Chris Camacho: The man leading the mission for GPEC

Economy | 15 Feb, 2016 |

Chris Camacho might be the most influential Millennial in Arizona. But who better to guide Arizona’s economy into a technology-driven world than a Millennial?

The 35-year-old president and CEO of the Greater Phoenix Economic Council (GPEC) packs an economic punch, During Camacho’s tenure with the economic development association, GPEC has attracted more that 170 companies, created 26,688 jobs and generated $2.2 billion in capital investment. Some of the more notable projects include Apple, Silicon Valley Bank, Zenefits, GoDaddy, Yelp, Gainsight, Amazon, Garmin, General Motors and countless others.

Camacho, who took over the top job at GPEC in January 2015, has particular expertise in emerging technology, tax policy and international economic development.

Az Business met with Camacho to talk about GPEC’s triumphs, challenges and outlook.

Az Busness: It’s been a year since you moved into your current role at GPEC. How did coming from within the GPEC system help the transition? 

Chris Camacho: There’s no question that I had a tremendous amount of institutional knowledge and market knowledge that put me in a position to be successful. Knowing how the market is positioned certainly allowed a smooth transition and allowed us to execute our business plan rather quickly.

AB: Has anything surprised you? 

CC: The public side and private side coming together is a unique apparatus to promote economic viability and sustainability. What excites me is that the ambition for the market is very prevalent among both the public and private sides of GPEC. The willingness to push the envelope around what matters, to produce students who meet the competitiveness demands of market conditions and approach policy in a way that allows us to create high-wage jobs is the ambition that exists within our market.

AB: What strengths do you bring to your leadership role at GPEC? 

CC: My ability to lead, my ability to work in collaboration with other peer organizations and my strength in operating a business plan and executing a business plan that drives measurable results. We are going to be very focused on execution and we will do so in a way that will elevate the national reputation of the organization, while at the same time getting in front of more companies and getting more companies to select this market.

AB: You’re a Millennial. How has your youth helped in the job? 

CC: This job requires a lot. It requires a lot of tenaciousness and grit to drive an economic strategy. Combining that with the experience I have — I was president and CEO of the Greater Yuma Economic Development Corporation before moving here — gives me a unique vantage point. I understand the next-generation workforce, the needs of communities to attract people, how to retain talent and what the future creators of jobs will be looking for in terms of the balanced live-work-play aspect. I also have the understanding of taxation, finance and core business assessments that companies make. I think having a blend between the two is something that has been very conducive to the needs of this position.

AB: GPEC has had a lot of recent success attracting and growing tech companies. Did growing up in the tech generation help you with that effort? 

CC: I already have to ask my 8-year-old to educate me on how to use my iPhone. With that said, there is a tremendous amount of change occurring in how businesses are performing work today. This new class of workers that are entering the workforce today have not only ambition, but a level of creativity that is probably unmatched because of their exposure to technology. We are going to see continued evolution of new technology impacting the business environment. If you think about Uber (which has offices in downtown Phoenix), it wasn’t even a concept a few years ago. Now, anyone going out on a weekend will likely use Uber. We’re going to see more and more of this kind of social change along with the needs of Millennials. This will create opportunities for  technologies to collide and new companies to be born.

AB: What impact do you think Millennials with have on Arizona’s economy in the long run? 

CC: This is one of the largest workforces we’ve ever had coming into the system and the balance on the back end is a Baby Boomer generation that is retiring. They’ve grown up in very different geopolitical and world factions. Today, the Millennials have an incredibly creative spirit and a pretty strong work ethic, but their view of work is very different. I think the employers and markets that will succeed and successfully integrate those talented Millennials are those that really understand the requirements of moving people across markets in terms of urban transit, how to create the jobs that will allow them to stay in the market, along with attractive residential options that promote walkability and outdoor activities. Those are the things that Millennials are looking for in today’s competitive environment.

AB: What are Arizona’s strengths in helping GPEC attract new businesses or in helping existing businesses grow? 

CC: Today, by far, it’s our current talent base, whether it’s engineers coming out of engineering schools or it’s the 30-year run of advanced business services employees that have fueled everything from customer service centers to technology centers to IT centers. The labor force is very strong in relation to other markets in the Western United States. At the same time, we’ve coupled that with a very strong operating environment that has a very strong pro-business message. We have low taxes and limited regulation. From a speed to market perspective, we are one of the fastest markets to align and get your business up and operational. To complement that, we have this very organically grown entrepreneurial ecosystem that’s evolved largely in the last 10 years. That’s really allowing a lot of localized job growth to occur in the Phoenix small business sector, which allow the service sector to thrive as well.

AB: How do you think the governor’s plan to put more money into K-12 education will impact GPEC’s economic development efforts? 

