Economic Growth and Innovation in Phoenix

DISCLAIMER: This interview was recorded before the Covid-19 pandemic. 

Chris Camacho, CEO of the Greater Phoenix Economic Council, dives into many of the misconceptions the public has around the local community and how Phoenix has become a hotbed for innovation and growth. There is a dynamic to the success of economic growth, and it requires understanding risk factor management, financial planning for the business and proper market leverage. Camacho shares how his company has helped organizations and SME’s grow to have a solid economic share and a firm customer base with high financial returns.


Eric Sperling: Hello again, everybody, welcome back to Arizona Achievers and today we have Chris Camacho. He is the President and CEO of the Greater Phoenix Economic Council joining us today. Chris, thanks for being here.

Chris Camacho: Hey, thanks for having me.

Eric Sperling: You know, we’re just having our pre-interview discussion and I got really excited because you know, you, you gave me your close speech and then I said, ‘wait a minute, wait a minute, we should move this to the open’ because you said you know, Phoenix can be so special or this, this place, this place we call home can be so special. Why is that?

Chris Camacho: Well, I think it’s already special, but I think the future trajectory is upon us and by 2030 I do believe this place will have some of the most intense innovation occurring here. You have a lot of young people with a lot of ideas. You have a university system and a set of universities that are changing the type of system that we have and the future is so bright. It’s how we harness it and make this place extraordinarily special for not only people of today, but people that want to join us in the future.



Eric Sperling: So tell us about the Greater Phoenix Economic Council and the work you guys are doing there.

Chris Camacho: Yeah. So Greater Phoenix Economic Council is an organization that’s been around for 30 years. And I’m the fourth president, CEO.

Eric Sperling: How long you been?

Chris Camacho: What’s that’s?

Eric Sperling: How long you’ve been there?

Chris Camacho: I’ve been there 12 years.

Eric Sperling: Okay.

Chris Camacho: Yeah. So I mean, yeah, now you’re dating me. Yeah. So the last several years, we’ve been focused on diversifying the economic base here in the regions, we work with 22 mayors and councils, we work with Maricopa County as well, and their leadership, in addition, 170 private sector companies all working together to advance the economy.



Eric Sperling: So a lot of times you, your role is getting people to collaborate together. Correct. So you see business opportunities, they see business opportunities, and they come to you, right?

Chris Camacho: Yeah, so our work every day is working with enterprises that are either considering coming here from Asia from Western Europe from California, or homegrown companies that are wanting to scale. And so we’ll consistently be in boardrooms with them talking about a myriad of things: it could be risk, could be capital, could be access to university systems, and could be talent, all of, really everything’s on the table as we’re working with them on, on how to grow jobs in Arizona.



Eric Sperling: Let’s talk about the businesses that are thinking about coming here and the conversations you have with them. Because I got to imagine those can be pretty interesting and maybe surprising for the people on the other end of that conversation.

Chris Camacho: It’s really across the board. So sometimes we’re working with a serial founder, who may not have a linear point to their process to Apple and Microsoft on the other side who have very detailed project plans and they’re looking at multiple markets globally to put a data center or IT center or software development center, and everyone in between. And so we have the luxury of working with a number of global brands, and we’ve had a lot of success in the last year, we had 50 new companies move from all around the world to Greater Phoenix and 23 of them were venture backed. So this market is rapidly changing in terms of the types of quality of companies that decided to plant roots here.



Eric Sperling: Yeah, we were talking about you hear the cliché ‘Oh, Phoenix is growing so fast’, but it’s not a cliché. The stats are staggering, right? And correct me if I’m wrong, it’s like 200 people a day are moving here.

Chris Camacho: Yeah, so 200 people a day, it’s a 4.8 million person market and the projections are will be about six and a half million people over the next 20 years. So it’s a mega market, and it’s going to matter to the United States GDP, the fifth largest city in the country and a lot of our cities. I was out in Gilbert yesterday with Mayor Daniels and, and even St. Gilbert, which you know, Gilbert what it was as a town years ago, to today to over 250,000 people. It’s just amazing.

Eric Sperling: And what they’ve done with that downtown has been incredible.

