The Arizona Commerce Authority: Speaking with Authority

Sandra Watson explains why she’s bullish on Arizona’s future as a destination for strong and innovative companies.

Just a Short Stay in Arizona

Having grown up in North Bay, Canada about 3 hours outside of Toronto, when Sandra Watson arrived in Arizona in 1992, she assumed her stay here would be relatively short before she returned to the northern latitudes.

Laughing, she now admits that like so many others who have come to Arizona under that assumption, her guesstimate was a little off. Now, 27 years after her arrival, she is the President and CEO of the Arizona Commerce Authority (ACA) and one of the guiding forces behind its mission to bring more businesses and talented people to our fair state.

After sitting down with her for an interview, we’d say that you’d be hard pressed to find a better ambassador for the state because Sandra’s passion for Arizona is contagious. She is also extremely talented and focused. Look back through a Top 25 list of movers and shakers in business and leadership in Arizona and her name is more than likely on it.

As we talked about her role in building business in Arizona, we asked her which of our new 5Cs she thought applied the most (commerce, community, culture, catalyst, and connectivity), and without a pause, she exclaimed with a smile, “All of them!”

About the Arizona Commerce Authority 

As Sandra explained, the ACA’s primary goal is to promote Arizona to businesses in other states and internationally and strengthen our state economy through job creation. To those ends, the ACA’s board is a unique mix of state officials and globally recognized business leaders. It includes the governor, the state’s Senate President, Speaker of the House and three public university presidents all united in one purpose – to grow Arizona.

When we asked Sandra about the key to the ACA achieving its mission she listed three essential pillars:

  • Recruiting the right businesses and talent to come to Arizona.
  • Working with local businesses to help them expand and increase their opportunities.
  • Partnering with local entrepreneurs, inventors, and leaders to build a vibrant ecosystem that supports entrepreneurship in our state.

As well as business-friendly laws and fewer regulations that attract the attention of world-class businesses, the commission extends assistance to companies who show interest in relocating here, doing a lot of the leg work to give them critical information they need to make the move a no brainer. For example, assisting with real estate and workforce availability data. Sandra also mentioned the state universities and community colleges are essential in attracting businesses. ASU was named the top innovative university in the nation four years in a row, and an alliance of community colleges provides a tremendous opportunity for companies who need a talented workforce by offering training programs geared for manufacturing.

Sandra recently spoke in London at a world forum for financial technology about Arizona’s program to attract business. Several innovative technology companies are in the process of setting up shop here. She explained that our available talent pool is highly attractive to business leaders outside of Arizona. Our welcoming culture doesn’t hurt either. People who move here quickly discover it doesn’t matter where you’re from or what your previous career path was — if you want to get involved and engaged, people will welcome you.

How successful has the Arizona Commerce Authority been in its mission?

Initially given a 5-year run, the state recently reauthorized it for an additional six years. Its original goal was to create 75,000 jobs and $6 billion in capital investment. By the end of its first five years, it had created 87,000 jobs and brought in $9.5 billion. In the first year of its extension, it is already out of the gates quickly and well on its way to surging past its future goals with 21,000 new jobs and $2.5 billion in capital investment.

In the next five years, Sandra would love to see Arizona become one of the top-5 entrepreneur communities in the world. She also has her sights on establishing Arizona as a global technology leader for new disruptive tech including autonomous vehicles, unmanned aircraft systems, blockchain, fintech, and crypto technology.

With Sandra at the helm of the ACA, we wouldn’t bet against that goal.

The Arizona Commerce Authority

118 North 7th Avenue, Suite 400
Phoenix, AZ 85007