Mali R. Schantz-Feld (Feb/Mar 08)
Arizona's business expansions are attributed in part to the state's "young and well-educated work force," according to Jan Lesher, director of the Arizona Department of Commerce. She notes the Grand Canyon State's many business recognitions, including first place for Phoenix on Entrepreneur magazine's list of Hot Cities for Entrepreneurs in 2006; and first for highest job growth rates in 2006 by Money magazine. Maricopa County and Phoenix have topped lists of the nation's fastest-growing counties and cities, and Arizona is ranked in the four top fastest-growing states in GDP. Phoenix, Mesa, and Scottsdale shared fourth place in the Milken Institute's 2007 list of 2007 Best Performing Cities. The accolades spur economic development leaders to continue to redefine and refine economic development and continue to attract even more new projects.
Last year, Arizona had a check up at the doctor - Project Doctor, that is, an effort supported by Governor Janet Napolitano to explore Arizona's economic development strategy and devise methods for improvement. The "Doctor" discovered that Arizona needed to combine the entities that comprise the state's economic development core into a cohesive group, to best utilize their shared talents. The result was the establishment of the 501(c)(6) corporation dubbed the Arizona Economic Resources Organization (AERO) and the expansion of the Arizona Global Network (AGN). Napolitano described AERO as the "strategic thinker" and the AGN as the "guided missile" targeting foreign direct investment.
AERO brings together under one umbrella the critical elements of economic development - financing, infrastructure, research and development, business attraction, and work force and education strategies, headed by a Board of Directors with representatives from Science Foundation Arizona, the Commerce and Economic Development Commission, Greater Arizona Development Authority, the state's universities (Northern Arizona University, Arizona State University and University of Arizona), venture capital firms, and the high-tech community. "We're very excited about embracing AERO," says Lesher. "We need to develop a statewide strategy on how to compete as a state in our education policies, in expanding science and technology, and infrastructure for rural Arizona, and our incentives to key industries, among other issues."
Economic development is currently focused on several sectors: aerospace/defense/aviation, electronics and semiconductors, healthcare and biosciences, sustainable systems/solar energy, and agriculture/technology. To help facilitate growth in innovation and discovery industries, Lesher notes that Science Foundation Arizona received $25 million in funding this year to be matched with private-sector funding.
Good news was reported in the bioscience sector in July when Abraxis Bioscience, Inc. bought a 200,000-square-foot specialized manufacturing facility in Phoenix from Watson Pharmaceuticals. Abraxis produces cancer-fighting drugs through the use of nanoparticles. The possibilities for future collaboration between the firm and scientists from Translational Genomics Research Institute and the Biodesign Institute at Arizona State University helped to clinch the deal.
Solar energy also provides a ray of optimism to the economy. "We have devised a solar roadmap with specific goals," says Lesher. "The Solar Energy Tax Credit Program will stimulate this industry's applications in the state." The program provides an Arizona income tax credit for the installation of solar energy devices in Arizona business facilities. In this niche, Solon AG, Germany-based manufacturer of photovoltaic systems for large scale solar power projects, is opening a 100,000-square-foot subsidiary in Tucson called Solon America Corporation that will produce high-efficiency solar modules and provide solar integrated design and installation services to large-scale commercial, municipal, and utility customers in the U.S.