Tag Archives: Steven G. Zylstra

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It takes fuel to win tech race

Many of us can relate to thinking of Arizona’s economy as an automobile race. To win, you need a smooth race course, a fast car, a winning driver and high-powered fuel.
Carrying that analogy into Arizona’s technology sector, it’s clear that a lot of resources have been invested and progress has been made in building a world-class race course.  We’ve made tremendous strides in creating a business climate and technology environment for facilitating both private and public sector support to address the needs of Arizona’s technology businesses.

The Arizona Technology Council has worked collaboratively with many different technology champions to build this course. Technology issues are supported by the Governor’s office, the state’s legislature, the Arizona Commerce Authority, the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry, and more.

Technology incubators and shared space facilities such as Gangplank in Chandler, Avondale and Tucson; Hackspace and Venture Catalyst at ASU’s SkySong in Scottsdale; BioInspire in Peoria; Innovation Incubator in Chandler; AzCI in Tucson; and AZ Disruptors in Scottsdale are making sure that today’s innovators are being given the right support, tools and environment to create the next big thing.

Collectively, our wins have included the passage of a tax credit for qualified research and development that is the best in the nation, the creation of the first statewide Arizona SciTech Festival and the birth of the Arizona Innovation Institute, to name a few.
Arizona’s technology industry also has great race cars. These are the technologies and intellectual property that create wealth and jobs driven by both Fortune 500 companies and entrepreneurs.  Companies such as Intel, Microchip Technologies, Freescale, ON Semiconductor and Avnet can all be found here.  Nearly all of the largest aerospace and defense prime contractors in the nation are located in Arizona, including Boeing, Honeywell, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and General Dynamics.

The state’s entrepreneurial spirit is reflected in companies such as WebPT, Infusionsoft, Axosoft, iLinc and Go Daddy that were founded in Arizona along with the many innovators that are coming to the table every day with new ideas rich in technology.

These companies large and small are driven by some of the greatest race car drivers the nation has produced.

But when it comes to fuel, Arizona’s economy has always been running close to empty. We lack the vital capital needed to win the race. Having access to angel investors, venture capital and private equity as well as debt instruments is critical to Arizona’s success.
The situation has not been improving on the equity side of the fuel equation. To offer some relief, the Arizona Technology Council is proposing legislation that would create a system of contingent tax credits to incentivize both in-state and out-of-state investors to capitalize Arizona companies.  This program, called the Arizona Fund of Funds, would allow the state to offer $100 million in tax incentives to minimize the risk for those seeking to invest in high-growth companies.  The state government’s role would be to serve as a guarantor through these contingent tax credits in case the investments don’t yield the projected results.  Expect more information on this important piece of legislation as it advances.

On the debt side of the fuel equation, there are encouraging signs that the worst of the credit crunch may be over. Early-stage companies need access to debt instruments, or loans. Capital is needed for equipment and expansion. A line of credit can help early-stage companies through ongoing cash-flow issues. But loan activity is still modest in Arizona for small companies. It remains heavily weighted toward the strongest corporate and consumer borrowers.

Capital goes hand in hand with innovation, high-paying jobs and cutting-edge technology, products and services. Before Arizona’s economy can win the race, we will need to become more self-sufficient at providing the fuel necessary to be a winner.

Steven G. Zylstra is president and CEO of the Arizona Technology Council.

Aerospace and defense industry - AZ Business Magazine March/April 2012

Aerospace And Defense Industry – Critical To Expanding Economy

Aerospace and defense industry is critical to expanding economy

When I’m asked to name one sector of Arizona’s technology community that is critical to expanding the strength of the economic recovery, I always sum it up in two letters: A&D  — the aerospace and defense industry. It’s a cornerstone industry for Arizona, as our state has seen groundbreaking innovation in this arena for decades.

Boeing, General Dynamics, Honeywell, Raytheon, Lockheed Martin, Northup Grumman and Orbital Sciences are just a handful of the state’s major industry players contributing to Arizona’s impressive resume. An Arizona economic impact study conducted in 2010 reported that compensation per employee in the Arizona aerospace and defense industry is approximately $109,000. This is 2.3 times the statewide average for all employed individuals. The study also reported when accounting for multiplier effects, the Arizona A&D industry in 2009 can account for a total of 93,800 jobs, labor income of $6.9 billion, and gross state product of $8.8 billion.

But keeping Arizona’s aerospace and defense industry healthy and at pace with the ever-changing knowledge-based economy requires competitive business policies and a coordinated effort among state and federal leaders. Recognizing the critical importance of this imperative, there has been a resurgent statewide support for A&D over the last few years.

