Plans to improve infrastructure and why the tech sector is heating up in the Valley of the Sun
Arizona is seeing a period of high population growth as cities work to improve infrastructure. Read about the Phoenix Metro infrastructure improvements currently underway, new eateries making their debut in the Valley, and why Arizona is becoming a hotspot for tech and manufacturing jobs.
Arizona hitting new population records
Mass migrations of people out of high-population counties are continuing around the country as people look for more affordable options with a better lifestyle. In 2021, many people were choosing to move to smaller counties, but since last year have been choosing larger areas in the South and West as reported by Audrey Jensen with Phoenix Business Journal.
Maricopa County recorded the highest population growth in the country in 2022. Data released by the Census Bureau reported that from July 2021 to July 2022, the county’s population increased by 1.3% as 56,831 new residents settled in. Arizona also ranked fifth last year in the nation for overall population growth and had 15 of the fastest-growing cities including Queen Creek, Buckeye, Casa Grande, Maricopa and Goodyear. In 2022, Phoenix was listed as the fourth most populated region in the nation with 4.5 million residents, coming behind Los Angeles County and two others.
The influx of people has shown no signs of slowing so far this year as major sporting events like the Super Bowl and Major League Baseball’s Cactus League spring training drew large crowds into the Valley. Brandon Brown with Phoenix Business Journal reported that in February, Sky Harbor International Airport in Phoenix hit its record-high day and month. The month’s total recorded a staggering 3,813,311 passengers going through its terminals, up 16% from February 2022. On Feb. 13, the day after the Super Bowl, the airport saw more than 200,000 travelers come through, marking the busiest day in airport history, and making Sky Harbor the busiest airport in the world that day.
Planned improvements to compliment population growth
The largest standalone battery facility in Arizona will soon begin construction as the Salt River Project (SRP) and Plus Plower LLC have teamed up to handle customer demand during peak usage times. Jeff Gifford with Phoenix Business Journal reported that the facility is set to be operational by 2024 and will store up to 250 megawatts, or 1,000 megawatt hours, of energy. Located near Avondale, the construction of the facility will also support 30 to 40 construction jobs.
“This facility will have enough stored energy to power more than 56,000 average size homes for a four-hour period,” said Grant Smedley, director of resource planning at SRP, in a statement. “Battery storage can help provide energy to the grid when other resources may not be available and is part of SRP’s overarching strategy to meet rising energy demand while reducing carbon emissions.”
A former K-mart located near the former Metrocenter Mall is being converted into a new workforce and education center called the Innovation 27 Workforce Training and Education Collaborative. According to Audrey Jensen with Phoenix Business Journal, the city of Phoenix approved the site acquisition last year for $12 million and classes and programs are planned to begin by fall of 2024. It is expected to provide training opportunities that focus on the semiconductor, public safety, bioscience, information technology, food innovation, and healthcare industries while supporting entrepreneurship, creativity, and growth.
Others have partnered on the project to help provide advanced education and work development opportunities including Arizona State University, Maricopa County Community College District and Western Maricopa Education Center.
Todd Sandrin, Vice Provost of ASU West, said, “We appreciate the leadership of the city of Phoenix in helping to advance a location and facility that provides easy access for the public and we believe that Innovation 27 represents a welcome opportunity in the West Valley for ASU to partner with others to advance learning opportunities for residents working to upskill and re-skill for career advancement.”
New restaurants and food chains coming to the Valley
Nicole Gutierrez with Phoenix Business Journal reported that Tempe will be hosting the first Arizona location of Voodoo Doughnut, a unique doughnut shop with a signature pink building. The new location is set to open sometime later this year and will be located at 1324 S Rural Road in Tempe, just south of Apache Boulevard.
Chris Schultz, CEO of Voodoo Doughnut, said “We’ve been exploring the Arizona market for a while as part of our continuous growth strategy, and we’re excited to finally bring our doughnuts to Tempe. We can’t wait to become a part of the local community.”
A humanitarian-focused company, Noble Ground Coffee, is further expanding into the Valley after signing a three-year partnership with the Arizona Coyotes, Phoenix Suns, and Tucson Roadrunners. Aayush Gupta with Phoenix Business Journal shared that the coffee company opened its first brick-and-mortar location earlier this year in downtown Phoenix in the Footprint Center where it has been averaging $1200 per game. CEO Tim O’Neal started the company to provide an independent revenue stream that would allow him to give back to the community and serve those in need. After researching the market, he found coffee to be the fastest-growing area of the food industry, with profit margins at nearly 37%.
O’Neal stated, “Noble Ground is designed to be the revenue driver to serve humanity without having to count on traditional funding from the federal government, the state government, or the county government.” He shared that all profits from online sales and the current location will be used to fund housing, education, and food services to underserved communities around the Valley.
