Education and businesses in the East Valley: It’s Us, not Them

John Lewis, president and CEO of the East Valley Partnership 

As someone who’s passionate about collaboration, education and workforce development, I think often of two quotes that have served me as a father, a politician and a business leader.

“The best economic stimulus plan is a diploma,” and “What we do, we do together.”

These sage pieces of advice have taken root at PHX East Valley, a national initiative of the East Valley Partnership that stimulates business and promotes quality of life in our region. That region — encompassing Apache Junction, Chandler, Gilbert, Mesa, Queen Creek and Tempe — is a hub for emerging technologies and nationally ranked for its entrepreneurial enterprises.

Part of our success is due to a commitment to work together by economic developers in our six communities. One of my first lessons as the new mayor of Gilbert, in 2009, was to interface, early and often, with regional leaders. Out-of- state companies, I was told, would not consider relocating to my town until they were sold on Arizona, the greater Phoenix area and the East Valley, in that order.

We know that a strong workforce is the number one determinant for industries selecting our region, and we know that training for a wide range of jobs — from entry-level assembler to rocket scientist — is tantamount to our success.

Fortunately, PHX East Valley is long on top-notch educational institutions, anchored by two campuses of the uber-innovative Arizona State University, and bolstered by satellite programs of the University of Arizona and Northern Arizona University, the outstanding Maricopa County Community College District and nearly a dozen private universities and colleges.

At PHX East Valley, our partners in technical and traditional education and business focus on mutual needs, break down obstacles and challenges that may impede workforce development and collaborate on strategies that ideally help all parties.

One success story of note is Empire Southwest, a Mesa-based Caterpillar dealership for Arizona, Southern California and Northern Mexico. Third-generation CEO Jeff Whiteman, an Arizona native and ASU graduate is sold on East Valley Institute of Technology because its graduates have the skills his company needs. And he’s hiring EVIT graduates as fast as he can.

Then there’s entrepreneur Clate Mask, CEO and co-founder of Chandler-based Infusionsoft, a software company focused on small business. Mask, also an ASU graduate, returned to Arizona to start his company in 2001 and has become a strong voice for young companies and start-ups because he knows that when they’re successful, we’re all successful.

Another example of education and business going hand-in- hand is our East Valley Think Tank, bringing together both education practitioners and leaders to continue expansion of educational excellence in the region and across Arizona. (And exceptional it is: according to the state’s universities, the average SAT score among PHX East Valley high school students is 22 points higher than the state average.)

Further, our Education/Business Committee enables business owners to voice their priorities, learn about Arizona’s education emphases, network with other leaders and form collaborations on workforce development.

Beyond that, we mentor high school students who have veered off the graduation path and make available to schools our member military veterans to talk about their careers. And because we believe that learning is a lifelong experience, we haven’t forgotten about workers exploring new careers and needing support and training. Our workforce development team is becoming a valuable resource to these folks.

The mindset at PHX East Valley is advocacy — for education and business — with a focus on developing a highly skilled workforce, and providing an affordable, comfortable, enjoyable place to live, work and play. The examples are too numerous to mention, but you can visit to learn more.

In the not-too- distant future, the PHX East Valley will add another 1 million people to our region. Our success is pinned on how well we produce an educated workforce and how well they deliver.

In our region, “it’s all for one and one for all”, and we’re cheering each other on.