SANDRA WATSON

President & CEO, Arizona Commerce Authority

In what ways has your organization had to “pivot” as the short-term impacts of the pandemic took hold? 

The Arizona Commerce Authority has always served small businesses. As a result of the pandemic, we’ve substantially increased our services and programs to support them. For example, the virtual Small Business Boot Camp, which launched in April, has now hosted over 100 sessions attended by more than 7,000 small business representatives. More than 99% of all Arizona businesses are small,  so their resilience and recovery are critical for the overall health of our statewide economy. Our team will maintain this high level of support, indefinitely.

What trends are you experiencing in your own industry, across the U.S. and globally, related to expected long-term impacts of the pandemic? 

Before the pandemic, Arizona led the nation in economic and population growth. Over the past year, our state has consistently ranked among the top five for economic momentum by State Policy Reports, which accounts for personal income, employment and population growth. Currently, we’re ranked No. 3 in the nation. Despite economic headwinds, the level of interest in investing in Arizona has not declined. Not only does our momentum remain strong, the projects we’re working on currently represent more jobs than roughly the same number a year ago – demonstrating the quality and size of companies looking here. Most excitingly, we’re experiencing a high degree of activity and interest here from companies in the manufacturing sector that are re-evaluating their global footprint. In fact, manufacturing projects currently make up nearly 58% of the ACA’s total pipeline. We expect many industry leaders will consider reshoring some operations and creating more regional supply chain hubs. Arizona is well-positioned to benefit from these shifts and lead the nation in advanced manufacturing growth.

 From your business vantage point, what qualities put the Tucson region in a position to recover quicker economically and more effectively than other regions? 

Tucson has many unique attributes that position it well. The city is experiencing incredible tech job growth. In 2019, it was ranked the No. 1 market in the nation for growing tech companies in CBRE’s Scoring Tech Talent Survey. That survey noted Tucson has seen 90% growth in tech jobs, accompanied by a 29% growth in tech wages – the highest among the survey’s top 25 cities. The University of Arizona is an incredible asset in attracting employers seeking highly skilled talent. Its selection for a $26 million National Science Foundation grant to establish the Center for Quantum Networks places Tucson at the forefront of innovation. For more evidence of Tucson’s ability to land global companies that will create high-wage jobs, look no further that Raytheon’s choice to keep the headquarters of its newly integrated missiles and defense business here. Tucson is a wonderful place to live, with affordable housing prices, vibrant arts and culture and an unmatched outdoor lifestyle. The pandemic has caused an exodus of highly skilled workers from costly markets such as San Francisco, Seattle and New York. Cities like Tucson stand to benefit greatly. 

What are some of the attributes of Tucson that you personally enjoy? 

Tucson has an amazing culinary scene! I love El Charro Café and Maynard’s at the train depot is also a favorite. I also really enjoy the Pima Air & Space Museum – the history is fascinating.

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