How public-private partners are accelerating innovation in Arizona
How public-private partners are accelerating innovation in Arizona.
By Stephanie Tomlin
Chris Camacho is a man who knows how to make an impact on a community. Since becoming President and CEO of Greater Phoenix Economic Council (GPEC) in 2015, he has been a force in building Arizona’s innovation economy. Camacho’s ability to analyze data sets, connect with industry leaders, and communicate opportunities led to GPEC being recognized as the top economic development organization globally by the International Economic Development Council in 2021. Camacho also lends his expertise to the AZ Partnership for Economic Innovation (PEI) as an executive board member and is integral in driving PEI initiatives like The Connective. But perhaps his biggest asset is also the one that leaves the biggest impact: He wholeheartedly believes in Arizona’s potential. Even more so, he believes in the individuals working to make Arizona a destination for innovative industry.
Camacho recently spoke with INSIDE INNOVATION about the Arizona economy and why investing in innovation today is essential for the state’s future.
This interview has been edited for both clarity and length.
INSIDE INNOVATION: For readers who are unfamiliar, what is GPEC?
CAMACHO: GPEC’s job is to help others create jobs in Arizona. We coordinate between 22 cities, Maricopa county, and about 190 private sector companies to help encourage new investment and new job creation to better the future economy for all of us today, as well as for our citizens and children of tomorrow.
INSIDE INNOVATION: Why is it important that GPEC and other Arizona organizations invest in an innovation infrastructure?
CAMACHO: We need to ensure that we're future-proofing the economy by creating base industry jobs while working with groups like PEI to pull the market towards advancing technologies.
During the housing and mortgage crisis of 2008, we learned a very valuable lesson. Arizona as a market, while being fast-growing, was still extraordinarily reliant on housing and growth to sustain it. When that spigot turned off, we felt the ramifications of being over-reliant on that particular industry.
In light of this, about 10 years ago GPEC set out a charter to focus on an industry base that would be agnostic from the boom and bust cycles of housing and construction. We wanted to develop a strategy of bringing in export-oriented industries that would be less volatile to a downturn.
Today, we know that companies have more options than ever before. So we want to help them hit the easy button on the due diligence process that many of them go through when looking at where to invest their business. We do a lot of evaluation to help these companies ascertain things like the cost of doing business, the access of incentives, the quality of the labor force, and the infrastructure assets that exist here in this region.
INSIDE INNOVATION: What is the outlook today?.
CAMACHO: Today, we know that companies have more options than ever before. Globally, we're seeing a massive shift in the way that companies are thinking about markets. Many companies, particularly foreign companies, want to set up operations to get closer to their end customers, which are either consumers or other supply chain needs.
So we want to help them hit the ‘easy’ button on the due diligence process that many of them go through when looking at where to invest their business. We do a lot of evaluation to help these companies ascertain things like the cost of doing business, the access to incentives, the quality of the labor force, and the infrastructure assets that exist here in this region.
As a result of our work over the last 10 years, Phoenix’s industrial technology growth is one of the leading markets in the United States. And the next 10 years are going to promise the same.
Greater Phoenix is now one of the top five places in the United States to not only launch a business, but to grow technology jobs. This is why it’s so important that we continue doing what we’re doing. We have to ensure that we're on the cutting edge of all of these trends: electric vehicles, cloud quantum computing—all of the cutting edge industries.
INSIDE INNOVATION: Along with your work with GPEC, you are also a board member of PEI. GPEC works to bring companies and innovators to Phoenix, but you also work a lot to cultivate the innovation ecosystem between educators, investors, legislators, and industry leaders. Why do you think it’s important that we continue to invest in things like applied research centers, career pathway accelerators, and cross-community collaboration? In other words, why is it important to have both a GPEC and PEI?
CAMACHO: PEI’s mission is really to set the next trajectory of the innovation economy. In one part, to become a solutions-oriented problem solver. PEI is demonstrating that applied research is relevant and that we need to advocate for P through 20 investments around STEM and medical school demands. The other parts are workforce skills and workforce pipeline solutions that meet the needs of the next-generation job-seeker.
When you put all these together, PEI is effectively creating tools and programs that help address the needs of the next economy. When you add the advocacy arm comprised of top CEOs, academic leaders, and legislators, we are now seeing real investment and real change in the overall innovation ecosystem.
PEI is working to augment what GPEC does in terms of recruitment and making sure that we're building the right economy. Both of these organizations act as advocacy agents by demonstrating to legislators and others that these kinds of programmatic investments work.
The applied research centers for WearTech and Blockchain, coupled with Pipeline AZ and The Connective — all of those ingredients are key attributes to what the future innovation economy will require.
It’s exciting to be a part of the PEI board because I know we’re creating lasting change in this community.
INSIDE INNOVATION: As a PEI board member, you’re also involved with the PEI initiative, The Connective. How does The Connective play into the work you’re doing?
CAMACHO: There was a need for Greater Phoenix to create a regional governance system that enables cities to work together, share best practices, take pilot programs, and adopt technology at scale to solve the needs of our citizens. The Connective is a confluence of academia, industry, and the public sector that have unified to solve macro-level problems. The smart region initiative under The Connective enables us to become a proving ground for all different types of smart technologies, ensuring we’re on the edge of innovation at all times.
INSIDE INNOVATION: As you look to the future of what’s happening regarding work and innovation in Arizona, what is something you hope to see?
CAMACHO: Ideally, I want to see us become a place where innovators and inventors want to be. I want to see our economy become much more dynamic and less reliant on housing and population booms. I want us to be a place where new IP and startups form and we can take these companies to scale.
With the work that we’re doing now and the steady investment we’re making now, I see Arizona continuing to be a better place to live, work, and recreate. At the end of the day, I want to make Arizona the most attractive place to raise a family.
Read more about Chris Camacho here.
Learn more about PEI’s strategies for growing Arizona’s innovation ecosystem here.
Stephanie Tomlin is Director of Marketing for PEI and Founder of Inside Innovation. Recently she interviewed Dragan Boscovic, Scott Carlson, and Wes Gullett.