process is going to take awhile,” he says. “This recession is going to be longer than the recessions of the early ’80s or mid ’70s. If it stretches through 2009 and the recession began in the fourth quarter of 2007, we’re talking about a two-year-long recession. Nationwide, the longest recession has been 16 months.

“It’s been a very long time in this country since we have encountered a very severe recession. The recessions of 2001 and 1991 were both very short and shallow. They barely qualified as recessions, rather than a growth slowdown. It’s only the gray hairs that remember what a severe recession is like,” Vest adds. “This is scary. This is messy. But we’ve been through this before. If you are a business and you can hang on and remain solvent and get through this, there will be plenty of opportunities on the other side. I would also say that it’s during times like this that the seeds are sown for fortunes to be made. Savvy investors will take positions in markets where assets are cheap and will benefit handsomely as the economy recovers —as surely it will. And the deep pockets know that and there is a lot of money on the sidelines waiting for the right opportunity.”

Snell agrees, adding that now is the time for Southern Arizona to stake a claim in future growth and prosperity.

“We’re not going to ride out the recession. I’m a big believer that now is the time to get aggressive,” he says. “I think we have a good head of steam. At this point, I would say Tucson is as competitive as any major city in the country, including Phoenix. That’s a first for us. Are we going to get cooled off by the national economy? Yes, absolutely. But I think we’re in as good a position as anyone coming out of this recession to capitalize, and maybe within this recession to capitalize.”

www.arizona.edu
www.treoaz.org
www.azcommerce.com

Bioscience in Arizona - AZ Business Magazine November 2008

Arizona Is Staking A Claim In Bioscience Territory

There’s no doubt Arizona’s public and private sectors have worked hard this decade to turn the state into a high-profile player in bioscience. And there’s no question these efforts have paid off with a number of successes. But no chart, report or press release drives these points home as effectively as an experience enjoyed by some Arizonans attending the BIO 2008 International Convention held in San Diego last June.

The annual event, staged by the Biotechnology Industry Organization, attracted more than 20,000 industry leaders from 70 countries and 48 states. A sizeable contingent stationed at the Arizona pavilion included, among others, representatives from the Arizona BioIndustry Association, the Department of Commerce, all three major universities, several Arizona cities, private firms, the Flinn Foundation, the Mayo Clinic, Science Foundation Arizona and TGen Drug Development Services, an affiliate of the Translational Genomics Research Institute.

Brad Halvorsen, the Phoenix-based Flinn Foundation’s assistant vice president for communications, is one of the people who noticed a difference this year.

He’s been to the last four BIO conventions and remembers the first time around when people were asking “Arizona does bio?” This year, however, visitors to the Arizona pavilion were inquiring about such specific topics as who at TGen works with proteomics.

This, according to Halvorsen, demonstrates a growing awareness that “Arizona’s not only a bioscience player, but an increasingly substantial one as far as what we’ve been able to do, not only here in-state, but on the national and international level.”

Of course, none of this would be possible without a coordinated effort — one in which the Flinn Foundation plays a major role.

Saundra Johnson, Flinn’s executive vice president, came onboard in 2000, just as the privately endowed foundation was going through an 18-month strategic planning process that culminated in a multimillion-dollar, 10-year commitment to advancing the biosciences in Arizona.

“That was based on a great deal of background work that staff and consultants had done about the tremendous potential at our research institutions,” Johnson says. “And we really believed that … bioscience and life sciences would be a wonderful opportunity for Arizona to build on those core competencies and really leapfrog into a more knowledge-based economy.”

The Flinn Foundation became one of the first and most significant contributors to a statewide effort to help geneticist Jeffrey Trent launch TGen, a nonprofit research institute focused on early disease diagnostics and treatments, and to lure the International Genomics Consortium here. The IGC is a research foundation working to fight cancer and other complex diseases by, in part, “expanding upon the discoveries of the Human Genome Project.” Both organizations have been sharing a Downtown Phoenix building since December 2004.

