Arizona just got lucky.

by francine Hardaway on July 11, 2002

Arizona just got lucky. Not only because of the Translational Genomics Center and the attention and economic development that will bring to the state, but because our state�s business model just became hip and trendy, an asset rather than a liability. Large corporations are out; small business is in.

Economic development officials have long pursued big corporate out-of-town elephants, begging them to set up their corporate headquarters here. Perhaps fortunately, they�ve all declined. Arts organizations have long bemoaned the lack of major business sponsors for the museums, symphony and ballet. Perhaps fortunately, we have been forced to built modest cultural attractions around the sponsorship of small local companies. Look at the Science Museum.

As a result of our previous shortcomings, we do not have the a large concentration of Fortune 500 corporate headquarters. We don�t have the Metropolitan Opera, the Philadelphia Orchestra, or the Boston Pops. But we also do not have Lucent, Tyco, Adelphia, Enron, or Worldcom in Arizona. We will not have 17,000 layoffs in one week, or a stadium that must be re-named overnight. We do not have arrogant CEOs who make millions whether their companies are profitable or not, and who get paid more millions to leave when they fail.

For better or for worse, Arizona is still the frontier. We have land barons, we have pioneers, and we have entrepreneurs. Now, we have the opportunity to bring those three elements together to forge a new, more ethical, more realistic business model for the 21st century.

The land barons have developed communities that bring ordinary people to Arizona in droves, to raise families, to retire, to play golf, to start businesses. They have been successful because people love to live in Arizona. They endure pay cuts, hot summers and inferior schools to live here.

The pioneers have come here and built a culture of independence and meritocracy: if you�re talented in Arizona, you can rise to the top of the pile, undeterred by entrenched interests and hereditary aristocracy. Look at Jerry Colangelo.

The entrepreneurs have a vision of how to make the world a better place through innovation � information technology, biotechnology, space technology, nanotechnology.

Rarely have I seen representatives of all these three groups in a room at the same time. They don�t know each other, and they don�t talk to each other. But they have much to offer each other.

The only reason I know them all is that I�ve lived here for over thirty years, and I remember some of the land barons before they were land barons. I was a pioneer myself, leaving New York to find the freedom of owning a business in Arizona long before women were accepted as business owners back east. And I know the entrepreneurs because I cherish their energy and initiative, their vision and talent.

I propose that we take advantage of the unique spirit of Arizona to do something different. Let�s not ask the government to give us venture capital from state retirement funds, which they will not do. Let�s not create false profits through questionable financing mechanisms like reverse mergers into public shells. Let�s not doom Arizona to an economy of low-paying service jobs.

Instead, let�s ask the land barons, who possess a good deal of the wealth in the state, to come together with the pioneers and entrepreneurs and start a foundation to give grants to entrepreneurs with innovative technology, grants that will help new companies form to occupy the office space the land barons have developed. Let�s not even think of this as �investment� in the normal sense. Let�s think of it as civic entrepreneurship or social entrepreneurship: building the state through philanthropy.

Perhaps the Arizona Community Foundation will lead this effort, establishing a special entrepreneurial �seed� grant fund, reaching out to wealthy Arizonans who are already engaged in philanthropy. Perhaps it�s the universities, through their tech transfer or entrepreneurship programs. Perhaps it�s a spin-off of Social Venture Partners Arizona, the highly successful venture philanthropy organization started by Jerry Hirsch.

Who would like to step forward and help in this effort? Who would like to ensure that we do not get left behind economically, and that we don�t make the mistakes of the last century, confusing easy money with easy business morality? Who will be Arizona�s 21st century pioneers, setting us firmly in the forefront of innovation and independence?



Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: