Curious about the strength of the Greater Phoenix bioscience game? Look no further than the BIO International 2020 Startup Stadium, a competition between bioscience startups from around the world for venture capital, strategic partnerships and collaborative opportunities.

“Think about the thousands and thousands of bioscience startups around the world,” says Christine Mackay, director of Phoenix Community and Economic Development. “Then out of all those companies located in hundreds of different global cities, only 30 were selected as the best to compete in the Startup Stadium. Of those 30 companies, three — BioMedical Sustainable Elastic Electronic Devices, Equus Innovations and i-calQ — are from the City of Phoenix. That is an incredible accomplishment for the three companies and the Phoenix bioscience ecosystem.”

When the Arizona Bioscience Roadmap was originally commissioned by the Flinn Foundation in 2002, the goal was to help Arizona become globally competitive and a national leader in the biosciences by 2025. That long-term vision is paying off — with a skyrocketing number of jobs, facilities, companies, and innovations.

Joan Koerber-Walker is president and CEO of the Arizona Bioindustry Association and chairman of the Opportunity Through Entrepreneurship Foundation.

“As the fifth-largest city in the country and one with a diverse population, Phoenix is a prime location for both clinical trials and life science innovators,” says Joan Koerber-Walker, president and CEO of the Arizona BioIndustry Association (AZBio). “Investments made in the public sector have attracted private sector investments.  Global leaders including BD, BMS/Celgene, Dexcom, Medtronic, and W.L. Gore all have expanded in the Greater Phoenix Area and are delivering life-saving and life-changing innovations. Entrepreneurial ventures are also spurring growth as young companies are created from our foundation of life science institutes and universities.”

Emerging hub

Look no further than the Central Corridor in Phoenix, where a unique hub for healthcare and bioscience industries is rising in a revitalized part of the community. That hub has become increasingly critical as a result of the pandemic.

“The COVID-19 pandemic was not something envisioned 20 years ago, but these investments and the people and resources they created were put to use in a time of great need,” Koerber-Walker says. “Today, the Biodesign Institute at Arizona State University and the Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen) have become major innovation and delivery partners during the pandemic, helping to meet our growing need for accurate and timely test results. At the same time, researchers at our universities have continued to work to find solutions for COVID-19 and a wide range of health challenges that did not go away when the SARS-CoV-2 virus began to spread.”

But well before social distancing and mandatory masks became a thing, the bioscience boom was already underway in midtown Phoenix, making healthcare and bioscience among the fastest-growing industries in the greater Phoenix marketplace, primarily because economic development leaders like the Greater Phoenix Economic Council (GPEC) have helped create an ideal ecosystem for healthcare innovation.

“This is the highest density of bioscience healthcare workforce in Arizona, and sits among the West’s leaders,” Mackay says. “Quality, experienced workforce is one of the first reasons life and bio-science companies are selecting Phoenix.”

Creighton University’s new $100 million Health Sciences Campus.

Center of innovation

The area is home to Creighton University’s new $100 million Health Sciences Campus, which is currently under construction. At the core geography is a major health system — Dignity Health’s headquarters on site at the iconic redeveloped former outdoor mall and now multi-use hub, Park Central. Next door is the prestigious St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center, and 800 yards away is Banner Health System’s headquarters.

Just two miles to the south of this core lies the 30-acre Phoenix Biomedical Campus, where all three major Arizona public universities — Arizona State University, University of Arizona and Northern Arizona University — along with the Dignity Health Cancer Institute at St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center, the Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen) an affiliate of City of Hope and Exact Sciences are a few of its tenants.

“Growing life science companies draw from a broad range of skill sets to discover, develop and deliver these innovations,” Koerber-Walker says. “With all three state universities and TGen co-located on the Phoenix Biomedical Campus (PBC), growing and established companies that make a home on the campus tap into science assets via sponsored research partnerships, can tap into a skilled talent pool being trained on site, and can collaborate in a myriad of ways.”

Add to this the business-friendly climate in Arizona, and the result is that projects such as Park Central are actually adding office tenants in the pandemic instead of losing them. The project is seeing tremendous activity from health-related tenants seeking a place in this magnet of innovation.

Numbers tell a story

Some of the numbers are staggering, as Arizona is ramping up its overall healthcare infrastructure.

•  Construction is underway or about to begin inside the city of Phoenix for bioscience healthcare facilities with a capital value of more than $3 billion, according to the data compiled by Phoenix Community and Economic Development

•  More than 4.5 million square feet of new Phoenix bioscience healthcare facilities are under development.

