Here’s Why Innovative Companies are Flocking to the East Valley

Article originally posted on AZ Big Media on March 19, 2020

Mesa, Chandler and Gilbert were once viewed as sleepy bedroom communities. Today, they’re evolving into cutting-edge hubs of innovation and home to some of the most forward-thinking, technology-driven, innovative companies in the nation.

Tempe, once seen as a raucous college town, is now the place many Silicon Valley companies — including DoorDash, Opendoor, NortonLifeLock, and Silicon Valley Bank. And Scottsdale, once a premier vacationing spot for golfers, is the preferred destination for cybersecurity companies, bioscience innovators and telehealth game-changers.

Collectively, the cities and towns that comprise the East Valley are helping bolster Arizona’s position as a leading technology hub. The East Valley helped Arizona land among the top five states for the number of new technology businesses added between 2017 and 2018. With national industry leaders such as Intel, Northrop Grumman, Amkor Technology, Keap, JDA Software, Insight, Boeing, GoDaddy, PayPal, Honeywell, Waymo, the GM Innovation Center, and Microchip calling the region home, it’s clear that the East Valley has evolved from being the ‘burbs to becoming Arizona’s technology-industry oasis.

Mirage to oasis

The East Valley has a long tradition of commitment when it comes to establishing and maintaining collaborative goals. For decades, many East Valley cities and towns prospered from farming. In Mesa, more than 50 percent of its residents earned their living from farming in the 1960s. Similarly, the legacies of Chandler and Gilbert remained solid as top cotton producers until after World War II.

Fast-forward a decade or two and the East Valley applied its tenacity toward a new goal.

“The East Valley Partnership was formed almost 40 years ago when a group of business leaders got together and decided that we had a different value proposition than the City of Phoenix,” says Denny Barney, president and CEO of East Valley Partnership. “While we are part of Greater Phoenix, we have a different story to tell. Initially, the focus was on transportation and jobs.”

Now, Barney points out, almost four decades later, “Our focus is still transportation and jobs,” he says.

“Ultimately, the mission of the East Valley Partnership should be unified around this very focus and what is being done to attract transportation and jobs,” Barney adds.

With a clear intention set and focused on the East Valley’s growth, the result of East Valley Partnership’s efforts has been rising populations, an increase in skilled talent, higher-wage jobs, and a lucrative quality of life for all. The secondary outcome has been a boom in the technology sector, which only promises to continue.

In terms of general growth, Gilbert is projected for a full build-out by 2030, with an anticipated population of more than 300,000 residents. To put that in perspective, less than 20 years ago, the town’s population was barely 100,000.

And companies who make their home in East Valley cities — Chandler, Mesa, Tempe, etc. —  have access to a workforce of more than 1 million people within a 30-minute commute.

Together, all East Valley towns and cities house 1.3 million residents have an average median age of 34.98 — four years younger than the national average — and boast higher educational attainment.

“Chandler has long prioritized the preservation of land capable of accommodating technology-related industries,” says Kevin Hartke, mayor of Chandler, “and aggressively recruited them and supported their expansion, while also supporting our education partners to produce the best workforce.”

The right stuff for innovative companies

“If we have the right type of jobs and can move people around effectively,” Barney adds, “we’re going to have great education infrastructure.”

And the East Valley does have a viable and expanding education infrastructure, especially when it comes to supporting technology companies. Post-secondary educational opportunities include the University of Advancing Technology, Arizona State University, and Maricopa Community Colleges. And the East Valley Institute of Technology, allows high-schoolers to wet their technology appetites by offering a technological education curriculum to Mesa Unified School District students.

“The reality is that jobs in the new economy require the right kind of workforce,” Barney says, “and we have ASU in our own backyard that’s put out more engineers than any university in the world.”

And that talent keeps coming. There are more than 120,000 college students in the East Valley who are currently contributing to its dynamic ecosystem of educational opportunities, while also building a talent pipeline for the region’s future.

Another crucial caveat to attracting and growing more technology in the East Valley is being able to offer examples of existing companies that have achieved success in the region. Consider that box checked — there is no shortage of examples to share.

One of many tech-industry success stories for the East Valley is Intel. Preparing to celebrate its 40th anniversary, the Chandler Intel manufacturing facility was first established in 1980.

“There were many factors that contributed to the decision to locate to the East Valley from our California headquarters,” says Liz Shipley, public affairs director of Arizona and Latin America, global public affairs and sustainability for Intel Corporation.

Among them, according to Shipley were the presence of a skilled workforce and availability of natural resources.

“Since then, Intel has expanded its operations and we’re producing some of the world’s most advanced technology right here in the East Valley,” Shipley says. “Today, we employ more than 12,000 of the best and brightest Arizonans, spend more than $4 billion each year with Arizona-based organizations, and have a statewide annual economic impact of $8.3 billion.”

Intel’s four-decade presence helps to illustrate the slow — but potent — burn of technology-industry expansion in the East Valley.

“It truly is a boom, but ironically, it’s been going on for a while,” Barney says. “You had these sleeping giants that people didn’t know about —Intel and Boeing. Now, add to that Deloitte, which is contributing more than $40 billion in revenue just from services.”

Fueling the smaller giants

It’s not only the giants who have helped usher the East Valley into tech oasis status, nor is it the sole goal of the East Valley’s economic strategy to attract large innovative companies. Startups are strongly welcomed and encouraged to set up shop as well. And, they can even get a leg up doing so with the aid of the Phoenix East Valley Angel Investor Initiative.

The collaborative effort of East Valley communities, Arizona Tech Investors, and East Valley Partnership encourages tech-based entrepreneurs to take advantage of capital investments starting anywhere from $5,000 upwards to help grow their business.

“The goal of the Phoenix East Valley Angel Investor Initiative is to fuel tech sector growth by identifying, educating and activating potential angel investors living in our region,” says Micah Miranda, economic development director for the City of Chandler. “The critical early-stage funding and support provided by these angel investors will help Phoenix East Valley startups commercialize new technologies, create quality jobs and grow to become industry leaders.”

Seeing is believing

“There are literally tens of thousands of locations companies can choose to locate,” says Hartke. “The fact these industry leaders keep investing in the East Valley is proof that we can supply them with all the business inputs they need to operate competitively and on a global scale.”

“The East Valley has the right kind of infrastructure and right regulatory and tax environment to attract technology-driven companies,” Barney adds, “and we are finally getting the attention we deserve.”

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