An interview with GPEC CEO Chris Camacho
GPEC President & CEO explains how Greater Phoenix builds on its legacy of high-tech success
Chris Camacho, as president & CEO of Greater Phoenix Economic Council (GPEC), has seen a wave of business investment growth unlike anything experienced elsewhere in the country.
During his tenure, GPEC has facilitated the attraction of more than 280 companies creating 47,011 jobs and $4.4 billion in capital investment. Apple, Intel, GoDaddy, Yelp, Amazon, Garmin, General Motors and many others are among the roll call of notable firms investing heavily in the region.
Despite this impressive track record, Camacho still says that the best days of Greater Phoenix are ahead of it. In the following interview, he explains why.
How will the announced $7-billion Intel investment in Greater Phoenix transform your regional economy?
Chris Camacho: Intel is one of the critical legacy employers of Phoenix and the state. We have the fourth largest concentration of microprocessors of any region in the U.S. Intel has a great relationship with the Greater Phoenix Economic Council, the City of Chandler, the county and the whole state and Governor’s Office. There are over 1,000 different small business ties to Intel in the Greater Phoenix market, and a significant number of other businesses are impacted by this. We are obviously happy to see Intel make investments. As companies are deciding where to place headcount and capital, Greater Phoenix offers a more competitive global market than ever before. Regions with the best workers in tech win.
In what ways does Greater Phoenix live up to its moniker as “the Connected Place”?
Camacho: Look at the concentration of our key industries — aerospace and defense; microprocessors; health care, etc. We have assessed the emerging industries of the future. Cybersecurity is a relatively new phenomenon. Greater Phoenix has been in this sector for over 25 years with companies like Wells Fargo, JPMorgan Chase, Charles Schwab and many others.
In the field of autonomous vehicles, four states — Michigan, California, Florida and Arizona — are leading. In autonomous vehicle testing policy, the most advanced policy for that is here. Waymo, Google and Uber are all doing testing here. We are also leading in wearables and Industry 4.0, which involves e-commerce fulfillment and machine learning. It is all about reducing costs, and it is being deployed with Amazon.
Plus, there is a cultural shift around transit and light rail. We have committed over $30 billion to extend light rail and transit projects around the region. Some 22 mayors are talking about investing in infrastructure in a whole new way. And Honeywell is doing testing for its next-generation aircraft here. Intel is doing Internet of Things work here too. All of this works together to make Greater Phoenix the ultimate connected place.
“We have assessed the emerging industries of the future. Cybersecurity is a relatively new phenomenon. Greater Phoenix has been in this sector for over 25 years with companies like Wells Fargo, JPMorgan Chase, Charles Schwab and many others.”
How integral to economic development in Greater Phoenix are your local colleges and universities?
Camacho: They are integral in several ways. First is the talent pipeline. Greater Phoenix is a large market. Arizona State University has the largest engineering school in the U.S. with over 20,000 students. More than 250,000 students are enrolled at Maricopa Community College. And Grand Canyon University is a high-growth university. It continues to grow in enrollment. We have seen over a billion dollars of investment in West Phoenix. This is one of our best success stories. It has become one of the most exciting private university stories in the whole country. We work closely with all of them on economic development strategies.
Next is place-making and destination campuses. Look at our University of Arizona biomedical campus. ASU owns a lot of real estate across the region. ASU Research Park is at full occupancy. They produce talent. They produce innovation. They are building the next generation of parks.
What roles do innovation and entrepreneurship play in your economy?
Camacho: Our growth in startups is one of the fastest in the country. We are a high-growth market. We have seen dramatic change in the overall startup ecosystem. They have come together and formed an organic grassroots leadership model. It is all about building sustainable economies. We want a healthy robust startup ecosystem with lower mortality rates. Consider how we invest in public incubators and accelerators and co-working spaces, with over 20 in the region. Innovation Challenge is one of the most competitive grant award programs. The Governor’s Office funds these efforts twice a year with $3 million. The Angel Investment Tax Credit program provides very significant tax credits to spur job creation with young companies.
How does GPEC help businesses expand and find suitable locations?
Camacho: Greater Phoenix Economic Council is one of the most analytically driven organizations in the country. We analyze each company. We build business cases for companies that help them identify the appropriate real estate, labor pool, infrastructure, local and state resources, etc. We serve as a one stop facilitator.
What are your organization’s top three priorities for the coming year?
Camacho: First is to maintain our best-in-class position on business retention and analytics and giving advice to companies. Second is we have 22 mayors and 172 private sector companies. Together, we will create a long-term vision around economic sustainability and infrastructure investment for Greater Phoenix to thrive in the global economy. Third is that we will continue to invest in our staff. Our team is one of the most talented collections of people in the profession. We support their continued professional development.
What were GPEC’s biggest wins of the past year?
Camacho: Including Intel, we had 43 location projects last year. Notable among them was that the Rogers Corp. moved its headquarters here from Connecticut last year. Benchmark moved its headquarters here from Texas. Carlisle Companies moved its headquarters here from North Carolina. Kudelski moved its headquarters from Switzerland to Phoenix last year. And in manufacturing, Huhtamaki out of Finland, did a $100-million plant in Goodyear.
How would you describe your area workforce?
Camacho: We have one of the most robust workforces in the U.S. relative to size and readiness. It goes back to our community colleges and universities. ASU is ranked the No. 1 most innovative university by U.S. News and World Report. That transitions to the business community. We add about 100,000 people a year. We have one of the fastest-growing financial services and ICT markets in the country. We keep having the labor force move here. Look at our pockets of growth – including right around ASU in Tempe. ADP and others are there. There is also the Warehouse District just south of downtown Phoenix. Downtown and midtown Phoenix are high growth too. Also, the West Valley cities of Glendale, Surprise, Goodyear and Peoria are all growing at a rapid rate.
“We have one of the most robust workforces in the U.S. relative to size and readiness. It goes back to our community colleges and universities. ASU is ranked the No. 1 most innovative university by U.S. News and World Report. That transitions to the business community.”
What are your region’s greatest location assets for site selectors?
Camacho: We are a top 10 labor market for scaling high-growth industries. There are no limitations here. Second is modern infrastructure. There is a real difference here. Some of the lowest commute sheds across the U.S. are in Greater Phoenix. Third is the Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport. It is a top 10 airport with great ease of getting in and out. Lastly is our tax and regulatory environment. How do we ensure that we are keeping Greater Phoenix competitive? Every year we improve our tax climate.
What is the global brand identity of Greater Phoenix? What would you like it to be?
Camacho: It is a brand in transition. The Connected Place is our new identity globally. Greater Phoenix is one of the easiest places in the country to be new. You can easily assimilate into leadership roles here. You can do that here from day one. And this is the fifth largest city in the country.
Written by Ron Starner of Site Selection