By the BF Staff
From the September/October 2021 Issue
Governor Doug Ducey recently announced $101.1 million in federal American Rescue Plan funding to launch the Visit Arizona Initiative, a bold program designed to increase visitation and tourism spending in Arizona, bolster job creation and accelerate economic recovery.
“Tourism is essential for Arizona’s booming economy and job growth,” said Gov. Ducey. “When visitors from across the globe travel to our great state, they stay in our hotels, eat at our restaurants, buy our products and enjoy our recreational activities. Their investments benefit Arizonans, and the Visit Arizona Initiative will help our tourism sector prosper and continue to recover from the effects of the pandemic.”
As it did globally, the tourism industry in Arizona endured losses in visitation, visitor spending, tourism tax revenue and employment during the COVID-19 pandemic. The use of federal American Rescue Plan money will assist communities across the state in recovery through tourism marketing, event and attraction support, and outdoor recreation revitalization.
Arizona’s 2020 overnight visitation decreased by 31 percent and visitor spending decreased by 41 percent compared to 2019 numbers, according to recent data. But with this investment and the effectiveness of Arizona’s visitor marketing, Arizona will stay top of mind for travelers.
“Thousands of Arizonans who work in the tourism industry were displaced due to the pandemic. Now that our economy is strong, jobs are readily available and visitors are coming to our beautiful state, we are making sure employment opportunities continue to grow for hard workers across Arizona,” Gov. Ducey said.
The Visit Arizona Initiative includes marketing funding for destination marketing organizations (DMOs) statewide, reinvigorating local community programs and events, and marketing support for domestic and international flights and outdoor recreation. The new funding is being warmly received by officials in communities all across Arizona where tourism is an important part of the economy.
The Initiative also provides funding to the Arizona State Parks & Trails for park revitalization and improvement, legacy golf course revitalization, the Arizona State Fair for marketing, the Arizona Lodging & Tourism Association for a workforce initiative and Local First for rural destination development.
STARTUP TUCSON AIMS TO GATHER REMOTE TALENT
In March of 2021, Tucson, Arizona was named as one of the top seven best cities for remote workers by Forbes. Tucson’s low cost of living, rising economy and natural beauty were cited as benefits. While this national news coverage gained steam, hundreds of hopeful workers were applying for relocation to the city through Startup Tucson’s Remote Tucson program.
Startup Tucson is a community-oriented nonprofit, committed to supporting the growth of entrepreneurs. Remote Tucson, launched in November 2020, is an incentive program that attracts talented remote workers to relocate permanently to Tucson. The leadership at Startup Tucson started Remote Tucson at a time when trends were showing that talented professionals were looking to leave major metropolitan hubs in favor of mid-sized cities like Tucson.
Partners for the Remote Tucson program include the City of Tucson, Cox Communications, Airbnb, plus other corporate and in-kind sponsors. Applicants were enticed with an attractive relocation package valued at more than $7,500 in incentives, including relocation assistance, co-working packages, free Internet and career support. All of the perks emphasized community connections, helping to create a smooth transition to Tucson. In the first four weeks of the application period, Startup Tucson received 517 applications from 39 states in the U.S., plus three international applications. In total, more than 600 applications were received.
“The response and global press to the Remote Tucson program was overwhelming,” said Dre Thompson, Executive VP of Startup Tucson. “We were able to effectively broadcast a positive message about Tucson around the world.”
Two hundred qualified applicants were selected based on salary, a commitment to community and investing in Tucson as a long-term home. The average household salary of qualified applicants was $128,000. In the end, 10 finalists were selected that represent seasoned professionals and young families, with mixed ethnic diversity.
Those selected for the first Remote Tucson cohort come from all corners of the country, from New York to California, and represent the technology, engineering, telecommunications, cybersecurity and healthcare industries, along with higher education. The workers are employed at Apple, Reddit, Facebook, LinkedIn, Teach for America, Wasserman, Pfizer, Salesforce, Forward Together, Digitas Health and GitHub. Job titles include producer, software developer and senior program manager.
The Remote Tucson workers brought more than $2 million directly to Tucson’s economy. These new residents result in net positive job growth for Tucson. “We see the positive impacts beyond the millions of dollars we were able to add to our local economy,” said Thompson. “Now we have a batch of smart, engaged residents who bring a fresh energy, perspective and talent to our community. This type of ground up economic development is really cutting edge. We believe investing in talent attraction will have long-term impacts on tourism, site selection and entrepreneurship that we will continue to monitor.”
