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Mesa, Arizona’s Launch from Aerospace to All Things Tech

March 31, 2020
By Robert Yehling

You could say the city of Mesa, Arizona enjoyed a great July 2019. It went something like this:

  • July 1: Google announces a $1 billion investment project – the fourth Fortune 500 company to establish a strong presence in the city.
  • July 8: The city announces a 1.35 million square foot development to add badly needed Class A office space. The first tenant, WayWorks, leases 150,000 sq. ft. and announces it will provide 1,000 new jobs.
  • July 25: Another Fortune 50 company, AT&T, a presence in Mesa for 25 years, announces a $7.6 million investment that will add 500 jobs.

Most cities would consider this a six-month, or even a year-long, period. Economic Development Director William Jabjiniak sees it as the latest in years of big business and technology gains, with plenty of work ahead for a city that has long been a vital base of operations for Boeing, Northrop-Grumman, Textron Aviation and other aerospace industry titans.

mesa arizona

William Jabjiniak

“Mesa has always been strong in aerospace,” he said. “Now as we build on that strength, how do we merge technology with aerospace, bring in new forms of technology, and take advantage of innovations in healthcare, and so forth? We feel we’ve got a strong story to tell, but anytime you can bring these Fortune 50 companies to light within your community, it tells a bigger and better story.”

Spurred by constant new business and tech development, and the corresponding growth of office, industrial, and tech parks – plus well-planned home developments – Mesa grew by 10,000 people in 2018 to its current population of 511,000. Jabjiniak projected it will grow by an average of 8,000 people annually through the mid-2020s.

The city’s advantages are great. The sun shines 320 days per year, guaranteeing great outdoor testing conditions. Two major airports service the city, with more and more office, manufacturing, and tech space blossoming around them. At 140 square miles, a huge space, Mesa still has plenty of room to grow.

Mesa is racing ahead into the 2020s with an eye on the young and future workforce. “The number one issue when you grow like this – where’s the workforce coming from?” Jabjiniak said.  “The city has partnered with Arizona State to respond to this. We’re working with ASU on adding a downtown campus in Mesa that links directly to ASU’s main campus in Tempe. They’re going to build a $63 million facility to deliver tech programs – augmented reality, artificial intelligence with 3D design, virtual reality, medical, and aerospace.

“We’re really focusing on young people by cultivating and advancing new technologies, and entrepreneurship through LaunchPoint, our business incubator/accelerator. One company, Urbix Resources, came in with local roots, took space here, and has raised more than $3 million in funding.”

One project tying together all priorities is an old Air Force research lab, now Arizona Laboratories for Security & Defense Research. AZ Labs is not a typical research lab, nor open to the public. The cybersecurity training and capability development lab is highly classified, using the same type of SCIF rooms used to view classified documents in the Pentagon. They also work with sensitive contracts, research and engineering projects, prototype evaluations, experiments, and much more.

“We now can partner with educational institutions, large and active with their own cyber areas,” Jabjiniak said. “We can provide a trained workforce. We offer hands-on training to be used by companies and the world… there are so many unfilled positions in cybersecurity, and such a need. We’re inviting educational institutions to partner with the city in this secure environment.”

The city’s presence is growing in multiple tech and business sectors, from driverless cars to wearables, next-gen aerospace to education, VR and AI to new technologies to advanced manufacturing. “We continue to get involved in a new sector, commercialization of space, through AQST Space Systems and others,” Jabjiniak said.

Two major components are Class A office space, and residential developments wrapped in green space. In 2019, the city announced Gallery Park, a 400,000 sq.ft. Class A office space development near the airport; and Union, a 1.35 million sq. ft. development in northwest Mesa. 

New in town is Waymo, the driverless car manufacturer. After spending years on the other side of the valley, in neighboring Chandler, Waymo’s vehicles will be seen on test roads from their new Mesa complex. 

“People really see us as much more affordable and appealing, in many ways, than the Bay Area,” Jabjiniak said. “We’ve planned and worked for this for all 12 years I’ve been here, and continue to plan ahead.”

Most certainly, with the month of July 2019 framed as an example of how it looks when everything comes together.

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