A 20-year-old Italian restaurant franchise based in Southern Italy is opening its second U.S. location in the McCormick Ranch area of Scottsdale according to Brandon Brown with Phoenix Business Journal. Fratelli La Bufala is located in a 4,200-SF space in the Grove retail center and will bring traditional Italian food and Neapolitan pizza to its customers. Fabio Sodano, franchisee for the Scottsdale location, shared that he expects to see $2 million to $3 million in revenue in the Scottsdale location’s first year and would like to eventually have as many as four or five locations in the Valley.
Sodano said, “With Scottsdale being an epicenter for massive culinary growth, it was such a natural choice for us to bring both the traditions and experiences of Naples to our customers locally in Arizona to enjoy and visitors alike, not just a meal.”
Hawaiian Bros., an Island food restaurant based in Kansas City, has signed a multi-unit franchisee agreement with Phoenix-based Stine Enterprises. Aayush Gupta with Phoenix Business Journal reported that Adam Stine, owner and President of Stine Enterprises, plans to build at least 50 locations in Arizona with 40 employees at each restaurant, which will create nearly 2,000 new jobs.
Manufacturing ramps up as a new cobalt processing facility is planned to arrive in Yuma
Slated to start construction in 2024, EVelution Energy LLC is planning to build a $200 million cobalt sulfate processing plant for electric vehicle batteries in southern Arizona’s Yuma County. According to Audrey Jensen with Phoenix Business Journal, the facility could be the first of its kind in the U.S. and is expected to produce 33,000 metric tons of cobalt sulfate per year—enough to support the annual domestic production of about 470,000 electric vehicles. The facility will support about 60 jobs and be operational by 2026.
Julie Engel, President and CEO of Greater Yuma Economic Development Corp. said in a statement, “The combination of new legislation, increased EV vehicle production and worldwide EV battery shortages have all led to the vision and future deployment for this cobalt processing facility, which will create a tremendous positive impact on the nation’s EV supply chain, the Department of Defense’s critical minerals supply chain, and attract opportunities from new U.S. mining sources.”
Universities have also played a major role in promoting the growth of manufacturing in AZ by providing the research and workforce needed in the semiconductor and battery industries, according to Dennis Hoffman, director of the L. William Seidman Research Institute at the W.P. Carey School of Business.
New technology expected to increase Arizona public safety
Amy Edelson with Phoenix Business Journal reported that a new body camera called the Axon Body 4 will soon be released by Axon Enterprise Inc., a technology company based in Scottsdale. The camera features a larger field of view than traditional models, an optional point-of-view camera, as well as two-way audio and livestream video that allows for better real-time communication among public safety officials. The company employs more than 1200 people in Arizona.
The company is also expanding its headquarters in north Scottsdale. The headquarters houses the company’s testing labs, manufacturing, customer training and warehousing operations, research and development facilities and event space. In 2022, Axon generated $1.2 billion in revenue which was up 38% to the year before.
“We continue to look at ways we can provide innovative technology and connected solutions so our customers can better protect their communities, including continuing to invest in our organizational growth,” said Corinne Clark, a spokeswoman for Axon.
Why tech sector is on the rise in AZ
Arizona now ranks No. 16 in the nation for net tech jobs added and No. 17 for net tech employment overall as it added over 5,000 new tech jobs in 2022. According to Jeff Gifford with Phoenix Business Journal, a report by IT training organization CompTIA showed that Arizona’s growth rate for tech jobs in 2022 was 2.6%, with a total of 5,077 workers added. That rate is expected to increase to 3.3% in 2023 with the biggest growth likely in software, web development, database, data science, cybersecurity, systems engineering and IT project management.
Between now and 2033, Arizona is expected to see 24% more jobs created in the tech sector, giving it the sixth-highest projected growth rate in the nation. The current estimated total technology workforce is 201,183 people with a median wage of $88,355—115% higher than the median wage for all occupations in the state.
“The data continues to confirm the degree to which technology underpins so many facets of business activity across the economy and the breadth of employers reliant on technical and digital skills,” said Tim Herbert, chief research officer for CompTIA.
Rosotics, a startup company focused on hyper-efficient manufacturing, is releasing a heavy metal 3D printing system later this year. According to Amy Edelen with Phoenix Business Journal, the company has leased two hangars totaling nearly 130,000 square feet at Falcon Field Airport in Mesa to create a manufacturing, research and development campus for the 3D printing system.
“This is a machine that is designed to make it possible for any parts larger than a refrigerator to be built by 3D printing,” said Rosotics founder and CEO Christian LaRosa. “Initially, our market is aerospace and that’s for a very important reason. Aerospace is held to arguably the highest performance standard in metallurgy in the U.S. This machine is designed to meet that standard.” He added, “This machine is designed to make it easy to print something as large as a rocket structure, a tank or an interstage of a launch vehicle.
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