An $8 million grant from the U.S. Department of Labor will boost Arizona State University’s efforts to churn out a highly skilled workforce.
ASU announced the funding in a news release earlier this week, adding the One Workforce grant will help train workers for high-paying, high-demand jobs in advanced manufacturing, cybersecurity and information technology fields. The resulting program, the Arizona Workforce Training Accelerator Partnership for Next Generation Jobs, also known as AZNext, aims to train at least 2,000 participants for permanent job placement during the next four years.
“The grant program enables ASU to help the unemployed/underemployed find meaningful careers in fast-paced industries,” said Raghu Santanam, chair of the Department of Information Systems at ASU’s W. P. Carey School of Business, in a statement. “It will also create career opportunities for underrepresented populations in technology-focused industries.”
Programs will be on ASU’s Polytechnic campus in Mesa and on the West campus in Phoenix — a boon for the West Valley’s growing workforce where the median age of residents is 35. The Polytechnic campus will host advanced manufacturing education while ASU West will train students in the fields of biological data science and cybersecurity. ASU reports Arizona is currently second in the U.S. for the creation of jobs in advanced manufacturing, cybersecurity and information technology; the state has reportedly added 350,000 new jobs in those key sectors since 2015.
In recent months, the East Valley has captured a fair number of tech companies moving into the Phoenix-metro area; Align Technology, the makers of Invisalign, moved its headquarters to Tempe in January. Sintra Hoffman and Kimberly Jordan of Westmarc — the Western Maricopa Coalition of local governments and businesses — welcome the grant and say it aligns with the company’s five-year plan to create a workforce pipeline in the West Valley.
“We have a strong talent base right now that lives in the West Valley,” said Ms. Hoffman, the organization’s president and CEO. “They are still commuting for jobs in the East Valley right now. However, we are seeing increased companies in the IT and semiconductor space looking at the West Valley,” she continued, pointing to South Korean electronics giant Samsung Group looking into land in Goodyear.
Westmarc’s West Valley Pipeline effort is working to develop the workforce in several targeted industries: advanced business services, IT and cybersecurity, manufacturing and supply chain management.
AZNext falls right in line with the organization’s goals and, as Ms. Jordan said, shows the unique conversions happening in Arizona between these key industries and education providers.
“Statewide, we’re really paying more attention to what each industry needs,” said Ms. Jordan, Westmarc’s director of strategic partnerships and business development. “So industry and education are having a much more intimate dialogue and working together to really make sure that they’re developing programs that lead to in-demand occupation with curriculum that really is going to arm the students and the future workforce with the skills that they need to be successful.”
The housing, quality of life and education offered in the West Valley are just some of the factors that could make it more attractive to companies swooping into Phoenix from states such as California in search of a more affordable place to do business. The investment in transportation projects like Loop 303 also has helped bring more people and companies into the region.
“The West Valley is gaining more attention because the quality of living is high, the cost of living is low and the cost of commercial real estate is lower than anywhere else in the surrounding regions, including Central Phoenix and the East Valley,” said Steve Zylstra, president and CEO of the Arizona Technology Council. “All of these factors create a very attractive opportunity for companies to move to the West Valley and attract technology talent.”
Mr. Zylstra said he foresees a “explosion in technology” in the West Valley, with many top employers moving in. He pointed to the addition of the Taiwan Semiconductor plant in northwest Phoenix, which is set to bring with it at least 1,600 jobs in addition to construction work.
“I see an influx of high-technology suppliers funneling into the West Valley to support TSMC,” Mr. Zylstra said. “The suppliers that move to the region will also bring thousands of jobs. The West Valley is primed for an explosion in technology.”
For Garrick Taylor, interim president and CEO of the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the announcement of AZNext is proof Arizona’s economy is moving in the right direction.
“[The announcement] is a sign that the need for professionals in advanced manufacturing, cybersecurity and information technology is only going to grow over the course the next several years, he said. “And so we all need to work to create a talent that will meet that demand.”
Taylor also pointed to the Valley’s strong number of education providers, namely ASU, and a robust system of community colleges investing in programs that can lead to certificates for very specific industry needs. The West Valley could, in particular, become a hub for advanced manufacturing as the area matures past its reputation as a logistics hub, he said.
All in all, Mr. Taylor said he believes the investment in Arizona’s skilled workforce is a win for not just the Valley, but the state as a whole.
“An $8 million dollar grant is really exciting, and it’s hopefully a sign of things to come, but also recognition of the growth of Arizona’s economy overall,” said Mr. Taylor.