Maricopa County continues to be the fastest-growing county in the nation for population, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Many leaders in the area have pointed to our technology ecosystem as the key catalyst for this growth. As a state, we are outpacing some of the nation’s largest technology hubs for tech-based job creation and are among the leaders in the Southwest in technology wages. And this may surprise you: For the first time in Arizona’s history, there are more manufacturing jobs than construction.

A large reason for Arizona’s growth in the technology sector can be attributed to the East Valley. Tempe, Mesa, Chandler and Gilbert are home to some of the most prominent technology companies in the world, a thriving startup ecosystem and some of the nation’s top post-secondary and high school educational institutions for STEM.

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

While the East Valley has historically been a longtime base for large technology companies such as Motorola and Intel, the growth of talent and innovation began to explode when it became one of the first regions in the Southwest to embrace entrepreneurial infrastructure like accelerators, co-working spaces and incubators through organizations like Gangplank and Tech Shop. Around the same time, Arizona State University (ASU) began to bolster its engineering and entrepreneurial education programs in Tempe and Mesa.

The East Valley’s commitment to building talent, improving STEM education and cultivating a thriving entrepreneurial ecosystem helped attract companies like Apple and Google. And long-standing technology giants like Boeing have continued to grow and flourish.

Today, the East Valley plays host to more and more companies in high-tech industries such as aerospace, semiconductor, data centers, advanced manufacturing and, most recently, autonomous vehicles. It’s also home to one of the world’s most prolific technology corridors, which is located along the Loop 101. Over the years, the region has attracted renowned brands such as Amkor Technology, Microchip, Honeywell, Northrop Grumman, Benchmark, Local Motors and Keap (formerly known as Infusionsoft).

The startup ecosystem in East Valley has never been stronger. Some of the most prestigious startups in Arizona’s portfolio were born or have grown in the region, including Offerpad in Chandler, eVisit in Mesa and Carvana in Tempe. Many of these startups were launched by local entrepreneurs or moved to the East Valley to take advantage of its startup resources, low cost of living and growing talent pool.

Arizona has also become well-known for being the center of development, manufacturing and testing for autonomous vehicles, one of the nation’s fast-growing sectors. The buy-in from all levels of government in the state has enticed companies like Waymo, General Motors, Uber and Israel-based Imagry to the East Valley. Intel also has significant autonomous vehicle operations here. The addition of these companies has played a significant role in attracting more companies and talent to support and develop Internet of Things, sensor and smart city innovations.

In addition to the startups and large technology giants, the East Valley has attracted numerous data centers like CyrusOne and Digital Realty Trust, and the ASU Research Park has filled out its office space with high-tech companies like Iridium, KinetX and PADT. The presence of these companies adds to the region’s already diversified technology sector.

ASU has been a significant contributor to educating and building a robust STEM and entrepreneurial atmosphere for students and young professionals. The ASU-Draper University Entrepreneurship Incubator Program, ASU Polytechnic, InnovationSpace and the School for the Future of Innovation in Society are examples of the university’s commitment to cultivating a strong technology base in the community.

Tempe is also home to the University of Advancing Technology (UAT), a school at the forefront of developing academic programs in critical fields such as network security, robotics, embedded systems and game development. Many of its students have gone on to start their own companies or were recruited by some of the top technology firms in the Valley.

In addition to ASU and UAT, K-12 schools such as the Self Development Academy and the East Valley Institute of Technology in Mesa, BASIS Chandler, and Gilbert Classical Academy will help fill the pipeline of talent for years to come.

The East Valley’s technology-conscious leaders and organizations have created an energetic atmosphere of innovation and prosperity, as well as the infrastructure, talent pool and educational institutions required to sustain success. With its continued focus on building the technology community, the East Valley is well-equipped to attract large technology companies and support entrepreneurial growth.

Steven G. Zylstra, Sc.D. (Hon.), serves as president and CEO of the Arizona Technology Council, where he’s responsible for strategy, operations and accomplishment of policy development. Zylstra is a vocal spokesman for the value that technology can provide in raising social and economic standards in Arizona. He has served in numerous technology advisory roles to Arizona governors and currently serves on several association, industry and community boards.