•  More than 7,000 new bioscience healthcare jobs will be created in Phoenix during this time.

•  Midtown Phoenix has 10 major healthcare and education centers, including a university, two large hospital campuses and several new bioscience centers.

•  Venture capital funding in greater Phoenix for bioscience healthcare is growing at one of the fastest rates in the country.

•  As a result, construction of supporting residential, lodging and retail uses are booming in the area.

•  In November 2020, there were more than 20 cranes on the Downtown Phoenix skyline, more than any other time in its history. Rider Levett Bucknall’s “Crane Count” placed Phoenix fourth in the U.S. and one of only five cities with an uptick in mid- and high-rise development in the third quarter 2020 compared with a year earlier.

“Arizona’s bioscience industry is growing rapidly and reached nearly 30,000 jobs spanning 2,160 business establishments in 2018,” Koerber-Walker says. “Industry employment has grown by 15 percent since 2016 — twice the growth rate of the nation — with each of the five major sub-sectors adding jobs during the period. Arizona’s universities conducted nearly $580 million in research and development activities in bioscience-related fields in 2018, fueled in part by steadily increasing National Institutes of Health (NIH) awards to Arizona institutions since 2016. Venture capital investments in Arizona bioscience companies increased in 2019, and during the 2016-19 period totaled $349 million. Arizona inventors have been awarded 2,178 bioscience-related patents since 2016, among the second quintile of states in patent activity.”

Broadening the economy

All of this growth and innovation in healthcare, bioscience and medical devices has created a critical mass for Phoenix that is cementing its place as a healthcare destination for institutions, healthcare professionals, patients and all business that support them.

“The healthcare and bioscience industries are really pacing economic growth in Arizona,” says Chris Camacho, president and CEO of GPEC. “Not only are they creating jobs and investment, the overall quality of the healthcare provided in Arizona is world-renowned and is an economic development tool in itself. Healthcare is making our entire state a more desirable place to live and work.”

Camacho is quick to say that despite all the current success the state is seeing in the bioscience sector, this is not an overnight success.

“This has been intentional investments from universities, from the Arizona State Legislature and from Proposition 301, that induced applied research in our state,” Camacho says.

All those investments and steps the state has taken, Camacho believes, will keep this wave of innovation and success rolling.

“This ecosystem plays on itself and that’s why I think we’re in the early stages of this success story for the healthcare and bioscience community,” Camacho says. “You talk about momentum and you have to have some wins and we’ve had some wins that were built here in Arizona. Those wins are all steps that are critical for us to become a true national leader in biosciences.”

The site of many of those wins and one of the busiest locations for healthcare construction centers around Park Central in midtown, where several key initiatives are taking place. Along with the new Creighton University Health Sciences Campus, which is scheduled to open in 2021, it is home to a new facility for West Coast Ultrasound Institute and the new WearTech medical device lab. Park Central is already home to Dignity Health’s regional headquarters and is adjacent to the St. Joseph’s Hospital complex — where a new tower is being built for Barrow Neurological Institute.

Sharon Harper, chairman and CEO of Plaza Companies, one of the co-developers of Park Central, said that the growth in the area is the result of a purposeful effort to broaden the regional economy.

“It is critical to have broad-based economic growth if we truly want to maximize Phoenix’s potential,” Harper says. “Healthcare and bioscience are important industries in that they have a long-term, positive impact on our communities in many ways. They enable growth in other industries and create the kind of economic impact that has a huge ripple effect on other industries.”

Phoenix bioscience ripple effect

Christine Mackay, director, Phoenix Community and Economic Development. (Photo courtesy of City of Phoenix)

Mackay said that the overall growth in healthcare and bioscience has created a ripple effect throughout the community in industries that are also benefiting from the increased investment.

“We’ve already seen a significant uptick in construction activity in general in the midtown and downtown areas, and healthcare has played an important role in that,” she says. “But the healthcare boom is also leading to a boom in residential construction, retail, service industries, education and much more. It’s a leading indicator for a broader base of economic growth.”

And the healthcare boom is not just about quantity, it’s about quality. The healthcare and bioscience organizations that are growing and expanding in the midtown Phoenix area are among the most highly regarded in the country and the world, further enhancing Phoenix’s reputation as a medical hub.

“When you see Creighton University make a commitment as they have to Phoenix, and when you see the growth and expansion of Barrow Neurological Institute and Banner Health in the area, it’s clear that Phoenix’s reputation for quality health care is growing,” Camacho says. “We look forward to seeing this trend continue in the future and the positive impact it will have on our overall quality of life.”


Tom Evans and Erin Thorburn contributed to this report.