Drive along the I-10/I-17 corridor through Phoenix recently? You may have noticed that Tempe has risen high above the desert floor, a vital regional and national center for Fortune 500 companies, many forms of innovation, technology, and tourism.
You want the future? Tempe’s mission to build an affluent, sustainable future reflects the median age of its 180,000 residents: 28.1 years. From the game-changing Tempe Town Lake, the city’s crowning residential-commercial development and manmade reservoir along the Salt River, to a diverse business and tech sector, a long and prosperous future lies ahead.
“We like to think of ourselves as a sustainable community going urban,” said Economic Development Director Donna Kennedy, named one of Arizona’s Most Influential Women in Commercial Real Estate in Arizona in 2017 (AZRE). “Tempe today is the result of all the infrastructure we put into place to create quality of life for our residents and workforce. The biggest economic driver is Tempe Town Lake. Over the past 20 years, developers have invested $1.2 billion to develop Tempe Town Lake for both residential and business, bringing in 40,000 jobs since the lake’s opening 20 years ago.”
They’re not done, either. “We have a light rail across north Tempe in proximity to the lake and downtown streetcar line coming in May 2021. We’re investing $77 million from the city, businesses providing their fair share and also getting federal aid,” Economic Development Program Manager Maria Laughner added.
The mix of businesses that call Tempe home is vast: aerospace/aviation, medical devices, sustainability, healthcare, biotech/bioscience, solar energy, cybersecurity, financial services, advanced manufacturing, and tourism. “The three biggest areas are advanced business and financial services, advanced manufacturing, and bioscience/biotech,” Laughner explained. “State Farm Insurance came here a few years ago and brought 6,000 jobs – and they just announced they’re adding 1,000 more. Freedom Financial added 4,000 new jobs, and we have Bank of the West, Northern Trust, Silicon Valley Bank, and others.”
The city’s educational and research hub is Arizona State University (ASU), the nation’s most populated campus. ASU is also among the most effective at getting students ready for the new-tech, new-business world, being ranked Most Innovative University four years running by U.S. News & World Report.
“In the past, ASU graduates thought they had to go to New York or California, but in the last six years, we’ve added more than 30,000 new jobs right here in Tempe,” Kennedy said. “With major corporations here, these graduates now find jobs and careers without leaving town.
“Let’s face it – a lot of these businesses want to connect with and address the millennial population. Our millennials bring a new way to function as employers and employees. It’s the next generation of new products, services, and technologies.”
Economic Development Program Manager Jill Buschbacher made clear the city’s priority to retain and grow the younger, more educated workforce by constantly innovating how they work with and within business.
“We work with ASU, the community colleges, and University of Advanced Technologies (UAT),” she said. “Our Achieve 65 program sets a goal for 65 percent of our workforce to have post-secondary certificates or degrees by 2030. Right now, we’re at 52 percent (the national average for all Americans is 33.4 percent). Another program we have, Career Ready Tempe, provides internships in conjunction with the Chamber of Commerce, ASU, and high schools. Students complete eight-week hands-on paid programs to better understand what they need to be successful in the workforce.”
In addition, there are numerous high profile City-led projects. For instance, Kennedy spearheads the Innovation, Discovery, Education and Arts (IDEA) technology campus near the Tempe Center for the Arts, as well as the development of some of the last remaining City-owned property on the lake, Pier 202.
The UAT programs are a millennial and techie’s dream. Founded in 1983, UAT combines core tech classes with 20 majors in such areas as innovation, video game design and programming, digital media, robotics, cybersecurity, and computer science. The school graduates hundreds of tech students each year.
Not surprisingly, Tempe is a forward-thinking, two-year member of the Smart Cities Coalition, with a Sustainability Director and Climate Action Plan in place. “We looked over and beyond our (existing) code: how do we update for building materials, and work with the environment?” Kennedy said. “Every director in every (city) department is coming up with sustainability measures.”
Innovation has been Tempe’s forte since day one, according to Public Information Officer Kris Baxter. “There are places that simply have innovation from the beginning. We began (in 1867-68) when Charles Hayden built a ferry so people could cross the Salt River; it became the key river crossing and people started settling. Now, the Salt River becomes a river-lake with $1.2 billion in development surrounding it. ASU is spending millions on innovation, Fortune 500 companies come and invest here, and students graduate and stay.”
“Our economic development approach creates an environment that allows businesses to attract and retain the millennial workforce an environ-ment which we like to think keeps them ‘happy, healthy – and here,’” Buschbacher added.