In front of hundreds of industry leaders, elected officials and other government and trade figures, Arizona State University President Michael Crow didn’t mince words while headlining the East Valley Partnership’s “Arizona to the World” discussion — a forum in Tempe Thursday evening highlighting the state’s place in the national and global economies.
During his keynote address at the SRP-sponsored event at the Tempe Mission Palms hotel, Crow intimated that Arizona still can be considered the frontier — with the potential to become an American industrial leader, economic engine and academic hub.
But that doesn’t mean it’s there yet, according to Crow.
“What (I’m talking about) shouldn’t be taken negatively,” Crow said. “Arizona is a fantastic place, unbelievable opportunity. I think it is opportunistically the greatest location for America and our ideas and our economy and our competitiveness to advance.
“But it is a young place, a young state, and it has a number of things to figure out,” he added.
Crow used Colorado, a state comparable in square mileage and overall GDP to Arizona, yet with 1.4 million fewer residents, as a benchmark when showcasing where he thought Arizona’s economy ought to be — or at least could be.
“On a per capita basis — that’s the wealth of our people together, their productivity together — (Arizona is) not only not at the national average, we’re not approaching the national average. We’re falling from the national average,” he said. “If we just performed at the level of the state of Colorado we’d have a $76.4 billion larger economy. That number is staggering.”
Crow explained that Arizona is mired by leading industry sectors that may still perform above the national average but are on decline relative to those in other states. These include the “other transportation” category – attack helicopters, space transports, and other non-typical vehicles — and computers and electronics, an industry Crow does still tout as a “stalwart” of Arizona’s industrial push.
Crow also detailed how the best-performing Arizona industry sectors are currently either too small on a local level to have a large-scale impact, like mining, or don’t include enough high-paying opportunities, like administrative support, waste management or accommodation and food services.
“Those are low-wage industries, low-wage jobs, yet they are growth industries in Arizona,” he said.
Crow’s solution includes a focus on high-paying, high-impact and high-growth job sectors, notably industries that may not even exist yet. Crow also stressed a focus on recruitment and retention of a qualified workforce, as well as enhanced collaboration between not only like-minded firms, but industry and the government as well.
The idea of collaboration was echoed continuously during a panel discussion following the address. Informally moderated by Crow, the panel included Mesa Mayor Scott Smith, President and CEO of Tucson Regional Economic Opportunities Joe Snell, Boeing Vice President David Koopersmith, and R. Glenn Williamson, founder and CEO of the Canada Arizona Business Council and chairman at KinetX Aerospace.
In a moment that drew a laugh from the room, the panel discussed how often Phoenix and Tucson get mixed up on outreach trips in and out of the country. Snell said collaboration between regions – for example, Southern Arizona and metro Phoenix’s East Valley – is becoming increasingly vital to properly attract large-scale industry to Arizona.
Besides title sponsor SRP, Clifton Larson Allen was presenting sponsor and the East Valley Tribune was media sponsor for Thursday’s event that drew more than 475 attendees. The East Valley Partnership touts itself as a “regional coalition of community, business, educational, and government leaders” with a goal of providing “leadership and support … improving business and quality of life in the region.”
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