Sandra Watson, President and CEO, Arizona Commerce Authority

from Sandra Watson

As Arizona’s statewide economic development agency, the economy is our business. I’m excited to say that over the past year, the momentum has continued to build and Arizona is receiving international attention for its accomplishments. Our unemployment rate is the lowest it’s been in a decade and more than 274,000 nonfarm jobs have been added since 2015. Arizona’s population has topped seven million, and our state is the fifth-fastest-growing in the United States. In particular, Maricopa County is leading the nation in growth, ahead of the other 3,141 counties around the country. This speaks volumes about the excellent quality of life and economic opportunities people are confident they will find in Arizona. It is also a leading indicator that companies will continue to be able to access the workforce they need as they scale.

Addressing Challenges 

Potential challenges faced by companies operating in Arizona are what the ACA is constantly on the lookout for. While Arizona is fortunate to have a strong talent pool for employers to draw from, the ACA is continually seeking new ways to ensure that talent in our state has the skills our fastest-growing industries require. Manufacturing is one of those industries, which currently employs more than 160,000 Arizonans across more than 4,600 establishments in sectors ranging from semiconductor, to aerospace and defense, to automotive.

The strong growth in Arizona’s manufacturing sector is evidenced in several recent projects the ACA worked. Nikola Motor Company will create 2,000 jobs at its hydrogen-electric semi-truck plant in Coolidge; Lucid Motors, a luxury electric vehicle manufacturer, will employ 2,000 people at its facility in Casa Grande; Raytheon Missile Systems, Southern Arizona’s largest private-sector employer, has announced it is hiring nearly 2,000 people at its Tucson site; and Intel, which announced it will complete its Fab 42 operation in Chandler, is creating 3,000 new direct jobs manufacturing the most advanced semiconductors in the world.

To stay ahead of this incredible demand for manufacturing workers, in February of 2017 the ACA guided the formation of an historic partnership among the Maricopa County Community College District, Pima Community College and Central Arizona College. The three came together and signed a charter to create the Advanced Technologies Corridor and implement a uniform curriculum that will keep pace with rapid changes in business needs through a commitment to meeting rigorous third-party industry credentialing standards. 

Advanced Technologies Corridor students can earn Industrial Technology certificates from the highly regarded National Institute of Metalworking Skills as well as an associate of applied sciences degree in Automated Industrial Technology from all three community colleges by the 2019-2020 school year. The NIMS certifications and AAS degrees can be used for entry and mid-level technician positions at Arizona’s manufacturing companies.

This is just one example of ways the ACA approaches staying ahead of potential challenges faced by businesses in our state.

Company Culture

As in any company, our people are our greatest asset, and the ACA is committed to fostering a positive, inclusive culture and ensuring our employees have the tools they need to succeed in our mission to advance Arizona’s economy.

In the past several years, the ACA along with all other Arizona state agencies has begun operating under the Arizona Management System. Implemented by Governor Ducey, AMS applies lean principles and practices with a focus on continuous improvement to increase efficiency, measure results and save taxpayer money. As a part of the Governor’s vision for “ACA 2.0,” we have co-located with the other two state agencies responsible for promoting aspects of Arizona — the Arizona Office of Tourism and the Arizona-Mexico Commission. While the three agencies maintain separate and distinct organizational structures and missions, we are now housed in a single office space with an open floor plan. Also under ACA 2.0, the Office of Economic Opportunity was established as a data and analytics unit of the ACA to track Arizona’s competitiveness. Collectively, these changes have created stronger collaboration, knowledge-sharing and efficiency.

In our past fiscal year, the ACA has structured a new process for prospective employees by implementing peer panel interviews to gauge cultural fit within the organization. This process also provides a potential new hire with introductions to a broader range of the agency’s staff and gives hiring managers additional feedback. In addition, we’ve provided current employees with increased opportunities for ongoing professional development via an online learning platform.


About Arizona Commerce Authority

The Arizona Commerce Authority is the state’s leading economic development organization, with a streamlined mission to grow and strengthen Arizona’s economy. Overseen by a unique public-private-sector board chaired by Governor Doug Ducey and comprised of leaders in business, government and academia, the ACA is led by President and CEO Sandra Watson. The ACA uses a three-pronged approach to achieving its mission: recruiting out-of-state companies to expand their operations in Arizona, working with existing companies to grow their businesses, and partnering with entrepreneurs and companies to create new businesses in targeted industries. 

Formed in 2011 as an evolution of the former Arizona Department of Commerce, the ACA has worked 705 projects with companies that have committed to creating 119,936 projected new Arizona jobs and investing $13 billion in capital. This translates to a total impact of 272,242 direct, indirect and induced jobs and $164 billion in economic output.

Under its current five-year strategic business plan, the ACA remains focused on innovative approaches to economic development. The plan centers on leveraging next-gen trends in which Arizona already has core competencies, including:  

  • Internet of Things (IoT)
  • Education Technology
  • Telemedicine
  • Personalized Medicine
  • Fresh Water Science
  • Agricultural Technology 
  • Renewable Energy 
  • Smart Materials 
  • Nanosatellites
  • Autonomous Vehicles and Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS)

Under Governor Ducey’s leadership, Arizona has a track record of firsts in several of these areas, including being the first state to issue an executive order supporting the development and testing of autonomous vehicles, the first to lay the groundwork for 5G technology and the first to establish a sandbox program for the testing of innovative new financial products and services. With the Governor’s direction, the ACA’s strategy is designed to continually build upon this success and ensure the state maintains its competitive position as a global leader in the emerging technologies that are rapidly changing traditional industries.



Year founded in the Valley: 2011
Industry: Economic Development
Top local executive/position: Sandra Watson, President & CEO 
Number of years with company: 7 with the ACA (since its establishment), in addition to more than 20 at the former Arizona Department of Commerce
Number of Valley employees: 58
Top 5 services/products: 

  • Custom site selection services
  • Workforce development assistance
  • Labor market and economic analysis
  • Small-business, entrepreneurship and innovation programs 
  • International trade and export counseling

Greatest 2018 milestone for the company: With approval from our board of directors in the first quarter of fiscal year 2018, the ACA officially adopted and began operating under our new five-year strategic business plan.

See all our 2018 Business All-Stars >

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