Chris Camacho: Heritage Area, Revlon; they’ve got a lot of assets in that community and many other communities here that are just building intentionally and that’s what we talk a lot with our cities about is ensuring you have the requisite public infrastructure, you’re building the right quality housing and affordable housing for your community. And yet the infrastructure networks and the types of support they can provide to businesses is really important because the global market is getting more competitive, not less.




Eric Sperling: Yeah, you have a lot of stats on your website. Give me some of the ones that are more surprising, the ones that when you’re in these meetings or talking to people to think about, you know, moving their businesses here, what are some of the stats that people go ‘really, I had no idea’.

Chris Camacho: Well, people are generally shocked about the growth trajectory, but they’re also shocked by the youthful nature of our community. So we’re the 6th youngest by population age in the United States. Yeah. So that’s, people think of Florida and Arizona and Nevada as retirement communities.

Eric Sperling: Right.

Chris Camacho: Just the opposite we’re the sixth youngest in the United States, and yeah, one thing too, that most, a lot of the Bay Area people don’t know is that we’re capturing a lot of the barrier talent and barrier companies as they go to scale and need to scale outside of California. This is a place that’s become an epicenter for California companies.



Eric Sperling: So we talked about, you know, people coming here and correct me if I’m wrong, but it’s 60% of the population right now wasn’t born in Arizona.

Chris Camacho: That’s right.

Eric Sperling: How do you see that? You just talked about the next 10 years, the next 20 years. H ow do you see that impacting growth? And we’ve talked about you know what, what our kids think home really is, is it we’re mom and dad are from or is it where they were born? Tell me about that.

Chris Camacho: Well, I’m really hopeful for all of our sakes that allegiances for sports teams, we start seeing more banner waving of the Coyotes and the Suns and Diamondbacks, and I do think that’ll come generationally. But it to that point when you have 60 people as a, 60% as a transient market, it’s really tough to turn that into a community sole, a community pride and that is happening as we speak. But again, you know, we have a growth engine of new people and it breeds this kind of melting pot of new ideas and multiculturalism, which is a great thing for our community, at the same time, it’s inherently collaborative. So when I first moved here, I was amazed that there weren’t these legacy structures; no one asked me where my parents went to school or what country club I was a part of, or things you might find in other places. This is one of the easiest places in the country to be new, and that’s what we welcome.



Eric Sperling: So you’ve been a leader now for, you know, with this organization for 10+ years, what’s that journey been like? You know, we talk to a lot of community leaders who come on here and they, you know, they have different philosophies when it comes to leadership. What has been some of the keys to your growth within the organization? Or what are the some of the things that your team really looks at you as ‘Man, Chris has been a great leader for us.’ What are those things?

Chris Camacho: Well, I think, you know, I definitely have this kind of relentless passion to execute. And every day I and you can probably tell by the way I carry myself, I’m focused on execution constantly but at the same time, my parents instilled personally in me this kind of humility and kindness of being fair to people and wanting to bring people along the journey. And so we’ve had new people to the organization that were interns that ultimately became VPs and SVPs, we nurtured them across the professional development, horizon and continuum. At the same time, externally, when I work with the board and the Mayors and others, they understand the pride and passion in which we lead in this purpose-driven world, the type of company that we have, and the expectation never stops. And so as I’m thinking about today’s work, I’m really thinking about 20 years from now, what kind of contributions are we making that affect the type of Arizona we’re building and if that doesn’t give get chills, then don’t be in this industry because I’ll tell you I get worked up every time I think about it.



Eric Sperling: So what are your some of your favorite things about the job? Is it going to Gilbert in meeting with Jenn Daniels and touring the town? Is it bringing the businesses together? What are some of the favorite things that you get to do every day?

Chris Camacho: Well, I love working with the Mayors, I love working with the Governor, I love working the legislature for sure. I will tell you when it comes down to working with the private sector on particularly an innovator that wants to scale his or her enterprise, and how you can help them problem-solve it, how to get there, whether it’s capital access, it’s infrastructure, it’s real estate, it’s finding the right talent disposition of the market. Those are all things that we regularly do and I just, there’s such passion to see, you know, an innovator get to that next level of scale and become successful. So I love doing that but I also love leading the charge for the region.



Eric Sperling: And how optimistic are you that this region will just continue to grow? Will just continue to see those types of organizations thrive? Yeah, we were talking about it, you know, I, again, I don’t remember these stats but is it 90% of businesses, small businesses fail in their first three years. I mean, are you, how optimistic are you that, especially in this market, those numbers will

go down?

