Subscribe via E-mail

Your email:

Thunderbird Angel Network Blog

Current Articles | RSS Feed RSS Feed

Can Arizona entrepreneurs attract foreign investment?


Arizona entrepreneur
Arizona has the potential for global presence

by Kathleen Ingley - Dec. 4, 2010 05:34 PM
The Arizona Republic

A giant Canadian private-equity fund makes investments around the planet. Why not in Arizona?

The answer's simple: Nobody asks.

The Caisse de Depót in Montreal gets a constant stream of businesspeople pitching opportunities in places like New York and Chicago. But Arizonans aren't making those international sales calls.

Maybe it's a relic of the Old West, a lingering ornery notion of self-sufficiency. (Forget the fact that developing the West required massive infusions of capital and government money.)

But staying as disconnected as a cowboy on the open range makes no sense for modern Arizona.

"There is a lot of money looking for places to go in this world," according to R. Glenn Williamson, founder and CEO of the Canada Arizona Business Council. "There's no reason why Arizona shouldn't be on that map."

Foreign investment is just one place where we're missing out on the global economy. We should expand exports, attract companies and become a magnet for talented international workers and entrepreneurs.

Step 1 is to get rid of an inferiority complex.

"We sell ourselves very short," Williamson said last Wednesday in a breakout session at Global Arizona 100. The conference, co-sponsored by Science Foundation Arizona and the Morrison Institute for Public Policy at Arizona State University, is aimed at developing strategies and partnerships to make the state more internationally competitive.

The 200 attendees developed a set of recommendations to bolster international trade, which they'll share with the state's political and business leaders.

In Williamson's view, Arizona right now has "an adequate product to sell globally," with a good supply of small and medium-size businesses that are attractive for investment. This is one of the few places in the world with the capability to build aircraft "from tip to tail."

global mindsetA true global strategy is a mix of action and mind-set. My checklist would include:

A state focal point

The fledgling Arizona Commerce Authority, a public-private partnership, needs a section to promote foreign trade. And the resources to support it.

A wide-angle lens 

Arizona must encourage a global perspective at all levels of leadership.

This means putting up a strong fight against xenophobia. The issue of illegal immigration can't continue to obscure Mexico's importance as our No. 1 export market and the economic potential for various partnerships.

The urgent job of teaching children whose first language isn't English should not stop us from recognizing the competitive advantage of nourishing their linguistic skills. (Foreign-language skills in general need more respect and emphasis.)

Thinking regionally

Nearby states and metro areas aren't always competitors. They can be partners in a megaregion that includes Utah, Southern California and New Mexico. That can create demand and economies of scale that could, for instance, build overseas business for Sky Harbor International Airport.

Within Arizona's borders, cities need to have a team strategy for global economic development, presenting a common message and avoiding destructive rivalry.

Smart immigration rules

Arizona's delegation should push for an immigration policy that supports economic development. Goodyear made creative use of incentives to land the first U.S. plant for China-based Suntech, the world's largest manufacturer of solar panels. But when the company wanted to bring a plant manager from China, it couldn't get a work visa.

Promising foreign students get engineering and science degrees at Arizona universities and then take their skills and training home because potential employers don't want to tangle with the complex visa process.


As the state looks at big cuts in K-12 and university funding, no one should ignore the economic impact. Former Intel Chairman Craig Barrett said in a breakout group: "Let's not shortchange education in Arizona, because no one's going to invest long-term without good education."

Going there

Even with the Internet, face-to-face contacts are important. Overseas travel has to shed its image as a junket. And we have to realize that multiple trips are often necessary.

Any major Arizona official who hasn't been out of the country should be sent on the next available trade mission, to get a firsthand view of the opportunities and the level of competition. The legislators who think rock-bottom costs are the deciding factor for corporate locations should check out the plants that Phoenix-based First Solar is building in Germany and France.

Building on local links

Arizona has a lot more international connections than most people realize, from the Russian Children's Center to the Indonesian American Association, and we should profit from them in as many ways as possible. The Greater Phoenix Global Guide, a just-completed ASU guide that catalogs a wide variety of groups and businesses, is a valuable new tool (check it out at

Endurance and persistence

Succeeding in the global economy requires doing the homework, cultivating the contacts and making the cross-connections. North Carolina knows how to do it, with an approach that includes heavy participation in trade missions and meticulous follow-up, said Margaret Mullen, chief operating officer of Science Foundation Arizona. "They constantly keep their name in front of the business community around the world."

This isn't a sprint, it's a marathon. And Arizona has the potential to be at the front of the pack.


Currently, there are no comments. Be the first to post one!
Post Comment
Website (optional)

Allowed tags: <a> link, <b> bold, <i> italics