For the first time in Arizona’s history, technology and all the innovative sectors underneath its wide umbrella have claimed the leading role in driving our state’s business ecosystem, replacing former “top dogs” like real estate and construction. In fact, the Arizona Commerce Authority recently announced the state has more jobs in manufacturing than construction.

So, how has Arizona’s technology community grown from a mid-market player to a leader across not only the state but the entire nation? For one, our economic development leaders and Legislature have realized technology is becoming the cornerstone of every economic powerhouse in the world—a fact underscored this year by technology’s role in steadying our economy during the pandemic. Therefore, we’ve worked hard to implement pro-business and technology-related legislation.

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Attracting talent

Additionally, the cost of living and doing business has risen to unsustainable levels in many of the other U.S. tech hubs, such as Silicon Valley, New York and Boston. Also, economic development organizations, education institutions and technology associations like the Arizona Technology Council, Arizona State University (ASU), The University of Arizona, Greater Phoenix Economic Council (GPEC), SciTech Institute and others have created groups, communities, programs and tools that not only draw new and established companies to Arizona but attract more homegrown and transplanted talent.

One of the most impactful organizations born from the economic development and technology community has been the formation of Partnership for Economic Innovation (PEI). This small but mighty startup is on a mission to transform Greater Phoenix into a top global market for innovation, fueled by world-class research centers, advanced industries and entrepreneurs who seek to build world-changing ideas in Arizona. While the organization’s focus goes beyond just technology, several of PEI’s key programs have had a growing impact on the technology industry.

The first and longest standing program is the Pipeline AZ workforce development program, a fully funded, first-in-the-nation technology platform for broad-based regional workforce career exploration, mapping and matching. The platform is extremely comprehensive and includes not only job seekers and corporations but also educational institutions, which provide tools for reskilling and upscaling careers.

Pipeline AZ was not developed strictly for the technology sector. However, due to the critical need for tech talent, the platform is filled with an abundance of technology opportunities. Also, the Council and other leaders have helped create an advisory board to oversee the development of another industry first: an information technology and cybersecurity hub to serve as the digital destination in Arizona to explore tech careers, internships, apprenticeships, education and training programs, scholarships and more.

Programs in place

Upholding the organization’s commitment to accelerating Arizona’s profile in emerging technology sectors, PEI created the WearTech Applied Research Center and Blockchain Applied Research Center, two first-of-their-kind R&D hubs designed to facilitate industry access and bring state-of-the-art technology solutions to market. Both centers were created through a partnership of PEI, the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering at ASU, and industry and local economic organizations. Launched in late 2019, WearTech offers an engineering lab and community space to support Arizona’s growing entrepreneurial ecosystem in wearable health and performance technologies. Blockchain operations kicked off in 2020 to begin serving globally renowned member companies such as Intel; Early Warning Services, LLC; Kudelski Security; Bard Peripheral Vascular; and Movemedical.

Each of PEI’s programs strategically tackles a different side of the overall goal: catalyzing innovation-driven growth and creating more pathways for Arizona talent to drive the technology innovations of the future. The Connective is PEI’s program that ties the organization’s tech-for-impact model directly to the Greater Phoenix communities. Founded in partnership with GPEC, the Maricopa Association of Governments, ASU and the Institute for Digital Progress, The Connective is Greater Phoenix’s smart region consortium. Although launched as recently as 2019, the program already has been honored internationally for its groundbreaking approach to finding sustainable solutions to public technology challenges.

Enhancing profile

PEI is increasing Arizona’s profile in the national economy across all industries but its impact on the technology community has been the most substantial. From workforce development to emerging technology and R&D, PEI is a key driver of Arizona’s continued technology trajectory and dominance. To follow PEI’s journey building pathways and platforms for Arizona innovators, subscribe to its YouTube channel, Inside Innovation.


Steven G. Zylstra is the president and CEO of the Arizona Technology Council.