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Regional Report: Breaking New Ground In The West & Southwest

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From a surge of IPOs in Washington State and manufacturing momentum in Utah to greater growth in smaller Texan cities, it’s an exciting time in the West and Southwest.



While Texas’ big urban areas like Dallas, Austin, Houston and San Antonio often capture the headlines, the big story is now in the smaller cities, said Robert Allen, president and CEO of the Texas Economic Development Corporation. For example, Laredo, the largest inland port on the U.S.-Mexico border, recently opened the largest avocado-ripening facility in North America. Abilene also scored one of the most significant projects in its history when Great Lakes Cheese announced a $185 million packaging and distribution facility that will create 500 jobs. And the city of Lubbock received the largest private capital investment in its history ($870 million) from Leprino Foods. “The pandemic opened people’s eyes to the Tier 2 and Tier 3 markets,” said Allen. “We can present several options and deliver on all fronts. There are a lot of spaces outside of urban cores where Texas can deliver.” 

While those smaller places might be the latest exciting story, development is still going strong in urban cores. Texas Instruments continued to expand in Dallas and recently announced a $3 billion expansion. Samsung is also considering locating a $17 billion semiconductor plant in Taylor, outside of Austin. “There’s a verified track record of success that Texas presents to businesses, and you see this long-term growth,” said Allen. 

Governor Greg Abbott and local officials welcomed Leprino Foods’ announcement of a manufacturing facility that will bring 600 new jobs to Lubbock.



In response to recent supply-chain disruptions, many manufacturers and distributors now seek to spread out their operations on both coasts and in the central U.S. Part of that includes eyeing up more locations on the West Coast to access Pacific ports and the region’s large population base. Kroger, Ball and Crown Cork & Seal have announced new facilities in the state in the past year. “There were many companies that did not want to be in California, and now they’re coming to Nevada. Suddenly our geography became very important,” said Mike Brown, director of the Nevada Governor’s Office of Economic Development. 

The Tesla Panasonic Gigafactory also continues to fuel growth in the lithium sector. Nevada has large natural mineral deposits of lithium, something that is driving an entire chain from mining through lithium battery use to lithium recycling. 

Like many states, Nevada is now dealing with the challenges of the Great Resignation. The Office of Workforce Innovation aims to reduce siloes in the state and build a collaborative effort to address workforce and energy issues. The Emsi Skills Match Tool allows individuals to go to their computer and get a complete analysis of their skills, what kind of job may work for them, and what type of training they may need. The state has also put a greater focus on community colleges, training and apprenticeships. “We have all of these federal resources coming now, and it’s going to be about the thoughtful deployment and investment of those funds for the future,” said Brown. “My office has been fully deployed in how we allocate those funds because there is a once-in-a-century opportunity.” 



The Grand Canyon State recently reached new goals in economic development. During the 12-month fiscal period ending June 2021, the Arizona Commerce Authority worked with companies to land 23,317 new jobs and net nearly $25 billion in local investments. With fast in-migration and a robust talent pipeline, Arizona has become an epicenter for advanced manufacturing with rapid growth in semiconductors, electric vehicles, batteries, biotech and aerospace, said Sandra Watson, president and CEO of the Arizona Commerce Authority. “Arizona’s economic development momentum is as strong as ever—with no signs of slowing down,” she said. 

In May 2021, ElectraMeccanica broke ground on a new U.S. assembly and engineering plant for electric vehicles in Mesa.

One particular area with solid momentum is the electric-vehicle industry. Within 16 months, the state welcomed three electric-vehicle manufacturing plant groundbreakings, by Lucid, Nikola and ElectraMeccanica. In addition, two of the world’s largest semiconductor companies, Intel and TSMC, announced more than $32 billion in projected investments. Part of Arizona’s challenge is now ensuring it can continue cultivating the talent it needs to stay on top. The state developed a robust STEM talent pipeline involving community colleges and K-12 education systems to meet the demand for skilled workers. 

“Technology is changing faster than ever, requiring workers with increasingly adaptable and advanced skillsets,” said Watson. “To stay ahead of evolving trends and technologies, we must continue to build connections among industry, education and government to ensure our highly skilled workforce remains ready to take on the jobs of tomorrow.” 

#11 UTAH 


The Beehive State is at an unprecedented time in its history, said Ben Hart, deputy director of the Utah Governor’s Office of Economic Opportunity. The economy is growing at a rate of 3.3 percent, and unemployment is at a record low of 2.4 percent, according to the most recent data. As the global economy undergoes a massive recalibration, Utah is well positioned to capitalize on opportunities in several industries, including tech and manufacturing, said Hart. 