Maybe more important, the Flinn Foundation commissioned a Cleveland organization, the Battelle Memorial Institute’s Technology Partnership Practice, to conduct a 2002 study that resulted in Arizona’s Bioscience Roadmap. It’s a constantly evolving 10-year blueprint for helping Arizona achieve bioscience success.

Flinn found willing collaborators at all levels of government and in higher education.

“They have been wonderful partners and have embraced the Roadmap,” Johnson says. “Without strong public-private partnerships, you can’t succeed in the kind of work the foundation’s trying to do in terms of actually moving an economy in a direction very quickly.”

Sandra Watson, the Department of Commerce’s work force and business development director, sees several areas where the state has made major contributions to the effort, ranging from increased funding for university research and facilities to tax credits for those making early stage investments for qualified small businesses — especially in the biosciences.

In fact, the department has established the Arizona Innovation Accelerator Program, which combines a variety of grants, tax breaks and tools to help businesses evaluate, develop and commercialize technologies.

“What you’ll find in Arizona is that we are a very collaborative state,” Watson says. “We, along with our partners, have identified key targeted areas and are very focused on developing strategic initiatives around those areas.”

Despite current economic conditions, she is not aware of any plans to cut back current programs. Increased higher-education funding has helped propel the Biodesign Institute at Arizona State University, the BIO5 Institute at the University of Arizona and Northern Arizona University’s Strategic Alliance for Bioscience Research and Education.

The key is that state universities not only help educate a future bioscience work force, they have an active role in the business community. One of BIO5’s main objectives, for example, is to help take research from the labs to the marketplace, and it accomplishes this through material transfer, facility-use agreements and collaborative efforts to create new companies.

“What I hope is that the community knows that if they need something — research expertise, facilities, whatever — that they can start by contacting me or someone in BIO5, and we can help them find what they need to help their business,” says Nina Ossanna, BIO5’s director of business development and vice chair for AZBio, the statewide trade association.

To understand the growing strength of Arizona’s bioscience industry, one needs to understand its diversity. That starts with a short course on terminology. Too many people throw around the term “biotechnology” when they really mean bioscience or life science.

Biotech, according to the Flinn Foundation Web site, www.arizonabiobasics.com, is a subset of bioscience. It is technology based on biology, especially when applied to agriculture, medicine and food science. Many associate it most closely with research and development.

Bioscience, as defined by Battelle, is segmented into five distinct areas: agricultural feedstock and chemicals; medical devices and equipment; drugs and pharmaceuticals; hospitals; and research, testing and medical laboratories.

While some areas around the country are especially strong in biotech, Arizona seems to cover both the gamut and a lot of ground. The so-called Arizona Bio-Corridor stretches from Tucson to Flagstaff. But it would be remiss to leave out areas such as Yuma, where there’s a lot of agricultural work going on.

There’s also a great deal of synergy taking place in different regions. Consider Tucson, where the optics industry is nationally recognized. Local optics expertise is now resulting in microscopic-imaging instruments.

Barry Broome, president and CEO of the Greater Phoenix Economic Council, offers another benefit of bioscience.

“While we work and develop the bioscience sector, we actually make our health-care delivery system better,” Broome says. “And from our standpoint, we actually see it as something that basically creates a kind of economic wellness. So it’s not just about high-level employment.”

Broome points to the example of a diagnostics company that specializes in evaluating therapies for certain brain cancers. Beyond the economic benefit the company brings to the region, it helps physicians and hospitals make better treatment decisions for patients.

While an ample availability of venture capital remains a concern, there are a lot of positives to celebrate.

Three industry developments made their way into a 2008 report Battelle prepared for BIO.

One was the acquisition of Southern Arizona’s Ventana Medical Systems Inc. for more than $3 billion by Roche, the Swiss health care company. Another is the decision by Covance Inc., a respected drug development servicescompany, to build a major research facility in Chandler. And a third is medical-products manufacturer W.L. Gore & Associates Inc.’s decision to expand itsFlagstaff operation and make a move into the Greater Phoenix area.