Chris Camacho: Well, Arizona is a small business state. So 98% of our businesses are categorized.

Eric Sperling: I’ve heard that, so that blows me away, when I heard that first time.

Chris Camacho: Yeah, so different from other places in the United States, we have big business kind of driving the health of the economy. We’re a small business region, small business state so as a byproduct, we want to ensure that the infrastructure is there to help these companies early on in the process. In addition to just having a lot of small companies, we want to see innovation evolve so there’s been some really, you know, hotly debated ideas at the Capitol last few years about how do we invest in education and how do we promote equity across the P-320 system to ensure that we’re investing for all kids. And more recently, there’s been focus with Dr. Crowe and Bobby Robins and Rita Chang’s work at the university side with a bore focusing on how do we make an intentional plan occur with university so we’re driving applied research, engineering talent; meeting the future needs of industry even before they need it. And that’s what I’m excited about that this market gets it and we’re really doubling down in that regard.



Eric Sperling: Now, we were lucky to have Dr. Crowe in here a couple weeks ago. And you know, the kind of the focus of that talk was we’re in this new knowledge economy. And you know, are you seeing the businesses that you’re working with, kind of understand that concept of, ‘Okay, I need to educate myself on all the resources that are available to me to grow my business. I’m not just going to…’ you know, you’re talking about rolling up the sleeves getting on the whiteboard, right? How important that really is for some businesses to realize there are resources out there so they don’t become that statistics of not succeeding, right?

Chris Camacho: I think it’s becoming more prevalent today. That is, companies, whatever, really, whatever industry you’re in, you’re digitizing. So if you’re in construction, you’re in retail, I mean, the world’s changed. So virtually everything we do is connected to the internet in some ways, every hardware platform is becoming connected to the internet. So these future models that protect the information, protect the consumer so blockchain, cybersecurity, this whole era of change is upon us. And so companies and leaders that are not going down that path, they’re going to find they’re either going to be not cost-competitive, or they’re going to get leaned out to global supply chains. So it’s really important that these individual CEOs and leaders of companies stay on the cutting edge of this information change and this digital change that we’re within today.



Eric Sperling: Yeah, I fall into that category sometimes, all right, you know, I see something and I’m fearful, you know, so you just mentioned blockchain, like, ‘do I really need to understand that I don’t,’ you know, I hear the term thrown around. I want to be educated about it but then I’ll read an article and I’ll stop. You know, and obviously, it’s got to apply for you know, industry is going to vary per industry. But is that part of your role, too, is identifying certain opportunities within industries that you really need to know about this.

Chris Camacho: Well, if you want to put the whole audience asleep, we’ll start talking about blockchain.

Eric Sperling: Yeah, that’s what happened. Exactly. I watched a YouTube video and 30 seconds and I can’t do it, I can’t watch anymore.

Chris Camacho: Yeah, but we were talking today about you know, future industries opportunities for Arizona: space, incredible opportunity for our state, Space Forces was announced by the president. There’s going to be tremendous opportunities for commercial and government space programs, I hope in the state of Arizona and significant way but other areas around neuroscience and neuroscience ecosystem. So between you know, mayo and banner and honor health and barrows, Neurological Institute tremendous neuroscience capabilities, and even you know, gaming and AR, VR, the changes that are occurring within IT and software, we have the chance to become really special, a lot of these areas, but they take intentional investments, the education system aligned with where future technologies are going. In addition, you have to have a risk culture where entrepreneurs are willing to take risks and bets within these new technology area. So part of our jobs to answer your question, we go out and we educate the community and create awareness and even bring panels together of these kind of individuals who are on the edge of these technology spaces.



Eric Sperling: Well, like ending sort of where we started about you being so optimistic and how special this place can be. So I thank you so much for stopping by taking the time with us and thanks for everything you guys are doing.

Chris Camacho: Hey, my pleasure. Thanks so much.

Eric Sperling: Thanks, Chris.

Chris Camacho: Yeah, appreciate it.

Eric Sperling: We’ll see you next time.

Final Thoughts:

Wealth is created in the system of problem solving; when you identify a problem and you offer a sustainable result, you have created wealth. You must ensure that you are keen to the study of your immediate community. Identify its problem and challenges, build a solution and find the right set of people to work with.