Arizona’s three public universities made a promise to citizens a year ago to raise the state’s competitive standing and per capita income through an ambitious initiative called the “New Economy Initiative: Enhancing Arizona’s Competitiveness.”
Though Arizona has seen incredible population growth and industry growth in certain sectors, the state lags behind the nation when it comes to personal income and discretionary spending, said Michael Crow, president of the state’s largest university, Arizona State University (ASU).
“Arizona is seeing economic growth, does have a stable economy, is attracting a lot of things to the state,” Crow said during Morning Scoop with the Arizona Capitol Times last week. “But on a per capita basis we’re creating mostly low wage jobs and they are difficult to build economic wealth around.”
ASU sponsored the virtual event to speak with the business community audience about the technology-centered initiative and what’s ahead. The three main objectives are to:
- Create a skilled workforce that stays in Arizona
- Attract major research funding to bring new industry here
- Close achievement gaps to better prepare Arizona students for higher skilled, technology-based jobs
Arizona lags behind states like Texas, Colorado, Utah and Washington
The ultimate goal is to position Arizona alongside western states like Texas, Colorado, Utah and Washington that have made vast investments in the new technology-based economy.
In turn, they have benefited “thousandfold,” Crow said. They are all outperforming Arizona and the nation in per capita income and GDP.
Colorado, for instance, has a 25 percent higher per capita income. That generates more revenue for the state to invest in things like low-income communities and public infrastructure.
Texas, which does not have a state income tax, has invested billions of dollars in education, research and infrastructure to fight cancer. Today, it is one of the most competitive states in the U.S, Crow said. It’s $1.6 trillion economy is roughly the same size as the economy of Russia.
Expanding ASU engineering school into leading talent powerhouse
Crow detailed some of the efforts ASU is engaging in to achieve the initiative’s goal to create workforce pipelines for fast growing sectors like advanced manufacturing, information technology, health care, business services, and energy that are education-intensive and demand both knowledge-based and applied skills.
To that end, ASU is embarking on a major expansion of its nationally renowned Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering. The expansion includes the construction of five Science and Technology Centers (STC) that will bring together faculty and industry leaders to identify specific workforce needs, develop training programs and create long-term partnerships. They will also be research hubs for industry to work with faculty and students to grow ideas from bench to market.
“We’re already seeing companies coming, staying, being built here and born here,” Crow said. “What we want to do is accelerate that around these specific areas with a focus on engineering.”
Each STC will focus on a different industry:
Energy and Materials STC will be a national research resource for advancing new energy materials and device technologies to market, growing industry engagement and workforce training.
Human Performance STC will capitalize on regional strength and technology opportunities to enhance physical and cognitive performance, medical prevention and intervention and drive research from discovery to marketplace.
Extreme Environments STC will focus on management and technology opportunities associated with growing population centers; research outcomes to engineer resiliency into the energy, water, materials and transportation systems in the built environment of future cities and regions.
Advanced Manufacturing STC for the development of new technologies aimed at transforming manufacturing through 3D printing, robotics and automation, and new materials with strong links to private industry support in aerospace, defense and space systems.
Future Communication Technologies STC will drive ASU and the region to the forefront of physical information systems as the “internet of things” continues to develop, and as users increasingly desire greater access, information, reliability, and communications diversity.
These centers will add to Arizona’s existing two applied research centers focused on industry-led research — one for WearTech, the other for Blockchain.
This expansion will position Phoenix and Arizona as one of the leading global engineering centers in the world, Crow said.
Universities requesting $165 million with emphasis on workforce development
The Arizona Board of Regents (ABOR), is asking the state Legislature to commit $165 million for the initiative. About $65 million would be for hiring and training more teachers, increasing student enrollment, expanding programs and degrees in different regions, and attracting more research funding.
The bulk of the money — $100 million — would be for workforce development. Of that, $46 million would be “seed money” for the expansion of the Ira A. Fulton engineering schools. Private investment would pay for the rest.
The addition of the five new Science and Technology Centers are projected to attract more than 250 new industrial partners and empower global projection capabilities to drive engineering linkages around the world.
“It’s a catalyst investment. It’s a small investment in the overall scheme of things,” said Crow, who’s entrepreneurial approach brought in $671 million in research dollars to the university in 2019.
The University of Arizona and Northern Arizona University will similarly leverage the New Economy initiative to expand and enhance areas of expertise at those schools to produce graduates in areas of high demand. NAU will place special focus on the healthcare field and bolstering the state’s talent pipeline, while UArizona will focus on space and defense, health sciences and mining.
Widespread support from business, economic development groups
There is widespread support for the initiative from economic development and business groups including the Arizona Chamber of Commerce & Industry, the Greater Phoenix Economic Council, and the East Valley Partnership as well as Governor Doug Ducey and other state leaders.
Arizona Chamber President and CEO Glenn Hamer praised the universities for their futuristic vision in creating a sound business plan for the state.
“There’s a lot of uncertainty in today’s world. What is certain is that if we get The New Economy Initiative funded, Arizona’s GDP will increase considerably over what would be the case if this initiative did not exist,” Hamer said. “We know education attainment is directly tied to a state’s economic health and we would strongly urge our Legislature to seriously consider this initiative.”
Read more about the initiative at: New Economy Initiative: Enhancing Arizona;s Competitiveness.