Startup Tucson is also monitoring each new resident’s transition to Tucson. They partnered with Tucson Young Professionals which provided volunteers to act as ambassadors. Ambassadors were paired with new residents based on passions, interest and life stage. Startup Tucson hosted events for everyone to meet and become acquainted with each other and local hotspots.
Some of the new residents have previously lived in Arizona. A Remote Tucson participant said as “Native Arizonans, we are eager to raise our own family in a similar environment that we experienced growing up, and we are looking forward to being closer to the ones we love.”
Others look forward to contributing to their native community. Ahmad, a product developer at Apple, was born and raised in Tucson. He lived in Silicon Valley to “get the knowledge and experience I needed to return home and be a benefit to my community.” He and his wife, Noor, are Arabic translators, coaches and youth leaders. Noor works for Facebook and has her own business. “Coming home is more than just packing our bags; it’s the opportunity to finally give back to the community that’s so important to us.”
Startup Tucson plans to accept applicants for the second Remote Tucson cohort starting on October 1. The program will expand from 10 spots to 50. “We are excited to see what the next group of professionals will bring to our community,” said Barbra Coffee, Director of Economic Initiatives for the City of Tucson. “This is a creative way for us to build a talent pipeline in our city, one person at a time.” And according to Coffee, that is exactly what future employers are looking for—talented, skilled employees.
SIERRA VISTA, AZ: SOUTHWEST TECH HUB
Sierra Vista is often called “a military town,” and while it is home to the U.S. Army’s Fort Huachuca, it’s a far cry from the camo-clad image that three-word phrase conjures up. This community of about 45,000 is tucked into the foothills of the Huachuca Mountains and boasts knock-out views of the Dragoon and Chiricahua ranges in the distance, forming a bowl—and part of the reason why this community is both strategically important to the U.S. military and a surprisingly sophisticated hub for cutting edge technology.
Amid an outdoor lifestyle (hiking and bicycling trails are just steps from your backdoor), hums some of the world’s top technology, managed by innovative industry leaders.
Take the University of Arizona’s College of Applied Science & Technology (CAST) for example. While the U of A’s main campus is claimed by nearby Tucson, Sierra Vista-grown CAST is a national leader in cybersecurity. In August 2021, CAST was lauded in Forbes for offering the best undergraduate program in the nation.
CAST trains students using a unique online AI environment that grows exponentially to replicate the intricacies of today’s technology-reliant world. CAST’s cyber operations program is also designated as a Center of Academic Excellence by the National Security Agency, one of only 20 in the nation, and its intelligence education program is approved by the Defense Intelligence Agency.
Recently, the City of Sierra Vista launched a new partnership with CAST and Social-Engineer, LLC, a world-leading security company that specializes in understanding hacking from a psychological perspective and aims to prevent successful malicious attacks. A global first, this partnership advances CAST’s technology students by giving them a real-world testing environment and advances the city’s efforts to maintain secure operations.
Cochise College, named one of the top two-year colleges in the nation, is also business forward. Not only do students graduate with military standard intelligence operations and network technology degrees, they can also focus on unmanned aerial vehicle operation and maintenance in hands-on, career-ready programs.
Cochise College is already ahead of the technology curve, offering certificate programs in virtual reality. With applications reaching from industry to entertainment, and medical to military, virtual reality is projected as one of the fastest growing, most transformative technologies trending in the next five years.
The programs at Cochise, like those at CAST, were developed by private sector tech experts with strong ties to national defense, ensuring both a superior curriculum and the most current hardware. CAST and Cochise College students complete their education while gaining hands-on experience with the most advanced technologies available.
Not only are the higher education institutions turning out tech-ready workers, Fort Huachuca is the last stop for some 400-plus soldiers and officers who voluntarily separate from service annually. Without the name recognition of larger, more active installations, Fort Huachuca is often misinterpreted as a tiny cog in military operations. But nothing could be further from the truth.
Fort Huachuca is literally the U.S. Army’s hub of technology training and testing. The operations at Fort Huachuca are supported by thousands of highly educated and technology-focused contractors. Soldiers trained there conduct key missions that are critical to national defense, including NETCOM, which operates and defends the Army’s worldwide networks; the nation’s largest unmanned aerial systems training facility; and the U.S. Army Intelligence Center of Excellence, focusing on myriad high-tech training to support the Army’s critical intel missions.