While the Silicon Slopes has driven most of Utah’s development in recent years, some of the fastest growth and most momentum is now in manufacturing, said Hart. He attributes part of this to the state’s ramp-up in PPE equipment at the start of the pandemic, which then spurred growth in the sector. “We’ve had a lot of manufacturing companies that we’ve announced expansions for here in the state,” said Hart. 

For example, Northrop Grumman announced in January 2020 an expansion on the GBSD project near Hill Air Force Base that will create 5,000 new jobs. Texas Instruments announced in June 2021 that it would buy Micron Technology’s factory in Lehi for $900 million. In addition, the state is also winning smaller manufacturing projects in rural areas. “It feels like for the first time in our state’s history, we’re firing on all cylinders, in the sense that it’s not just urban but urban and rural, and across all kinds of industries,” said Hart. 



While the early part of the pandemic lessened demand for coal, oil and gas and hampered Wyoming’s revenues, the state is bouncing back. Low tax rates and an open economy led several companies to take a fresh look at the state in 2020 and 2021, said Ron Gullberg, strategic partnerships director, with the Wyoming Business Council. “These financial tools, as well as a very favorable regulatory structure, make Wyoming one of the most business-friendly states in the nation,” he said. “Open spaces and opportunity for an adventurous lifestyle attract not only businesses but remote workers.”

TerraPower chose Kemmerer as the site of its advanced reactor demonstration project supported by the U.S. Department of Energy.

ISA Corporation and Avalon International Aluminum both relocated operations from Oregon to Evanston in the past year. In addition, metal manufacturing company EMIT Technologies completed a $10 million expansion and added 85 jobs in Sheridan. While traditional industries performed well in 2021, there are also other opportunities on the horizon. Nuclear innovation company TerraPower announced in November 2021 it will construct a reactor demonstration project in Kemmerer. “We are focusing on how we add value to our core industries and leverage those efforts to active new sectors,” said Gullberg. 



Colorado continues to demonstrate a strong rebound from the pandemic with consistent growth in GDP, employment, retail sales and other economic factors, said Michelle Hadwiger, director of global business development for the Colorado Office of Economic Development & International Trade. Restaurant and hotel revenues exceeded their pre-pandemic levels for the first time in June 2021, and the state GDP increased nearly 12 percent year-over-year in Q2 2021. New business filings increased more than 21 percent in the 12 months ending September 2021. “Like the rest of the country, the state’s economic recovery is influenced by swings in Covid-19 case rates, supply-chain shortages and inflation,” said Hadwiger. 

Hadwiger noted that from 2010 to date, Colorado has outpaced national growth by ten percentage points or more in nine industries, including bioscience, aerospace, advanced manufacturing, and transportation and logistics. There have been several notable announcements in the Centennial State in the past year. European online sportsbook Tipico selected Denver for a technology hub with a projected 441 new jobs, and Strive Health announced another 250 jobs. In April 2021, P2P truck-sharing platform Fluid Truck announced an expansion of its headquarters and 1,500 new jobs in Denver. “We are excited to build here in Denver,” James Eberhard, CEO and founder, Fluid Truck, said in a statement. “We believe Colorado has all the elements to create big companies outside of the coast and look forward to helping grow the next wave of technology leaders and innovators.”

#21 IDAHO 


With two consecutive years of record budget surplus and tax relief coupled with significant infrastructure investments, Idaho’s economy continues to surge, said Tom Kealey, director of the Idaho Department of Commerce. Food processing and advanced manufacturing remain two of the fastest-growing sectors in the state. Last fiscal year, 16 companies either expanded or located in the state due to the pro-business climate and economic resiliency, said Kealey.

AZEK announced in March 2021 it would establish a new production facility and create 146 new jobs in Boise. Metal Quest announced in January 2021 an expansion and 25 new jobs in Kootenai County. And in July 2021, Lamb Weston announced a $400 million expansion and 130 new jobs on its processing line in American Falls. “Idaho’s economy continues to grow, prospect and attract business, thanks to the combination of a highly skilled workforce, low taxes, limited government regulation, efficient infrastructure and the state’s natural beauty,” said Kealey. 

However, like most states, Idaho is now challenged with talent recruitment and retention. To address this, it has created career and readiness workforce initiatives like Idaho Launch and Next Steps Idaho. “The state will continue to provide assistance and guidance to Idaho businesses and organizations to combat this problem head-on,” said Kealey. 



Montana demonstrated record new business and personal income growth over the past two years, said Bridger Mahlum, government relations director at the Montana Chamber of Commerce. In 2020, more than 3,500 new businesses were created in the state, the fastest rate in the past 10 years. Montana also now has the fourth-highest rate of business ownership in the nation, with 6.3 percent of households reporting income from a business or a farm. 

“Quality of life, outdoor recreation, cost of living and a relatively predictable legal climate” are among the factors drawing business to Montana, says Bridger Mahlum, Montana Chamber of Commerce.