CC: Putting the $3.5 billion into education through the state Land Reform Plan to the voters is something GPEC supports. We think this is a big leap forward. There are additional reforms required and additional funding required for our market to continue to maintain its competitive edge in terms of producing K-20 talent. But I do feel this is an important continued step to produce the right type of talent to meet industry needs.

AB: What kind of impact does Arizona’s education system have on GPEC’s ability to attract new businesses to the region? 

CC: It has an impact on two fronts. First, companies analyze a number of market conditions — notably transportation thoroughfares, infrastructure capabilities, real estate product, operating environment and taxation. Education has elevated itself as one of the primary factors that companies analyze. It’s not just how many workers you have in your environment to work in industries that are our target interest, but what does the future pipeline entail? This measurement is critical for companies analyzing the market. The analytical due diligence is the first piece and the second piece  is the brand position and how are we as a market and as a state producing students to meet industry demands. I think the governor’s step to put more money into classrooms and more money into the system is a big first step toward strengthening that brand position.

AB: Are there specific industries or sectors that GPEC in targeting for growth? 

CC: The technology sector is by far the most attractive industry at this point, largely because of the growth in California, New York City, Chicago and other markets. We are a great place to access the California market and operate from and export technologies from. Second — and largely tied to technology — is software. As we continue to seed our university systems with software development talent and software analysts, we are going to continue to feed the job demand with those employees. Third is financial services. Whether it’s the major banks or analyst houses, financial companies are trying to determine the best places to cost optimize. That simply means, “Where can I go and operate and attract the right kind of talent, find a suitable real estate option that meets my occupancy needs and do so in a place that’s very competitive from a cost perspective?” We are very well situated to attract those financial services companies. The fourth is is healthcare, which is largely driven by population growth. We are going to see a tremendous amount of healthcare job growth, well over two times the national average for healthcare job growth. That will probably be the leading industry overall in the Arizona market.

AB: What are you doing to capitalize on that explosion in healthcare? 

CC: At GPEC, we have a Healthcare Leadership Council that’s led by the leaders in the industry. We work closely with them to not only market and brand the healthcare industry as it relates to biomedical research and producing new medical technology and service companies, but understanding the industry’s needs for future labor and ensuring that we have an aligned community college system that meets the demands of future jobs. We are working with a number of these companies — Banner Health, Dignity Health and others — to appraise what their next five- to 10-year job demands will be and how we can ensure that the educational systems are aligned with educating those who will fill those future jobs.

AB: Is GPEC seeing results now from its California initiative? 

CC: Coming on the heels of Prop 30, which took the personal income tax in California to the highest level it’s ever been, we had more than 50 companies express an interest in the market. A number of them had visited the market and assessed the market. Going forward, you’re going to see a lot of these California tech companies — as they look to go to scale — look to Phoenix to evaluate for expansion. They will keep the nerve center of the company in California, but once they hit some level of critical mass, they will look to a market like Phoenix to absorb the scale job growth. That tagline, “scale job growth,” is something we’ve captured because we think — whether you’re in healthcare, medical research, financial services, software, technology — this is the market to go to scale. That message is resonating with a lot of the CEOs with whom we are talking.

AB: Is that why we’re attracting so many many companies like GainSight, Zenefits, Uber and Weebly? 

CC: What’s happening is a lot of these companies we work with in Silicon Valley are backed by venture capital. They get an infusion of capital and they have revenue targets that require them to get to some level of scale quickly. Once they have that injection of capital, these venture capitalists are asking for a return on their investment or a return on the cost of capital. As a byproduct of that methodology, these companies need to go to scale quickly and we are right there with the right labor force, the right turnkey options in terms of local permitting and the right business operating environment. So we spend a lot of time in California because there is a great message to be sent to that marketplace that says, “Let us be your partner.” In the last few years, we’ve had more than 25 California-based companies expand into the marketplace and we’re going to see that continue even more explosively than we have in the last decade.

AB: What do you consider GPEC’s major success stories over the last year?

CC: From a leadership standpoint, we’re hitting our metrics. We’re hitting what our business plan has asked us to do, which is drive new business activity to the market. In the last three years, we’ve driven more than 100 new companies to the market. Over the last few years, the level of capital investment and job creation has has outpaced any other three-year stint in GPEC’s history. Looking forward, we have to continue to do more. In addition to building a strong job base, GPEC is looking inward to examine how we continue to expand the local base of jobs. We have further strategies that we hope will elevate our entrepreneurial ecosystem and help it flourish. We are also looking at ways to connect workforce development with the community college system so we have a workforce that is prepared for future jobs and create a continuous pipeline of people. GPEC will recruit about 20 percent of the jobs that come to the market, but 80 percent are grown from the local base. If 80 percent are grown from the local base, we want to ensure that those jobs are also adding to personal income. The jobs that GPEC brings are $60,000-plus and we want to ensure that the 80 percent of jobs that are home-grown are being driven by higher-wage job focuses as well.

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