Karen Katzorke
Karen Katzorke

Longtime Valley residents who can remember a time when restaurants shut down for the summer might find it hard to even recognize the growing city we call home now. As for new residents – trust me, not too long ago this was a far different town than the innovative metropolis you’re helping to create.

Phoenix’s reputation as a tech growth market has come on suddenly in the last five years or so, and it’s well-deserved. Industry titan Intel saw the potential here when it opened two plants in the East Valley, and now Google is getting in on the action by making Chandler its next testing ground for self-driving cars. This influx of IT jobs, and startups has made the Valley one the top five growing tech hubs in America.

What makes Phoenix particularly enticing for VCs is the community that has sprouted here. In a city with such immense sprawl, small pockets of entrepreneurs have done what many thought was impossible a decade ago: they’ve made downtown Phoenix hip.

The Warehouse District has become one of our de facto capitals of innovation, spurred on by companies like WebPT, Seed Spot and co-working offices like Co-Hoots, and connected directly to the pipeline of the downtown ASU campus and its student resources.

Because Phoenix is such a new player on the national, and even global, tech scene, our local innovators have taken it upon themselves to create a collaborative environment. The #yesphx movement proclaims it loud and proud: “We need each other.”

It hasn’t gone unnoticed: in October, investor Steve Case will be visiting Phoenix as part of a five-city, five-day pitch competition called “Rise of the Rest.” Events like this, which showcase the best and brightest of the tech scene, are becoming less of a novelty in Phoenix, which is a sign of tremendous progress. Our own Phoenix Startup Week is just two years old but already a major player, attracting more influential people from around the region to consider Phoenix as a place to set up shop. And I’d be remiss without mentioning the continued success of Invest Southwest’s Venture Madness year after year.

Because we’re so green, we have the unique opportunity to learn on the fly. When PayPal, or GM, or Weebly expand into our market, it’s our local talent that fills those offices. Even if we offer cheaper rent than Palo Alto, tech companies are trusting our people to grow their businesses. It’s this kind of exposure that helps keep our top workers employed in our state.

Education is also a huge part of our success. ASU is a burgeoning innovation hub of its own, with the expansion of Scottsdale’s SkySong to house incubators and offices and the Edson Student Entrepreneurship Initiative offering seed money and mentoring for tomorrow’s ventures. The next generation is the first one to grow up in a Phoenix that has real opportunities for big dreamers, and they’re making the most of it.

Phoenix’s growth wouldn’t be possible without the assistance from our most successful homegrown businesses. Lifelock, Infusionsoft, GoDaddy, WebPT and more blazed the trail in the Valley and now make it part of their mission to finish what they started by investing time, money and resources to guiding up-and-comers. It’s the kind of generosity not found in places like Silicon Valley, and it’s what makes our scene so attractive.

Phoenix’s sonic boom growth has been so rapid that the reverberations have yet to reach far outside of our borders. And that’s a good thing. If you’re in the tech world here, you already know about the developers, designers, founders and ideators who can go toe-to-toe with the best from any other so-called IT hotspot.

Even so we are far away from hitting the volume of engineers found in the Bay Area, and we still don’t have the national reputation despite what the numbers say. To me, that’s a perfect storm of the “Next Big Thing.” We’ve always relished the underdog mentality here, and with the amount of talent we’re grooming locally and retaining, we’re finally starting to shed our image as a transplant town.

The Phoenix I envision in the not too distant future is one that is so collaborative and so welcoming of new, fresh and creative ideas that it changes the face of what a tech town can be. Fast-paced companies can thrive in our slower way of life, ruthless competition doesn’t have to be the only catalyst for innovation and 110 degree days don’t slow us down, they make us hunker down and work harder. We’re making a name for ourselves, and it’s not just the Silicon Desert.