High-tech, one of the fastest-growing sectors, generated more than $2.9 billion in revenues in 2020, more than $400 million more than the previous year. Mahlum attributes this partly to changes brought on by the pandemic, such as the great shift to remote work. Manufacturing is also booming, growing more than double the national average in employment, income and output. “Companies appreciate the work ethic of Montanans,” said Mahlum. “We regularly hear from multistate employers about the commitment of their Montana employees relative to others. Quality of life, outdoor recreation, cost of living and a relatively predictable legal climate are other factors that draw business investment.”

NorthWestern Energy announced in May 2021 plans to build a $250 million natural gas plant in Laurel. TDS Telecommunications started construction on a 500-mile fiber-to-the-home network in Billings in September 2021. Cognizant ATG broke ground in early 2021 on two new facilities in Missoula to accommodate 350 new employees. And in October 2021, Gov. Greg Gianforte reopened the Montana Asia Trade Office to focus on generating opportunities and expanding sales and investments across sectors like wheat, pulse crops, machine, education and pharmaceuticals. 



Economic development officials in the Land of Enchantment recently released a 20-year strategy for diversifying the state’s economy. It was developed with $1.5 million in federal recovery funding and sought to identify where the state could build the most momentum in diversification. The state hired research institute SRI international to engage more than 100 public, private and nonprofits to design an actionable long-term plan. Empower & Collaborate: New Mexico’s Economic Path Forward identified the state’s primary challenge areas, then sought to address them in a path forward to build a robust economy that “engages local talent, cultivates innovation and delivers prosperity for all New Mexicans.” It highlights several industries, including cybersecurity, aerospace, biosciences, film, green energy and global trade, then lays out ideas to streamline regulations and create better pathways from higher education to industry. 



The Beaver State found new optimism in its innovation prospects when expense reporting company Expensify made an IPO in November 2021, the first tech IPO in the state since 2004. This comes at a time when state officials are trying to foster more innovation. In February 2021, the Oregon Futures Commission released the 10-Year Innovation Plan, a roadmap to expand the state’s innovation ecosystem and encourage entrepreneurs to start businesses. The 96-page plan has four key strategies. It includes helping Oregonians turn ideas into commercialized products and developing support services for entrepreneurs. It also ensures access to risk capital and promotes Oregon as a place to start and grow innovative companies. 

Hillsboro will be the site of Genentech’s new state-of-the-art fill/finish facility.

Oregon has also had several notable announcements in the past year. Genentech announced in March 2021 a $175 million expansion and 100 new jobs at its facility in Hillsboro. Facebook announced in March 2021 the construction of a $2 billion data center in Prineville, and Amazon announced a $27 million fulfillment center and 1,800 new jobs in Woodburn. 



The Evergreen State has experienced a historic surge in IPOs in the past year. As of October 2021, 15 companies in the state had announced initial public offerings, compared to only one in the past four years. Seattle-based fintech Remitly raised $300 million through an IPO on Nasdaq in September 2021. In the largest-ever IPO for a preclinical biotech company, Sana Biotechnology raised more than $587 million in February 2021. Other Washington state biotech companies to go public in the past year include Impel NeuroPharma, Codiak BioSciences, Athira Pharma and Silverback Therapeutics. And in August 2021, cannabis marketplace Leafly announced an estimated $532 million IPO. 

Washington is now continuing to cultivate homegrown entrepreneurship and innovation through several initiatives. The Equitable Innovations Accelerator supports “entrepreneurship for all by prioritizing entrepreneurs from underserved and historically marginalized communities.” The first-of-its-kind program provides 10 tech startups with up to $100,000 in non-dilutive philanthropic grants, programming and access to mentors and coaches. 



While California continues to rank rock bottom in Chief Executive’s Best and Worst States for Business survey, there’s no shortage of businesses investing in the state. And despite the ongoing headlines about doom and gloom, recent data points to an impressive pandemic rebound. In November 2021, the Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development announced $150 million in tax credits for several projects. Infinity Energy announced a manufacturing facility and 209 new jobs in Fresno. EnerVenue announced 1,692 new jobs in Fremont to manufacture super high-capacity nickel-hydrogen batteries. And Vietnamese EV manufacturer VinFast announced a $200 million capital investment and 1,065 job to establish its U.S. headquarters in California. 

“VinFast was established to bring affordable luxury electric vehicles to the U.S. market, and we are already building a world-class corporate team in the U.S. center of advanced transportation and smart technology,” said VinFast U.S. CEO Van Anh Nguyen. “We greatly appreciate the support of the state of California as we prepare to launch a brand that will significantly increase EV adoption worldwide and help California and the U.S. meet critical environmental goals.” 


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