When the world’s largest producer of colostrum-based products needed more well-trained employees to expand its Phoenix operations, it looked to the Greater Phoenix Chamber of Commerce. And through its local business-concentrated Phoenix Forward initiative, it delivered.
APS BioGroup collects colostrum – the nutrient-dense first milk a mammal produces after it gives birth – from 500,000 cows in Arizona and processes it into nutritional supplements. The company, which also produces and packages colostrum-based products for other companies, ships them to 57 countries, says APS BioGroup President and CEO Bob Davies.
However, processing all of that colostrum from all of those cows takes competent, well-trained employees. And Davies says he was short on finding the types of workers he needs.
“Through our traditional hiring methods we’ve had problems getting good, well-trained employees,” Davies says. “We’re a growing company and we needed more employees and this opportunity came at a good time for us.”
The opportunity to which he is referring is Phoenix Forward, an economic development initiative borne from the realization that 80 percent of new jobs come from companies that already exist in this region. The initiative began six months ago and is a cooperative effort between the Greater Phoenix Chamber, the city of Phoenix and the Arizona Commerce Authority.
Phoenix Forward got APS BioGroup in touch with 10 applicants, five of which he hired and have been successful employees for several months so far.
“We’re very happy with them, it’s worked out very well,” Davies says. “Phoenix Forward was very helpful for us and we plan to continue to use it.”
Davies’ frustration with locating properly trained workers is representative of the challenges facing many Arizona businesses – especially those in high-tech, bioscience, health care and financial fields. That is one of the chief areas that Phoenix Forward is addressing, by using a data-driven approach through visiting hundreds of local businesses and asking their owners what they need to succeed.
And, according to Greater Phoenix Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Todd Sanders, the Phoenix economy is responding. “The good news in this initial quarter is that we have a significant number of companies looking to grow,” he says.
In the months since the project launched, the Phoenix Forward team has visited more than 350 Valley companies and determined that these companies are projecting to and add more than 7,800 new jobs to the Arizona market. These new jobs will bring in $395 million in payroll, with wages averaging $51,000, Sanders said in a blog post.
“A critical part of our plan is helping connect those companies to resources to help them grow and get stronger,” Sanders wrote.
The initiative, which is 100 percent privately funded, is focused on four key economic sectors: advanced business and financial services, health care, bioscience and transportation. The chamber decided on these particular sectors after reviewing its own internal data and data from the Maricopa Association of Governments. Following much debate and discussion, the list of industry sectors was narrowed from 10 to four, but with one extra, all-encompassing addition.
“Technology was actually a close fifth,” Sanders says. “Ultimately, the membership sees technology horizontally, in the sense that it impacts all of the industries we were considering. It became a de facto fifth industry sector.”
The chamber formed leadership councils within each identified sector comprised of leaders in each industry to lend expertise and help set goals for the initiative.
“They’re bringing in the top experts from their industries and then helping us make decisions on where we need to go next,” he says.
Phoenix Forward intends to be more data-driven and collaborative than any chamber project before it, Sanders says. Approaching the project this way is what corporate investors, policy makers and businesses are looking for in today’s data-rich world.
“As we’ve done some economic development work, we haven’t used this level of data to determine where we are and where we need to go,” Sanders says.
The increased flow of data means the initiative can be effectively directed toward its identified sectors, which was key – along with collaboration – in getting the necessary financial backing for Phoenix Forward.
“Basically the investors said ‘okay, we think this is a good idea, this is something that needed to be done here in the Valley, but there are two problems with your plan. It’s not collaborative enough and you need to focus’,” Sanders says.
This collaborative approach sets Phoenix Forward apart, says Ken McMahon, who serves as the chamber’s chairman of the board.
“Our goal is that we’ll continue to reach out to other chambers of commerce so that we can bring our collective assets together to drive economic development, versus facing it alone,” he said.
McMahon, who is also vice president of sales for the Mountain West Region of CenturyLink, says the skill sets needed across CenturyLink’s pool of employees is extremely diverse and having access to a job-ready workforce is a challenge for the company.
“Having an available workforce that can contribute to the success of our business is extremely important,” he says.
Tom Savardy, CEO of HonorHealth and co-chair of Phoenix Forward’s bioscience leadership council, sees a unique opportunity to strengthen the workforce through connecting bioscience and health care providers with the education system, starting with K-12 and moving up through medical school.
“That’s a rare win-win-win situation,” he says.
However, Savardy says the most critical piece of Phoenix Forward is raising capital to support growth, especially in the bioscience community. HonorHealth has pledged $10,000 per year for three years to support the initiative. The bioscience council is developing action plans to accelerate growth through studying metro areas with thriving bioscience communities.
“(The action plans) are really going to help inspire more coordination and collaboration among the existing business communities in bioscience,” he says.
Savardy is optimistic about the future of Phoenix Forward and believes that this sort of collaboration can be used to grow the bioscience field not only in Phoenix, but throughout the state.
“I think Arizona can be a leader in biosciences, not only in the region, but in the country,” he says.
Sanders said that he would like to see the project expand to other sectors and he is planning to share the program with other Arizona chambers of commerce, so they can use the data-driven, collaborative approach to growing their business sectors. Eventually, chambers across the state can work together to effectively use the data they collect about Arizona businesses.
“We can start to make decisions as a business community with some really good data,” Sanders says. “The nice thing about Phoenix Forward, is this is just the start.”