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My View: How Arizona’s STEM ecosystem is building up a needed workforce

Phoenix Business Journal

By now you have seen or at least heard about Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC) preparing its giant semiconductor manufacturing facility in the North Valley. Although no products will be made there until 2024, the world’s largest contract chipmaker already is benefiting from the Arizona STEM ecosystem taking shape here.

SciTech Institute has collaborated with TSMC and Deer Valley Unified School District to support Taiwanese students new to the country in connecting with each other, their American peers and their school communities through science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM.

This is just one example of the SciTech Institute bringing together collaborators from across the state to advocate for opportunities in Arizona’s growing STEM workforce. The institute promotes STEM awareness and enthusiasm, builds local and diverse STEM leadership, and supports Arizonans’ entering higher-ed and STEM career pathways.

The focus of the effort is to build the Arizona STEM ecosystem, a collaborative, grassroots network that has grown to more than 900 business, education, community and government organizations.

Serving as the ecosystem’s backbone organization, the institute is a collaborative initiative of the Arizona Technology Council and Arizona Commerce Authority. I am president and CEO of both the institute and the ATC.

STEM: Strength in numbers

You would be right it you’re getting a sense that we embrace the idea there is strength in numbers. We are building a network of like-minded practitioners who work together to address locally defined education and workforce needs and concerns. In turn, that has helped us wisely use the funding to support these efforts.

Through the institute’s statewide working groups and nine regional hubs — the Central Valley hub is behind the effort with the Taiwanese students — the Arizona STEM ecosystem can provide critical connections for communities. Arizona’s STEM investments can be leveraged to empower educators and untapped and underrepresented populations as active citizens while opening access to economic and workforce opportunities for these often-underserved populations.

We are discovering that when so many people get on the same page, wonderful results happen. That’s especially true when it comes to funding these activities. With critical relationships in place to set up the ecosystem, the ability to raise money is more effective as is the ability to spend those dollars.

The figures speak for themselves. The ecosystem received startup support from the Arizona Community Foundation with $250,000 for a three-year period. Since then, SciTech Institute has leveraged this investment to bring in additional commitments of $1.15 million, including Office of Economic Opportunity support, Arizona Department of Education Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) support to overcome K-12 youth learning loss due to Covid-19, ESSER support for Arizona State University’s Community Educator Arizona STEM Acceleration Project, and hub and working group support from Phoenix IDA, USAA, Infosys, NXP, Valley of the Sun United Way, and Freeport-McMoRan, among others.

The ecosystem also has been written into several initiatives, including the Southwest Clean Hydrogen Innovation Network (SHINe), in response to the Department of Energy’s call to develop low-carbon economies across the nation. Notably, SHINe will bring significant economic development and workforce opportunities to the region as well.

The Arizona STEM ecosystem already has grown into a wise investment for our future.

Steven Zylstra is president and CEO of the Arizona Technology Council.


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