In 2019, we ended the year with the announcement that more than 9,000 technology companies had started up, moved to or expanded operations in Arizona. Many of these companies—new and established—are producing some of the most innovative technology we have ever seen. And because of this, the Arizona technology sector is attracting more talent and investment dollars, making our state one of the best in the country for innovation. In this article, I’ll be highlighting some of the most intriguing and impactful technology being produced in Arizona in 2020 and beyond.
These are the industries and companies the Arizona Technology Council sees as some of the most promising innovators and emerging segments in our state:
Aerospace and commercial space
Arizona has been a popular destination for the aerospace industry for many decades because of the favorable climate for testing and development and the proximity to many military bases. This includes some of the biggest players such as Boeing, Raytheon (now merged with United Technologies), General Dynamics and Honeywell, all with significant Arizona operations. Northrop Grumman, one of Arizona’s largest aerospace companies, completed the $7.8 billion purchase of Orbital ATK in 2019, significantly growing its presence in defense space applications.
Our state also hosts some of the most innovative organizations in the commercial space industry, including World View Enterprises, which is close to launching a fleet of balloon vehicles called World View Orbits. This type of spacecraft can float around Earth’s stratosphere to offer customers high-resolution imagery and analytics for a wide variety of uses. Arizona is also home to KinetX Aerospace, which is responsible for the navigation of many NASA missions such as the New Horizons spacecraft that recently reached Pluto. Iridium Satellite Communications is using the final frontier to create a global communications network. By developing a global constellation of 66 cross-linked Low-Earth Orbit (LEO) satellites, the Iridium network provides high-quality voice and data connections over the planet’s entire surface, including across airways, oceans, and polar regions.
Our prestigious post-secondary institutions, Arizona State University (ASU) and University of Arizona (UArizona) are also major players in the aerospace sector. UArizona is currently working with NASA and other partners on the OSIRIS-Rex mission on the first-ever attempt to touch the surface of an asteroid, named Bennu, and create a 3D map of the asteroid, collect a sample of it, safely back away and return safely to Earth. According to NASA, the purpose of the mission is to gather material from the very earliest days of the solar system — material that could carry clues about our beginnings and perhaps even the ingredients for life.
Among the many space and aerospace projects being conducted at ASU, in February 2020, an ASU aerospace project was among the highest scoring proposals for the MacArthur Foundation $100 million grant and was designated in the top 100 proposals. The grant will pay out $100 million to the winning proposal. The project titled, Global Biodiversity Observatory, was started by Greg Asner, director of ASU’s Center for Global Discovery and Conservation Science. Asner’s team currently maps land biodiversity, greenhouse gas emissions and coral reef health from a “super plane” equipped with 3D mapping tools. With additional funding, the observatory project will employ Earth-orbiting satellites with miniaturized imaging spectrometers connected through artificial intelligence to drive a new internationally accessible decision-support system, empowering a rapid reversal of biodiversity loss.
Arizona has quietly built the largest education technology (edtech) sector in the nation with more than 50 edtech companies selecting Arizona for their headquarters. We’re leading the way for an industry that is expected to grow to $252 billion by 2020, as reported by Harvard Business Review. Companies such as CampusLogic, Picmonic, Parchment and Proctorio are among our top homegrown companies. In addition, companies like Zovio, which started in San Diego, have taken notice and moved their headquarters here to take advantage of our knowledge base and resources in edtech.
Some of the innovation coming out of the edtech space include CampusLogic’s suite of products designed to help students overcome the hurdles of financing their education. Picmonic has developed a unique learning system via a novel multimedia web-based platform that delivers audiovisual mnemonics designed to improve memory retention of medical sciences. Zovio partners with higher education institutions and employers to deliver innovative, personalized learning solutions. Its network of solutions includes Fullstack Academy, TutorMe, and Learn@Forbes, all designed and customized for each specific user. Local leaders here in Arizona also started EdTechAZ to tackle challenges and support technology solutions that address innovation in our education ecosystem.
In addition, after seeing the impact of the COVID-19 virus, agile edtech organizations, academic institutions and platforms are becoming even more critical to maintaining the status quo during unfortunate circumstances and national emergencies. The innovation surrounding edtech allows remote access to teachers, curriculum and resources for education. It also provides alternative methods of learning for children and adults.
One of the more exciting announcements emerging from Arizona’s technology sector came from Nikola and Lucid, two of the premier electric vehicle manufacturers in the world. Arizona had already established itself as a top location for automotive innovation with the explosion of autonomous vehicle testing. Now, electric vehicle manufacturers are paving the way for the industry sector.
Nikola has built its new research and development center and corporate headquarters in Phoenix, as well as planning its manufacturing plant in Coolidge. When completed, these projects will add more than 2,000 jobs to Arizona’s economy. Nikola is also building zero-emission big rigs using hydrogen fuel cell technology. The company has the potential to completely change the electric vehicle industry and sustainability with revolutionary battery advancements. Nikola also has a line of electric off-road vehicles.
Lucid Motors has begun construction on its electric vehicle manufacturing facility in Casa Grande and plans to hire 1,400 people by the beginning of 2023. The company will build luxury electric vehicles with an innovative battery system that could be scaled to work across many vehicle types. They will compete with Tesla.
IoT and wearables
The internet of things (IoT) is another sector where Arizona will continue to innovate in 2020. IoT offers a near-limitless number of applications, including autonomous vehicles. It’s also responsible for smart cities and homes, connected health care, and other uses that will become more prominent and continue to develop in Arizona.
Avnet is a leader in IoT services as it creates massive networks upon which new technologies can be built. The technology solutions provider is helping companies all over the world innovate IoT applications and integrate them into existing hardware and software. Benchmark is another company creating custom solutions through the development of innovative IoT gateways at its Tempe headquarters. Semiconductor and microprocessor giant Intel has also been a major player with its development of the underlying sensor technology to enable IoT as well as providing the massive computing capacity required.
Economic development, technology and educational institutions are also working to grow Arizona’s presence in the wearables market. According to industry analyst firm CCS Insight, the global wearables market is worth $25 billion, with more than 245 million wearable devices sold. In 2019, the Arizona Legislature appropriated a $750,000 matching grant with a local match of $1,261,400 to build a 5,000-square-foot WearTech Applied Research Center at Park Central Mall as part of a public/private collaboration between the Partnership for Economic Innovation, Greater Phoenix Economic Council (GPEC), Arizona State University and the Arizona government.
The goal of the facility is to create a hub for wearables innovation, as well as provide a center for startups in the industry with resources and opportunities to grow. According to GPEC, the project estimates 45 new ventures and 223 jobs will be created over the three-year grant period.
The wearable innovation being produced at the WearTech Center include a host of medtech and fitness devices. GoX Labs has developed a body-worn sensor system for worker wellness which includes a motion torso clip-pod, smartwatch, smart insoles and a smartphone. The system tracks over 20 physiological and biomechanical metrics that are key to identifying workplace injury risks. The company has partnered with Samsung to develop and launch the system. Another wearable startup, Hoolest Performance Technologies, has created earbud technology called the P57 One, which applies small electric impulses that stimulate a branch of the vagus nerve near the ear. This activates the body’s response to induce a calm and focused state. This product was featured on ESPN.
This is just a small sample of some of the most innovative industries, companies and technologies leading the way for Arizona’s technology ecosystem in 2020 and beyond. Arizona is fortunate to have an outstanding combination of a pro-technology government, regulations promoting growth and innovation, a low cost of living, a better quality of life and great research universities compared to other traditional tech hubs. These factors make our state a wonderful place to launch a startup, test new technology and grow a business. The influx of innovation is surging, and the nation’s technology industry is paying attention to Arizona.
Steven G. Zylstra is president and CEO of the Arizona Technology Council.