“It’s really an exciting time to be around and look at the life-sciences industry,” says BIO5’s Ossanna.

For more information about Arizona’s bioscience presence, visit the following links:

azcommerce.com
flinn.org
tgen.org

biodesign.asu.edu
bio5.arizona.edu
arizonabiobasics.com
gpec.org
azbio.org

Arizona Business Magazine November 2008

Custome Fit EDU 2008

A Custom Fit EDU

By Don Harris

From two hours to two years, customized education programs are being offered to boost the performance and expertise of executive-level employees — and as a result improve a company’s bottom line.

Often, businesses struggle with putting the right person in the right leadership position. Even then, there might be gaps between what the person knows and needs to know. Customized programs are designed to fill those gaps.

cutome_fit_edu 2008

The focus of universities is on education, not necessarily training. There is even an executive education program that puts upper-level employees directly into community service through nonprofits as a way to help those in need and at the same time generate new skills and ideals that will benefit the employee’s own business.

Andy Atzert, assistant dean of the W. P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University, and director of the school’s Business Center for Executive and Professional Development, says the center aids companies by expanding the knowledge and skills of managers and leaders, but doesn’t do tactical training, such as how to write a business plan.

The types of industries that utilize the center, Atzert says, include financial services, health care, technology, semiconductors, automotive, agribusiness, supply-chain services, information systems, and two major out-of-state oil companies.

“There is a demand outside Arizona for the expertise that we have,” Atzert says. “In fact, a majority of the companies are from out of state, and many of those are engaged in our online program.”

When Atzert says customized, he means customized.

“Some companies want a two-hour seminar, others want a customized MBA program that will take two years,” he says. “We deliver the program at company locations, at ASU or online.”

Because many companies have global work forces, the online option is getting increasingly popular. It’s more costly to send a person to an off-site location, not because of the travel expenses, but because of the time involved in being off the job, Atzert says.

Many of the courses offered focus on supply-chain management, which is a business discipline that has to do with how goods and services are bought and moved from one location to another.

For example, Toyota faces several supply-chain challenges in obtaining all the parts and materials needed to build an automobile. Atzert identifies questions the ASU program helps answer, such as what is needed, where does it come from, how do they buy it, how do they decide what to buy, how do they work with their designers, and what’s the best way to optimize their efforts and expenditures?

At the University of Phoenix, AZ LeaderForce is a program that pairs key business leaders with local nonprofits in a yearlong project to help improve the various organizations’ services and train those executives seeking leadership guidance.

Rodo Sofranac, University of Phoenix curriculum developer, says the program benefits businesses in a number of ways, including quality-of-life awareness, increasing leadership skills, and ethics.

“The issue is for participants in a project to take what they have learned and experienced back to their workplace and incorporate it in their personal life,” Sofranac says.

The University of Phoenix, which provides classroom facilities, produces a curriculum and donates its services for AZ LeaderForce, works with the Collaboration for a New Century, an organization formed about 10 years ago through the efforts of Phoenix Suns Chairman Jerry Colangelo. Topics covered include ethics, integrity, leadership, critical thinking skills and the social responsibility of business.

Steve Capobres, executive director of the Collaboration for a New Century, says the organization targets poverty issues and enlists the business community to work with human service agencies.

cover_october_2008

“At the same time,” Capobres says, “we have an executive leadership development program going on. We not only want their time, we want to mold them, cultivate them to become the next generation of business leaders. It’s a yearlong curriculum that takes them through the issues of what a good corporate citizen is. What does it mean to work in the community? What is your own leadership style, your ethics? It’s all about building good corporate leaders who are going to replace our older, retiring leaders.”

Among the corporate participants are Salt River Project, Bank of America, UBS Financial Services, State Farm Insurance, Lennar Homes and American Express.

“By taking people outside the world of business and putting them in the community to deal with the issue of poverty,” Capobres says, “those employees are going back to the company to be a better manager.”

wpcarey.asu.edu
www.phoenix.edu
www.thecollab.org

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