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SkySong is a mixed-use development in Scottsdale with a focus on global industries. - AZ Business Magazine Jan/Feb 2011

GPEC’s Revamped International Leadership Council Looks To Bring Foreign Direct Investment To Arizona

The Greater Phoenix Economic Council (GPEC) is sharpening its international approach with an aim toward bringing more foreign direct investment to the state. To that end, GPEC has restructured its International Leadership Committee (ILC).

“My vision is to put Arizona on the radar,” says Rudy Vetter, senior vice president of international business development at GPEC.

Sharon Harper, president and CEO of The Plaza Companies, is one of the ILC’s co-chairmen. The Plaza Companies is the co-developer of SkySong, a mixed-use development in Scottsdale with a focus on global industries.

“Repositioning the (ILC) board and a more strategic focus on foreign direct investment on Europe, Asia and Canada has resulted in a greater number of international prospects and successes,” she says.

Harper notes that the top-tier markets for the committee are those that best align with Arizona, such as China, Germany, Italy, Spain, France, the United Kingdom and the Netherlands, along with Japan, Korea and Canada.

The specific industries being targeted are solar energy, other renewable energy products, clean tech and environmental technology, biotech, medical and life sciences, as well as high-tech manufacturing.

“There is a great opportunity for Arizona and Greater Phoenix to benefit significantly from foreign direct investments. By focusing on Arizona’s core strengths, and specifically the vision at SkySong and other projects that are focused on the global economy, Arizona will be attracting and creating good jobs for our region,” Harper says.

Reducing the committee’s size, along with adding leading investors and major academic leaders in the Valley to its roster, has resulted in a concerted effort to make a more powerful impact in the international arena. Intel, Arizona State University, Thunderbird School of Global Management and the University of Phoenix all have a presence on the committee, as well as representatives from the United Kingdom, Germany, Canada and the Netherlands, among others.

“The key element for the ILC is that they invest their expertise, their skills and knowledge about international affairs, and they combine that with investing into their network, connections and international activity,” Vetter says.

With a diverse and experienced pool of senior executives on the committee, the main goal is to get the word out about Arizona and the many perks it offers.

“It’s about creating awareness,” Vetter says. “Arizona is not necessarily the first state that comes to mind to an international investor. (It’s up to us) to make them aware of the great qualities this place has.

“Very often, we create first contact by meeting companies during trade shows and conferences; we find out if there is a company interested in an operation in the U.S., and we make the case for Arizona and Greater Phoenix,” Vetter adds.

He points out that although Arizona can’t compete with companies looking for an East Coast presence, when it comes to the West, the committee’s job is to ensure the state is on the shortlist of candidates.

Since the passage of the Renewable Energy Tax Incentive Program, Arizona has become a power player in the solar industry, attracting several high-level, international companies to the Valley. To keep the momentum going, Vetter and the rest of the committee work closely with international companies, providing them with step-by-step plans to make their entrance into Arizona a smooth one. The process of foreign companies setting up a presence domestically comes with many challenges, and GPEC strives to ensure the companies’ success.

“It’s a seed that we have to nurture, and sooner or later we can grow a plant,” Vetter says. “They’re coming with an investment, but they have to create the business from scratch. GPEC connects them with local business to get them started faster and to create mutual benefit for the whole community. We hear all the time from companies that locate here; they love this one-stop shopping (GPEC offers).”

As the ILC continues on its mission to attract foreign investors to the area, it also will continue to focus on building a strong sustainability industry in the state.

“The idea of seeing the Valley plastered with solar panels, people driving cars they can plug in and knowing they don’t have to pay their utility bills is a nice vision — but we are not that far from it anymore,” Vetter says.

AZ Business Magazine Jan/Feb 2011