A big step was taken when Gov. Jan Brewer created the Arizona A&D Commission. Its active members develop industry goals, offer technical support, recommend legislation and provide overall direction. Another milestone occurred when the Arizona Commerce Authority formed and designated the aerospace and defense industry as one of its foundational pillars. Through the efforts of these two organizations, a request for proposal was issued for the first ever Aerospace, Aviation & Defense Requirements Conference in Arizona. Hosted by the Arizona Technology Council in late January, this successful historic event offered a major opportunity for the A&D community to connect with potential new partners. Attendees also heard a multitude of informative speakers, including a gripping keynote address delivered by Gen. Philip M. Breedlove, the Vice Chief of Staff of the U.S. Air Force.

A new chapter in the state’s expanding role in A&D research also recently began when the Arizona A&D Research Collaboratory was formed. The organization brings leaders from Arizona’s A&D industries together with researchers from the University of Arizona, Arizona State University and Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University to work together to gain insight into future technological needs for A&D.

Although these initiatives and programs indicate that there’s a resurgence of attention on A&D in Arizona, there are several key elements upon which the industry leaders within the state must still focus. The industry can’t do it alone. We need a unified congressional delegation employing strategies focused on promoting the desirable, high-wage jobs that A&D bring to their constituents.

We also need states leaders to take the lead in advocating for federal A&D projects that are critical to the existence of the state’s industrial base. These efforts not only reap benefits to the large manufacturers but they are hugely significant to building a robust small business supplier base in the state.

Indeed there are great needs still to be met for achieving newly conceived and exciting goals for manned space flight, homeland security and connecting the world with ever-evolving modern communications technologies. With the proper support, Arizona’s aerospace and defense industry can be critical to meeting those needs.

Steven G. Zylstra is president and chief executive officer of the Arizona Technology Council.

Arizona Business Magazine March/April 2012

First Job: Steven G. Zylstra, President And CEO Of Arizona Technology Council

Steven G. Zylstra
President and CEO, Arizona Technology Council

Describe your very first job and what lessons you learned from it.
I picked blueberries at Pottegetter’s Blueberry Farm in Allendale, Mich., with my parents when I was about 10 years old. It was hard work for a 10-year-old, but I learned that with hard work you could earn good money and buy the things you wanted in life. I earned enough money to buy an eight-transistor radio. The first song I remember listening to on my transistor radio was “I’m Henry VIII, I Am” by Herman’s Hermits, which was popular at the time.

I had dozens of jobs as a kid: topping onions, cutting celery, weeding pickles, butchering chickens, cleaning exotic bird cages, shoveling snow, inspecting eggs, selling seeds, delivering Grit newspaper, bus boy. I was a truck driver in my late teens. All of these opportunities taught me the value of hard work and ultimately helped me realize I could do more with a good education.

Describe your first job in your industry and what you learned from it.
My first job out of college was as a design engineer at the Ford Motor Co. in Dearborn, Mich. I had the opportunity to participate in a two-year graduate training program at Ford that was originated by Henry Ford. I had eight, three-month stints across the company in areas such as development, engine engineering, the Dearborn stamping and assembly plants at the Rouge, and body engineering. I even did a stint in product planning and had an office next to William Clay Ford Jr., the future chairman and CEO of Ford.

I learned the value of going above and beyond and trying to always exceed expectations. As a consequence of positive performance reviews while in the program, our vice president of advanced vehicle development recommended me for positions at Ford Aerospace and Communications Corp. in California at the time things got rough in the auto industry in the early ‘80s. That led me to spend the next 20 years of my career in the aerospace and defense industry.

What were your salaries at both of these jobs?
Picking blueberries in 1964 paid 5 cents a pound. In my first job at Ford in 1978, I made $18,000 a year — more than my Dad, who grew up on a farm and attended school through eighth-grade had earned in any year prior to that.

Who is your biggest mentor and what role did they play?
I never really had a mentor per se, just role models. My father was a role model. He is still the hardest-working person I have known. I got my work ethic from my Dad. I had a high school girlfriend whose father was a role model. Beyond that, what pushes me is an internal drive to excel at whatever I do.

What advice would you give to a person just entering your industry?
After getting a great education, do what you love. People are always better at things they enjoy doing. I have always enjoyed going to work. I find it rewarding, invigorating. Always be honest and ethical. Don’t ever accept mediocre; pursue excellence. Always exceed everyone’s expectations — yourboss’, your colleagues’, your customers’, everyone. It will serve you well. Have fun!

If you weren’t doing this, what would you be doing instead?
I have always wanted to own a Harley-Davidson dealership (maybe a good retirement gig!). While often a lonely place, I like the challenges and rewards of having the top leadership position in an organization. I would enjoy serving as the CEO of many things, especially private companies, not-for-profits and trade associations. I would love to be a golf pro on the tour … if only I had the skill.


Arizona Business Magazine

February 2010