Arizona’s technology ecosystem is no longer a secret to the rest of the world. It’s front and center on a global stage, and companies and talent are inquiring more and more about opportunities for growth here. The efforts of our state’s economic development groups and technology leaders such as the Arizona Technology Council, our members and the Arizona Commerce Authority have worked hard in the public policy arena to ensure our state stays open for business. In the past year, we have improved education funding, sparked investment and offered more incentives to growing startup companies. Legislation approved to support the technology business community continues to help us build momentum.
As more companies open, expand or move their businesses to Arizona, we’re seeing our strongest technology sectors flourish and new sectors arise. Looking forward to the year ahead, I see Arizona technology taking another leap forward. Here are the industries that will get us there:
Additive manufacturing, also known as 3D printing, continues to be one of our most exciting sectors. Organizations like PADT and Honeywell Aerospace are exploring new ways to develop end-use parts for multiple industries. One of the newest members of our technology community, Nikola, has one of the largest 3D printers in the world at its new research center/headquarters. We’re on the verge of numerous breakthroughs in additive manufacturing for health care. In addition, Arizona State University (ASU) partnered with PADT, Honeywell Aerospace and other companies in 2017 to open the Manufacturing Research and Innovation Hub, the Southwest’s largest additive manufacturing research center. The center boasts $2 million in cutting-edge plastic, polymer and metal 3D printing equipment. This facility will enable Arizona to become the top producer of additive manufacturing talent in the nation.
Aerospace and defense
Aerospace and defense has been a key economic driver of our technology industry since World War II. Our state boasts the biggest names in the industry, such as Boeing, Honeywell Aerospace, Northrop Grumman, and Raytheon Missile Systems. And there are hundreds of companies, startups and large manufacturers alike that are thriving because they support these large companies. Aerospace and defense will always be a staple of Arizona’s tech ecosystem and can be found on “tech sectors to watch” lists in this state every year.
Artificial intelligence and machine learning
Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning are big features in just about every software tool created today. Not only do these technologies provide us with more data to allow us to make smarter decisions, they’re also the foundation to the next sector on our list. In Arizona, there’s a great deal of research occurring at the university level. The University of Arizona (UArizona) has an entire lab, the Eller College of Management Artificial Intelligence Lab, dedicated to this research, which provides hands-on learning for its students, while ASU’s Consortium for Science, Policy and Outcomes is devoting a ton of attention to both AI and machine learning. Both of these schools are producing top talent that will apply this technology to future innovations of their own. There are also many applications of this technology in sectors like marketing, with companies like Botco.ai and Digital Air Strike implementing new AI and machine learning technologies into their digital marketing tools. Another area is cybersecurity, where WiZR has developed an industry-leading, AI-based computer vision technology with Internet of Things (IoT) integrations.
Autonomous vehicles, IoT and 5G
In 2017, the Greater Phoenix Economic Council (GPEC) launched the “Connected Place” campaign because the region had become a hub of manufacturing, software development and testing for all things connectivity. Since that time, this sector has grown exponentially. We’re home to some of the world’s largest companies leading the way in the development of autonomous vehicles, IoT and 5G technology. Waymo and Intel are the biggest names in the operation and testing of autonomous vehicles after our governor paved the way for these innovations. Companies like Avnet and Benchmark are developing critical technology to facilitate next-generation IoT and 5G, and major telco brands like Sprint and Verizon are already implementing 5G across the nation. As these innovations come to fruition, we will see smarter cities, safer autonomous vehicles and more, and Arizona has an opportunity to be at the center of it all.
The work the Flinn Foundation has put forth with the Arizona Bioscience Roadmap continues to place our bioscience sector at the forefront of growth and innovation. Arizona began this journey toward becoming a premier, nationwide health care innovator as a low-tier medtech community compared to the rest of the nation. Today, we have ascended close to a top-tier city because of efforts by the Flinn Foundation and many other leaders in the health and technology sectors.
Arizona companies and organizations are taking the lead to significantly impact our continued drive toward creating a premier technology hub. Ventana Medical Systems (diagnostics), Medtronic (medical technology), Benchmark (medical device manufacturer), WebPT (physical therapy software), IMNA Solutions (software), Mayo Clinic (hospitals), TGen (translational genomics research), ASU and UArizona (research), and the Flinn Foundation (philanthropy) are working to merge technology and health in creative ways.
Education technology (edtech)
In March 2019, the Harvard Business Review singled out Arizona in an article because it has amassed one of the largest edtech sectors in the nation. Our leaders’ desire to improve education and provide more talent to fill positions that require highly skilled workers has resulted in a wave of unique solutions to improve learning. Companies such as Campus Logic, Picmonic, Parchment and Proctorio are among our top homegrown companies while 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.
At the heart of Arizona’s recent technology success are innovation and entrepreneurship, with financial technology (fintech) companies at the forefront. This can be attributed largely to Arizona’s fintech sandbox that was officially established earlier in 2018. The sandbox enables new companies to operate with reduced legal and accounting expenses, allowing them to test their technologies in the real market without the imposition of regulatory costs and burdens.
To date, Arizona has welcomed eight companies into the sandbox program, including Align Income Share Funding Inc.; Enian Ltd.; Verdigris Holdings Inc.; Omni Mobile Inc.; Grain Technology Inc.; Wisetack, Inc; Zona Digital Commodity, LLC; and Sweetbridge NFP Ltd.
Arizona’s real estate industry had always been our largest source of economic prosperity. Now that technology is competing for that crown, it’s only natural that these two giant Arizona industries would spill over into one another to create proptech. This is one of the newest industries on our radar. And just like the fintech industry, we’re cutting the red tape to allow companies to test and prove their technology in a proptech sandbox. This sandbox was recently signed into law with HB2673.
OfferPad is one of the companies headquartered in Arizona that has kicked off the proptech movement with innovations that accelerate and simplify the home buying and selling experience. I expect we will see a number of proptech companies starting or moving to Arizona because of our technology resources like the sandbox.
To learn more about the growth and innovation occurring in these industries, I encourage interested parties to reach out to leaders of the Council’s committees. These are groups of like-minded industry professionals who meet to collectively discuss the betterment of their sectors. They cover nearly every sector on this list and beyond, including our Additive Manufacturing Committee, Cybersecurity Committee, IoT Committee, MedTech Roundtable, and Startup and Entrepreneurship Committee. If interested, please reach out to me at [email protected]. I would be happy to put you in touch with any of our committee chairs.
Steven G. Zylstra is president and CEO of the Arizona Technology Council.