On Feb. 23, Sandra Watson, president and CEO of the Arizona Commerce Authority (ACA), spoke to members of Valley Partnership about the ACA’s successful economic development efforts, the billions of dollar in investment coming to Arizona, Arizona’s growing profile on the international stage and new education opportunities to meet workforce demands.  

Established in 2011, the ACA is a public-private agency and the state’s leading economic development organization. Recently, the ACA has been scrutinized for its spending related to hosting CEOs for business attraction efforts. The agency is up for reauthorization under the state’s sunset review process and HB 2417 seeks to extend the ACA until July 1, 2028. 

“We have seen tremendous expansion opportunities and growth in our semiconductor industry,” Watson says. “We are so fortunate with not only having Intel, one of the leaders in the semiconductor industry, but also attracting TSMC, which is clearly the global leader in the semiconductor industry.” 

In the last two years, the investments from TSMC, Intel and 34 other semiconductor-related companies add up to $64 billion, making Arizona the top state in nation for semiconductor industry growth.  

“We clearly have an opportunity to be the epicenter for the semiconductor industry, not just for the U.S. but for North America,” Watson continues.  

The advanced manufacturing sector more broadly has also grown in recent years. Lucid Motors recently added 3 million square feet of production space and continues to attract companies within its supply chain since first coming to Arizona in 2016. In the last two years, the state has also attracted eight battery manufacturers totaling about $10 billion in investment. 

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“Just [last week], we were hosting an 80-person delegation from Japan,” Watson explains. “We also recently hosted two delegations from Mexico and from across Europe. We’ve been incredibly busy from an international standpoint. “ 

Looking at the pipeline of all projects, Watson says that Arizona has landed 61 competitive projects since July 1, bringing 13,000 jobs and $4.6 billion of investment. The ACA has a win rate of about 40% over the last ten years, which Watson calls “extremely high in this industry.” 

“We have more than 400 projects that we’re trying to win, which could result in 141,000 jobs and $344 billion in investment,” she continues. “What’s exciting is that 52 of those projects we would consider mega projects — a project that has 1,000 or more jobs or [at least] $500 million in investment. A decade ago, we were fortunate to have three, and now we’re seeing this level of activity.”  

To ensure that these new projects have the prepared workforce needed to operate, the ACA has launched a new initiative called Future48. Watson says the program is designed in partnership with Arizona’s community colleges and the business community.  

“When we talk to industry, they [say] that engineers are critical, but they absolutely need to have technicians and operators,” Watson continues. “Future48 is a workforce accelerator. We started it with Lucid Motors — and it was called Drive48 then. We worked with Central Arizona College, matched them up with Lucid Motor to find what they needed, and we created a program where students were using the same equipment they would use on Lucid Motor’s manufacturing floor.” 

This first program was a success, with more than 2,000 people receiving training. Gov. Doug Ducey allocated $30 million to expand that model throughout the state. Three new Future48 centers were announced and will be in Yuma, Kingman and Maricopa County.  

“We’re looking across the state and seeing what the needs of employers are,” Watson says. “But the real secret sauce is having employers at the table so they’re communicating directly what their needs are so we can prepare those workers.”