Over the last decade, West Valley leaders have created an environment of diverse industries and built the talented workforce they need to put the region into major growth mode.
Remember the lyrics from Janet Jackson’s “Love Would Never Do (Without You)?”
“They said it wouldn’t last. We had to prove them wrong … There’s no easy explanation for it. But whenever there’s a problem, we always work it out somehow.”
If the West Valley could sing, she would likely select this tune (and maybe sing the praises of regional economic developers, too).
After all, not everyone may have anticipated the kind of growth the West Valley has experienced — currently with upwards of 1.6 million residents, a population that is projected to rise to 2,094,824 by 2030.
And, unlike the lyric about “no easy explanation for it,” there is.
WESTMARC has teamed up with city economic development leaders, organizations, educators, local businesses and community advocates to collectively commit to aggressively and comprehensively branding the West Valley’s strengths. Even during times of economic stress and strife, they still manage to work it out.
Preparing for the sprint and marathon
“Dealing with the economy is a team effort, not an individual sport,” says Vic Narusis, senior vice president of business attraction at the Arizona Commerce Authority. “Not only is our current pipeline growing, but we’re also continuing to bring new businesses into the West Valley.”
The new businesses Narusis speaks of join the existing and expanding West Valley industries of healthcare, aerospace, financial services, advanced manufacturing, information technology, startups, and more.
Adding to the exponential growth and diversity of industries in the West Valley has been the arrival of unique entertainment and recreational opportunities, paired with luxury housing and highly rated K-12 and post-secondary education options.
“The interesting thing about the West Valley,” says Jeanine Jerkovic, economic development director for the City of Surprise, “is that we don’t have a fixed idea about what our industry growth will be, and there is tremendous power in that. We are not locked into showcasing one particular sector. We need great jobs and if a company is innovative and scalable, keeping that openness about us makes us a great host.”
Jerkovic has witnessed this first-hand in Suprise’s AZ TechCelerator, a 66,000-square-foot business incubator she helped create for innovative startups and entrepreneurs.
The TechCelerator is a microcosm of West Valley business diversity and ingenuity.
A mere sampling of occupants includes a nonprofit cybersecurity training company (Cyber Warfare Range); a company specializing in early-stage epilepsy detection (Korwave); and HealthBotsLab, which helps encourage independent living for seniors, disabled individuals and injured veterans by equipping them with smart machines equipped with artificial intelligence.
While many of TechCelerator’s occupants are local, there are plenty of opportunities to not only attract scalable out-of-state businesses, but also global interest as well.
“After helping one of our international companies, we applied for and became the only certified soft-landing program in the state of Arizona (two years ago),” Jerkovich says. “We are one of just 31 organizations worldwide.”
The soft landing program helps international firms, as well as domestic companies headquartered outside the region, quickly adapt and connect with the local business community.
TechCelerator’s MagQu, a company developing highly-sensitive, blood-based assays for the early detection of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases, came to Surprise by way of Taiwan.
And, AZ TechCelerator is not alone in attracting new and innovative businesses from surprising places. Strategically located at 27th Avenue and Camelback Road, near Interstate-17, Canyon Ventures, a collaborative partnership of angel investors Canyon Angels and Grand Canyon University, is another burgeoning West Valley startup hub.
Canyon Ventures currently serves as home to 32 startups, including companies in red-hot industries such as MedTech, EdTech, FinTech, e-Transport, construction technology, and SaaS (software as a service). And, collectively, these startups employ nearly 100 Grand Canyon University students and recent graduates.
“Grand Canyon University and Canyon Ventures have strong relationships with a global network of partners who refer us to some of the most promising and exciting tech startups from around the world,” explains Randy Gibb, dean of the Colangelo College of Business at Grand Canyon University.
Among its international residents are SignAll, a Hungarian startup responsible for creating “the SignAll system,” which uses leading-edge technology that translates and teaches American Sign Language.
Also in residence is ZorroSign, which based in Dubai, and was referred by Hank Marshall, economic development officer for the City of Phoenix, according to Gibb.
“When ZorroSign decided to move to the United States, they did an extensive search in California, the East Coast and other major cities, but ultimately selected Phoenix,” Gibb says.
And closer to home, Canyon Ventures’ first virtual startup in the incubation community is AlexMath, based out of Coronado, Calif., which is an educational technology company.
“We have and continue to invest in a workforce strategy that focuses on professional and tech-based companies,” says Sintra Hoffman, president and CEO of WESTMARC.
And, as evidenced by Canyon Venture’s first virtual startup, more and more companies and employees — those in California as a prime example — are seeking a home where like-minded tech hubs are planted. But, that’s not the only reason they’re coming to the West Valley.
“Two-thirds of remote workers are willing to leave the Bay Area for a more affordable place to live,” says Frederick Van Den Abbeel, vice president of attraction at the Arizona Commerce Authority. “The West Valley is a lifestyle play for future business owners and entrepreneurs.”
Supplying the pipeline
While businesses and companies are successfully pulled into the tractor beam of the West Valley’s plentiful offerings, the cities, educational organizations and communities who have arduously worked to get them here, don’t stop there.
To help ensure the pipeline of talent remains strong and ready to fill the needs of these varied industries, there is a shared commitment to keep local graduates rooted.
Canyon Ventures helps foster this endeavor by making it a requirement for their companies in residence to hire GCU students as a condition of acceptance.
“Students work as W-2 or 1099 staff of the individual startups,” Gibb says. “Canyon Ventures vets companies seeking space and mentors the businesses once set up in the center because the startup must be in revenue or have some funding source in order to hire students.
“The startup’s success is critical to continuing to hire more students,” he adds. “Startups have limited resources and must hire the right person with the right skills, so competition for these jobs is tough. With more and more companies joining Canyon Ventures, more students are able to be hired and, in turn, graduate with real-world experience.”
“It’s important now more than ever to train a talented workforce even more rapidly,” Jerkovich says, “That’s why the West Valley is so important. We are growing in development and people.”
West Valley growth corridors
Planned uses: Office employment, entertainment, retail
Hot properties: Desert Diamond Casino, Westgate Entertainment District, Topgolf, Park West
Planned uses: Advanced manufacturing, future employment corridor
Planned uses: Industrial, advanced manufacturing, distribution, retail, manufacturing, logistics
Hot properties: Ball Metal Beverage Container Corporation, Red Bull, Arizona Isotopes Corp., Diamler Trucks North America, XPO Logistics serving Boeing, SubZero, REI, Dicks Sporting Goods, 83 Marketplace, Prasada, Auto Show
Planned uses: Retail, healthcare, technology, industrial
Hot properties: Microsoft, Vantage, Compass, Stream, Cancer Treatment Centers of America, Abrazo West Campus, Adelante Healthcare, IMS, AKOS Medical Group, Iora Health, Copper Springs Hospital, IMS
Planned uses: Education, advance business services, financial services, industrial, retail
Hot properties: Farmers Insurance
State Route 85
Planned uses: Industrial, gateway to Mexico trade opportunities, aerospace and defense
Hot properties: Parker Fasteners