Advanced manufacturers capitalize on Greater Phoenix’s skilled workforce

Published: 10/26/2020
Updated: 04/01/2021

Greater Phoenix and the surrounding area has three major universities and the nation’s largest community college network that advanced manufacturers leverage to scale their operations.

Three industry leaders spoke about their businesses, workforce and future plans during our recent Ambassador event.

Panelists included:

Viraj Gandhi, CEO, Medivant Healthcare

Pete Williams, senior vice president of global operations and supply chain, Rogers Corporation

Lauren Nickle, senior vice president of aerospace and defense, Benchmark Electronics

Despite being in three different sectors of the industry, each has unique experiences and partnerships with higher education institutions throughout the region that help them thrive.

Medivant produces generic drugs domestically instead of relying on foreign companies to provide U.S. healthcare institutions with medicine. Gandhi believes the dependence on other countries is an impractical way to do medical care.

“Why is it that the U.S. makes its own defense equipment but will buy drugs from around the world? You make your own missiles and tanks you hopefully will never use, but stuff that we use every single day, we make it 10,000 miles away,” Gandhi said. “Hopefully we will be one of the catalysts in bringing a large mindset change.”

To advance these efforts, many hires come locally.

“We set up a whole training program for graduates coming out of ASU – master’s and bachelor’s graduates – we put them through a rigorous two-month training program,” Gandhi said.

The program had a success rate over 90%, and most of the students accepted an offer with the company upon completion. Medivant is also talking to Arizona State University (ASU) and its Ira A. Fulton engineering school to develop a summer internship program.

This work with ASU has allowed the company to hire employees at an average salary of $62,000 per year without having to compete against the big pharmaceutical companies whose profits widely exceed their own.

The Rogers Corporation has similar partnerships with local educational institutions, not just from ASU, University of Arizona (UArizona) and Grand Canyon University (GCU), but also junior colleges and trade schools in the region. The company helps schools ensure its programs remain suitable for the jobs that can be expected after graduating.

“(We) work with the local universities around partnerships to develop curriculum to make sure students are qualified coming out of school,” Williams said.

Over its 53 years with a Chandler location, Rogers Corporation has expanded to become a 3,600-employee company with more than 20 factories around the world and produce a 2019 revenue of almost $900 million. It moved its headquarters to Greater Phoenix from Connecticut three years ago.

“There’s so much opportunity to be able to partner with educational institutes to develop folks with advanced degrees,” Williams said. “What that does for the existing infrastructure is it provides more mobility within the organizations for them to be able to grow with the business.”

Similarly, Benchmark Electronics relies on the local workforce to fill its talent needs.

The publicly traded company, which has about 12,000 employees around the world, provides a variety of technology-based solutions that deal with high reliability applications in aerospace and defense.

Its headquarters is a 120,000 square-foot facility in Tempe that develops, builds and tests radio frequency products and incorporates the data into future designing.

“We’re engaging with folks while they’re in the middle of getting their engineering degrees so that when they graduate, it’s very clear that they’re choosing Benchmark as their first step, often, for their career,” Nickle said.

That available workforce is just one of the reasons Benchmark Electronics moved to the region.

“When we made the decision to move to Phoenix, we did so with not just a mind for talent, but also really you know where high tech companies are based,” she said. “The West Coast brings a lot of heavy aerospace and defense talent, so really, we just see looking at continuing to expand the partnerships with other companies that are based here in Arizona or folks that are based on the West Coast.”

As a GPEC investor, people and businesses are joining private sector and civic leaders who are dedicated to creating long-term economic sustainability in Greater Phoenix. To learn more about becoming an investor and joining our Ambassador program, please visit our dedicated webpage or contact Nicole Buratovich, GPEC’s Senior Director of Investment Strategy & Engagement at