Phoenix economy relies on a better-educated workforce
The Arizona Republic
Sept. 17, 2007


Chad Graham

The United States, including metropolitan Phoenix, must develop a better-educated, more innovative workforce in order to compete in an ever increasingly global economy, experts told attendees at the International Economic Development Council conference on Monday.

Without a change, America's "standard of living will decrease, our way of life will be threatened, our opportunities for success for future generations will diminish," ASU President Michael Crow said in a keynote address.

Crow and others envision a future where companies have access to a steady stream of college graduates across all subjects to quickly put new products on the world market, particularly to compete with China, India, Brazil and Russia.
"These new economies will be heavy-weight competitors," he said, adding the economies "will not be burdened by 200 years of success as we are."

Universities will be more critical in this knowledge-driven, science-driven economy. "A well-performing university in a region that you can actually speak to, actively communicate with and actually work with is a very, very valuable asset," Crow said.

The event, which attracted an estimated 1,300, is being held through Wednesday at the Westin Kierland Resort and Spa in Scottsdale.

Gov. Janet Napolitano told the audience that Arizona's public and private sector has worked to position the economy to try and increase the number of high-quality, high-wage jobs.

It is a critical challenge as the state's current population of 6.4 million is predicted to soar to 12 million by 2030.

Attendees at the conference piled onto buses for the "Phoenix Rises - Again and Again" tour, which promised to show "the city has once again redefined its downtown."

It featured more than $3 billion worth of new construction, including the light rail system, the downtown ASU campus and the Translational Genomic Research Institute.

While those long-held dreams are becoming reality and the population boom continues, the Valley remains heavily addicted to the housing industry and continues to take its lumps in the current mortgage crisis.

Job growth is projected to slow from 6 percent in 2006 to 1.8 percent in 2008, according to the Arizona Department of Economic Security.

Average wage and income levels remain behind peer cities - and in many cases behind the national average, according to federal data.

"Phoenix is driven by social mobility growth. It's not being driven by innovation-based growth," said Crow. "This is a region of the United States that's benefiting from the lack of performance in other regions."

Meanwhile, economic development experts and business leaders said they are having a tougher and tougher time attracting and keeping educated workers.

That could lead to high profile, local companies moving outside of the U.S. to find talent.

"We need to have the ability to keep students here as opposed to educating them here and then they go somewhere else," said Bruce Coomer, executive director of the Arizona Association for Economic Development.

"Our highly educated students are going to California or the East Coast because they can offer more than Arizona can."

Reach the reporter at or (602) 444-8577.