When we talk Arizona business in 2019, we can forget about the five Cs of the state’s original economy — cattle, citrus, climate, copper and cotton. Today, the talk is emerging technology. Blockchain. FinTech. EdTech. Autonomous vehicles. Wearable technology.

“The excitement behind the Phoenix technology scene is contagious,” says Anthony Kennada, chief marketing officer at Gainsight.

Besides “contagious,” the most important C-word in today’s conversations about Arizona’s economy is “connectivity.”

“We’ve reinforced the brand identity of ‘The Connected Place’ most importantly,” says Chris Camacho, president and CEO of the Greater Phoenix Economic Council (GPEC). “Our business development and research teams work hand-in-hand with companies exploring Greater Phoenix to showcase the positive business environment, which has resulted in about 35 percent of GPEC’s pipeline coming from high-cost and highly regulated markets like Seattle and the Bay Area. Aggressive marketing campaigns have also played a role, but we’ve seen a transition of legacy industry, which has allowed us to attract more companies from emerging sectors.”

GPEC is on a relentless pursuit to attract innovative companies from those emerging technology sectors and attracting and growing companies that are committed to being game-changers.

“To us, connectivity is about our region’s legacy businesses joining forces with emerging disruptors,” Camacho says. “It’s about our educational institutions working together to produce talent that is job ready and entrepreneurial in spirit.”

No labor pains

One of Metro Phoenix’s strengths in becoming a hotbed for emerging technology companies is the presence of a skilled pool of talent. According to GPEC, there are 290,000 graduates from Arizona State University that reside in Arizona and 24,000 earned a degree in a technology-related field. In fact, 72 percent of engineering undergraduates accepted job offers and stayed in Arizona.

“I see Greater Phoenix having its greatest potential for growth in technologies that come from electrical engineering and computer science,” says Brad Vynalek, a partner at Quarles & Brady and a board member at GPEC. “Software. FinTech. Everything that takes deep-knowledge software and applies it to a very specific business purpose to drive innovation is where we are going to compete really well moving forward.”

Getting back to that important C-word, one of GPEC’s strengths in building the emerging technologies sector in Greater Phoenix is the economic development organization’s connections.

“As a small nonprofit building a scalable blockchain that becomes faster and more secure as people use our network, it’s important for Nexus to meet like-minded people in the Valley,” says Brian Vena, director of business development for Nexus. “GPEC introduced us to like-minded business innovators who collaborated to help us identify new use cases for our technology.”

And with those connections, Nexus is looking to be the exact type of company that GPEC and Arizona covet: A game-changer.

“In 2019, Nexus will be the first blockchain to release smart contracts that can be written in any coding language,” Vena says. “This advancement — along with real-world use cases in music and supply chain — should set a new standard in blockchain technology. We are proud to call Arizona the home and future launch pad for our transformative technology.”

Making connections

Those that work in the emerging technology sectors say GPEC has been an instrumental partner in helping them connect with other companies and organizations that have a similar mission, building dynamic clusters and organizations that drive innovation, even when most people don’t realize the innovation is happening in our backyards.

“I think that blockchain is one of those technologies that will fly under the public radar,” says Matthew Marquez, chief strategy officer for the Arizona Blockchain Initiative, which hopes to makes Arizona a leader in that emerging technology sector. “I believe there is great potential for various uses of blockchain. Also, the ‘FinTech sandbox’ helps show that state lawmakers are ready to see new technology and innovation come to our state. Our organization — Arizona Blockchain Initiative — hopes to help drive the growth of blockchain in Arizona by focusing on how much of a positive impact it can have on people’s lives.”

As for GPEC, Camacho says his No. 1 goal is to continue to reinforce global brand identity and sharing The Connected Place story that embodies Greater Phoenix.

“We want to continue to attract and grow technology-centered companies, so the region is looked at as a place where organizations can scale,” Camacho says. “Equally as important, we will continue our work with higher education and career-based institutions to ensure Greater Phoenix produces talent unlike any other, which will help us advance our competitive market position.”

Gaining an advantage

The incredible talent pool coming out of the state’s universities and colleges and Arizona’s “open for business” attitude is what experts say will give Greater Phoenix an advantage over the competition when it comes to growing our economy.

“We are never going to be Silicon Valley,” says Vynalek. “But what Silicon Valley doesn’t have is the ability to scale. The ideas can still incubate in Silicon Valley, but companies are going to come here to scale and focus on their growth. We are going to be a great place for those companies to come and grow for a very long time.”