Thanks to Sierra Vista’s high elevation (4,633 feet), surrounding mountain ranges and pristine airspace, Fort Huachuca conducts highly technical training and testing, which cannot be achieved anywhere else in the United States. The 2,500-square-mile “high altitude bowl” of the Buffalo Soldier Electronic Test Range sets the stage for world-class electronic testing paired with an extraordinary workforce. A national treasure identified in 1954 when the Electronic Proving Ground was opened, Fort Huachuca is positioned to support the future warfare requirements for the defense of the nation.
As a center for education and defense, Sierra Vista enjoys a stable economy and fiscally conservative leadership. These key attributes clearly contribute to the city’s low tax rate. Add that to an affordable cost of living and lifestyle amenities to find a destination worth short-listing for business start-up, expansion and relocation.
Sierra Vista’s right-sized population supports many big city amenities in a community that has everything you need, and nothing you don’t. Close to Tucson International Airport and Interstate 10, Sierra Vista is close to major transportation, but far enough off the beaten path to feel like your favorite hometown.
FLAGSTAFF, AZ OFFERS A COMPETITIVE ADVANTAGE
Arizona is gaining a lot of attention and tremendous investment from big players both in the public and private sectors. Semiconductor, aerospace and bio-medical are a few industries that have placed Arizona on the front page over the last few months. Many communities in the metro-Phoenix area have benefited, yet there are many other communities with distinct competitive advantages that have a slightly lower profile.
Flagstaff is a good example. A growing university community that often is recognized as the gateway to the Grand Canyon, is a unique mountain town, and is a wonderful tourist destination. Beyond that reality, however, is a City of Innovation driven by a logistic network that reaches the world from 7,000 feet in a place where people love to visit. I-40 and I-17, the BNSF Railroad and a regional airport invite businesses to ChooseFlagstaff.com and help them deliver products to global customers and beyond.
UACJ Whitehall Industries, a global leader in automotive manufacturing, made the decision to Choose Flagstaff and is the largest new business to come to the city in the last five decades.
Whitehall manufactures components for numerous automotive companies; however, their true specialty lies in producing components for electric vehicles, and are major producers for Tesla, Lucid Motors and Rivian. Whitehall plans to bring over $60 million in capital investment and 350 jobs over the next three years.
Whitehall chose Flagstaff for its many advantages, including a superior quality of life in the community, a highly educated workforce, access to two major highways and an airport, and a supportive economic development staff.
Katalyst Space Technologies, a growing satellite maintenance business in Flagstaff, recently secured contracts and partnerships with NASA and the U.S. Department of Defense. Katalyst has just moved into their new home at the Northern Arizona Center for Emerging Technology (NACET). Nearby Lowell Observatory and USGS, coupled with Northern Arizona University (NAU), will provide the expertise to sustain growth in this important aerospace sector in AZ.
Materials solution companies have been making great strides in Flagstaff and in outer space. HeetShield is a start-up that delivers the most efficient and flexible thermal insulation in the world. In its contracts with NASA and the Air Force, HeetShield delivers flexible insulation materials that may be incorporated into clothing and into extreme atmospheric conditions equally well. The company also is working to improve fire shelters that will protect wildland firefighters.
ATC Materials is another materials solution company in Flagstaff serving space, aerospace and national defense interests. Ballistic armor systems are just one aspect of ATC—being able to deliver stable structural performance at extreme environmental conditions (i.e., 1600°C) while maintaining two-way radio communications is another. ATC’s RIPS material is a leading hypersonic antenna and radome material for the Army, Navy and Air Force.
Flagstaff’s largest city-owned parcel is about to undergo a master development process. This 31.45-acre site will be home to more than 750,000 square feet of new research and development, manufacturing and hospitality space. The city has been working with a local development firm, Genterra Enterprises, LLC, that will transform this parcel into a state-of-the-art technology park. The city and Genterra hope to have this parcel shovel-ready within the next year.
In another major development, the Northern Arizona Healthcare (NAH)-Flagstaff Medical Campus (FMC) is embarking upon a relocation and expansion. Currently situated just north of the downtown, NAH-FMC has acquired almost 180 acres to serve as a new home for their Healthcare Village. This development will include surgery centers, wellness communities, residential and commercial development. Northern Arizona University, Translational Genomics Institute (known as T-Gen North) and others will serve as partners.