As Arizona enters 2011, unemployment continues at about 9.5 percent, and according to one national ranking of commercial real estate site selectors, Arizona’s reputation as a business-friendly state continues to slide. That’s where the newly formed Arizona Commerce Authority comes in.
“It’s not about re-branding, and it’s not about a committee,” says Don Cardon, ACA president and CEO. “This is about a plan that has the governor involved. We want to significantly advance Arizona’s economic future into a pronounced global competitive position.
“This is not about politics or any industry in particular. It is how we distinguish Arizona within a global market,” Cardon adds. “The competitive nature of global markets requires the state’s absolute focus and collaboration with private-sector partners to achieve growth and diversification of the economy.”
Gov. Jan Brewer took steps to accelerate the ACA’s mandate at the board’s second meeting. Besides officially naming Cardon head of the ACA, Brewer vowed to work with the state legislature to finish “re-creating the authority as a streamlined, modern organization that unleashes the most innovative minds in the business community.”
In outlining some of the details of her economic development plan for Arizona, Brewer touched on three items:
• Creating a “deal-closing fund’’ for the government to provide cash to companies willing to expand or relocate here.
• Expanding the tax credits available to corporations that conduct research and development in Arizona.
• Eliminating capital gains for investments made in small businesses.
Putting Cardon in charge of the ACA is the first step in implementing that plan. He will lead the organization, which will focus on attracting new businesses and retaining existing businesses that create more high-wage, quality jobs.
“My intention was to return to the private sector. However, Governor Brewer and Mr. (Jerry) Colangelo convinced me this is the most critical time for Arizona,” Cardon says. “Since the Governor has allowed me to assist her in designing the road map we are pursuing, I realized this was a unique time in life where my continued involvement may be best concerning all the ACA is aggressively endeavoring to achieve.”
“Don Cardon’s work with me in restructuring and revitalizing the new Commerce Authority has been groundbreaking,” Brewer says. “His credibility in the arena of business and industry is essential to our success in advancing Arizona’s economy.”
In an executive order last summer, Gov. Jan Brewer established the 35-member, statewide ACA to replace the Arizona Department of Commerce. The ACA is led by a private-sector board that will work to align diverse assets and opportunities within the state in order to compete economically in both domestic and international markets to create high-quality jobs for Arizona residents.
In picking a board vice chairman, Brewer reached out to one of the Valley’s most successful and visible businessmen, Jerry Colangelo. Under Brewer, Cardon and Colangelo, the ACA will have a focused approach to four core areas on which to advance the state.
The ACA will work on improving the state’s infrastructure and climate to retain, attract and grow high-tech and innovative companies. The focus will be on aerospace and defense, science and technology, solar and renewable energy, and small business and entrepreneurship.
At the board meeting, committee reports detailed sustainable strategies that will help Arizona compete globally.
• Focus on science, technology, engineering and math in K-12 education.
• Focus on the innovation cycle to grow knowledge-based businesses.
• Develop toolbox and retain policy enablers for capital intensive industries to encourage high-wage employers to invest in Arizona.
• Make positive changes to Arizona’s regulatory environment.
• Foster collaboration that enables development of Arizona’s small-business community within the industry sectors.
• Enhance the ACA’s industry sectors by establishing the leadership required to connect all stakeholders, companies, universities, private-public partnerships and other organizations.
“During one of the most challenging economic conditions in our nation’s history, we are fighting for the health and future of our families and this state,” Colangelo says. “It’s also about business retention … to put everyone in the position where they can be successful. Let the people who know how to do these things take charge.”
Adds Joe Snell, president and CEO of Tucson Regional Economic Opportunities (TREO): “The ACA needs to work with the state Legislature to ensure that we have the tools and programs needed to compete with other states. Arizona desperately needs a competitive jobs bill that must address incentives.”
Creating jobs and attracting new businesses are at the top of the ACA’s list. While there are projections that Arizona will add more than 400,000 jobs by 2018, about 300,000 will be needed just to make up for those lost since the recession began in December 2007. Not helping matters is the state’s murky business climate.
The Pollina Corporate Top 10 Pro-Business States for 2010 ranks Arizona the 27th friendliest state for business. Arizona was a Top 25 state in 2004 (15th), 2005 (20th) and 2006 (25th). It dropped from the Top 25 in 2007.
In Site Selection magazine’s poll of state business climates, however, Arizona climbed to No. 17. Two major announcements at the end of 2010 helped buoy that ranking: pharmaceutical giant Roche Group’s expanded operation at Oro Valley-based Ventana Medical Systems (500 new jobs in biomedical research) and Intel Corporation’s announcement that it was upgrading and adding jobs at its facility in Chandler.
“The ACA brings a much-needed public/private partnership to lead the state in these difficult economic times,” says Don Keuth, president of the Phoenix Community Alliance. “They can address those issues that make Arizona less competitive and create strategic solutions to allow us to compete. And, they can focus on growing those industry clusters where we have a competitive edge.”
The renewable energy bill passed by the Legislature in 2009 demonstrates that economic development programs can immediately impact an industry cluster.
Case in point: Arizona is leading the country in the creation of new solar jobs. Recent examples include Rioglass Solar, a Spanish company, building a $50 million reflector manufacturing plant in Surprise; and China-based Suntech selecting Goodyear for its first manufacturing plant outside of that country.
“We need a broad vision to accept that new rules and new tools will be needed,” says board member Mo Stein, principal and senior vice president of HKS Architects, whose company designed the Valley’s newest spring training facility, Salt River Fields at Talking Stick. “It is no longer business as usual; not the same questions and certainly not the same answers.”