Here's Where You'll Find The Next Generation Of Scientists And Engineers
Arizona is known for its canyons and abundant sunshine, but it may not be long before the state is mentioned alongside Silicon Valley as a hotbed for high tech. One out of every five jobs in the Phoenix and Tucson metro areas is in the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) fields, thanks to a combination of public and private efforts to attract growing companies and entrepreneurs.
Arizona's highly educated workforce is a major draw. The National Science Foundation ranks Arizona among the top 10 states in the nation for the number of bachelor's degrees as well as science and engineering doctorates conferred. The University of Arizona and Arizona State University (ASU) add thousands of well-qualified entry level employees to the market each year, but the metro Phoenix community college system - the country's largest - is also key, as about half of local STEM jobs require vocational training as opposed to a four-year college degree.
What's more, awareness of STEM careers among the general population has been growing fast as a result of events like the annual Arizona SciTech Festival, which aims to entice potential scientists and engineers of all ages with six weeks of events held in neighborhoods across the state.
ASU's Entrepreneurship and Innovation Group takes STEM beyond the classroom, recruiting entrepreneurs to take valuable discoveries directly from its academic labs into the commercial sector. In the course of the last decade, its Arizona Technology Enterprises (AzTE) arm has supported the launch of 67 ASU spinout companies that raised almost $400 million in venture funding.
Last year, 10 especially promising new startups were shaped by ASU's Furnace Technology Transfer Accelerator, a public-private effort dedicated largely to bringing health-related products to market. Soon the school will open a new Pracademic Center of Excellence in Technology Transfer with support from a $1 million grant from the U.S. Department of Defense.
Programs like these are one reason a recent Kauffman Index of Entrepreneurial Activity ranked Arizona #1 in the nation with a startup rate of 520 businesses per 100,000 adults, with many of those companies in fields like health, biotech, software, and energy technology. Less formal support for innovative STEM companies is growing in the form of new conferences like StartupConnect AZ and Tempe Startup Weekend, which are both creating opportunities for new businesses to connect directly with potential funders and mentors.
More sustained elbow-rubbing among visionaries happens at co-working spaces like Gangplank, Co+Hoots, and ASU's Alexandria Co-Working Network as well as through the efforts of networking organizations like Science Foundation Arizona, a nonprofit that links the muscle of CEOs from Greater Phoenix Leadership, Southern Arizona Leadership, and the Flagstaff 40.
State and local government does its part, from offering streamlined processes for securing permits and approvals on new ventures to an Angel Investment Program that gives tax credits to investors who fund small businesses generating job growth. Nascent high-tech companies also benefit directly from Workforce Training and Quality Jobs credits that reward companies creating high-wage jobs, and Research and Development credits that support investments in new technology.
As the national economy rebuilds, Arizona is establishing itself as a business-friendly alternative to longtime tech hubs like California and New York. More than 90 tech companies have already set up shop in the state, and no doubt hundreds more are watching and waiting to see where this rapid growth may lead.
Learn more about business development in Arizona from the Arizona Commerce Authority.
- Written by Jennifer Keeney Sendrow
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