The Technology Connector

Inclusive Committees, 100-Plus Events Invigorate State Tech Industry

By Tiffany Kjos

Tucson has proven to be a hospitable host for a key statewide organization that helps boost Arizona’s multibillion-dollar technology industry, with nearly 500 people attending one of its biggest event, the Southern Arizona Tech and Business Expo.

And that’s only the starting point.

In July, the Arizona Technology Council held another of its major gatherings—the Aerospace, Aviation, Defense and Manufacturing Conference—for the first time at The University of Arizona, with grand results: more than 200 people attended.

“We had a record turnout. Because of that, we will do that again in Tucson,” said Steven G. Zylstra, council president and CEO.

Another of the technology council’s biggest efforts, the MedTech Conference, will be coming to Tucson for the first time in 2024. “There’s something about events. After you do them for a while and they start feeling like the last one you went to, you have to change them up. So, changing the venue changes everything,” Zylstra said.

The council, which celebrated its 20th year anniversary in 2022, includes more than 750 companies, government agencies, nonprofit groups, technology-focused vendors and educational institutions. It features 13 committees: two regional ambassador groups and 11 others that focus on specific sectors ranging from artificial intelligence to workforce development and education. 

In turn, the committees, supported by council directors of events and operations Jamie Neilson in Tucson and Darryle Emerson in Phoenix, organize more than 100 gatherings every year, with onsite events equally split between Tucson and Phoenix.

“Southern Arizona is buzzing with excitement as its economy experiences a major boost, thanks to the collaboration between local organizations and leaders,” said Karla Morales, VP of the council’s Southern Arizona Regional Office. “Together they’re sparking a fantastic transformation in the region. What’s cool about this growth is how it embraces eco-friendly practices and rich cultural experiences. It’s drawing in a diverse group of people who want to live sustainably and enjoy an intellectually stimulating environment.”

Attendance at events varies, depending on the type, style, location and focus, Morales said. The council’s After5 Mixers have an average of 75 to 100 attendees while its webinar-style Tech Speakers series draws an average of 50. 

“The Arizona Technology Council and its staff exist to break down barriers, help educate and inform, and help people connect,” Zylstra said. Toward that end, the council encourages everyone, not just members, to attend. The Tech and Business Expo at the Tucson Convention Center proved a success in that way: “Probably 40 to 50% of the people there were non-members coming to the events to see if they want to be members,” he said.

The committees are inclusive, too.

“Eligibility for committee membership is open to all our members, regardless of their roles or levels within (an) organization,” Morales said. “Employees have the flexibility to choose and join committees based on their interests and expertise … All of AZTC’s member companies are encouraged to promote employee committee participation.”

Each council committee meets bimonthly, monthly or quarterly, with the opportunity for members to show up remotely.

“The virtual component provides statewide accessibility for any and all committees. Some are location-focused while others are statewide. The Tech Inclusion Forum focuses on addressing DEI (diversity, equity and inclusion) issues and initiatives in Phoenix while Women in the Workforce is specifically focused in Southern Arizona,” Morales said.

Committee membership helps peers, experts and influencers expand their professional networks; sharpen leadership, teamwork, communication and problem-solving skills; and enhance their professional development, Morales said.

That’s a big deal for an industry that has more than 213,000 jobs in Arizona.

“Active committee involvement can elevate members’ profiles within the technology community, potentially opening doors to new opportunities,” she said. “Ultimately, committee membership is a two-way street. Members contribute their time, expertise and energy and in return they gain a wealth of experiences, knowledge and connections that can significantly enrich their professional lives.”


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