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ASU's economic development efforts boosting local economy

May 10, 2021

7 ASU Innovation Zones across the Valley guide businesses in every step of development

Arizona State University’s Economic Development team is celebrating Economic Development Week at a most unusual time. While the event is recognized nationwide May 9–15, many cities across the country are continuing to struggle in the midst of pandemic rubble. Fortunately, ASU continues to develop innovative ways to promote and advance a resilient economy that, in the long run, will be less susceptible to future disruptions.

“ASU is continually developing forward-thinking approaches to solving grand challenges," said Aric Bopp, ASU Economic Development executive director. “In addition to the contribution the university makes to Arizona’s overall economy, we’re also fortunate to operate in a unique ecosystem, in the form of Innovation Zones.

“Innovation Zones are part of ASU’s Economic Development portfolio, and they provide a wealth of opportunities for companies to co-locate with us, have access to a diverse pipeline of student talent, and work with staff and faculty at one of the leading research institutions in the nation.”   

How do ASU Innovation Zones impact the health of the Greater Phoenix economy? It starts by creating a collaborative environment in which high-level companies can be embedded in any of ASU’s seven zones: the Phoenix Biomedical Campus; Arizona Health Solutions Corridor; the ASU Polytechnic campus; SkySong, the ASU Scottsdale Innovation Center; ASU Research Park; ASU West campus; or the Novus Innovation Corridor, which is strategically situated on ASU’s Tempe campus. 

“More than 55% of ASU graduates stay in the state to launch their careers,” Bopp said. “Nearly a quarter million ASU graduates worked in the state in 2018, earning an estimated $15.9 billion, and paying $1.13 billion in state and local taxes. Overall, the economic impact of ASU operations on Arizona’s gross product in FY19 was $4 billion.”   

Of course, creating a resilient economy goes beyond opportunities for collaboration, talent acquisition and research opportunities. It’s also about creating an environment in which to cultivate a talented, educated and skilled workforce capable of advancing industries of the future. 

“Arizona’s world class universities are key to our state’s attractiveness for advanced industries,” said Sandra Watson, president and CEO of the Arizona Commerce Authority. “The research, training and technology development that takes place at our universities contribute to our robust innovation ecosystem, and we are proud to partner with our universities to keep Arizona a vibrant location for high-tech jobs and companies.”

Bopp points to ASU’s charter as further evidence of the university’s pledge to the community.

“Part of ASU’s commitment to being responsible for the social and economic well-being of the communities we serve is that we have a corresponding commitment to producing universal master learners,” Bopp said. “Our students are not only educated in their fields of study, but they also learn that our world is in a state of continual evolution. Their career trajectories will require that they pivot, adapt, learn and relearn throughout their lives. They take that mindset into their professions and become exceptional, problem-solving, innovative employees.”   

According to Bopp, ASU’s Economic Development team works closely with local and state economic development entities to support a pro-business environment in which companies have the opportunity to thrive. 

“ASU is a major factor in Greater Phoenix’s economic development success, and the strategy Dr. Michael Crow implemented for a New American University has elevated the region to new heights,” said Chris Camacho, president and CEO of the Greater Phoenix Economic Council. “As we propel our innovation-centered economy forward, it’s critical we meet the demands of current and future industry. A highly skilled workforce, particularly in STEM-related fields, is a major asset for companies looking to scale, and an integral facet to continue securing investment from future innovators, and the world’s biggest companies alike.”

Arizona is a pro-business state, and elected officials and economic development entities work in tandem to ensure smooth sailing on the road from relocation to startup and business success. Businesses are attracted to the Valley of the Sun for the economic environment, the climate and access to a well-trained workforce. 

“We fully recognize that every business has different needs, and those needs change over time,” Bopp said. “Our Innovation Zones are designed to provide flexible, creative options for partners and tenants. A one-person startup may opt for a monthly lease, and in short order, grow to a 50-person operation, a 100-person operation, or even a 1,000-person company. We will work with them every step of the way to grow with them.

“A partner may hire a handful of ASU students one semester, and a year later, enlist research faculty or an on-site Practice Lab to lead development of a new mobile app to take the company to the next level. We’re here to support the growth and development cycles of our tenants and partners in a way that’s beneficial to all.”

According to Bopp, co-locating on a thriving world class campus is an optional “bonus” of sorts, as co-location puts like-minded innovative companies in close proximity to one another and to cutting-edge researchers, positioning them with access to exceptional students.

“Our Economic Development team supports business development and advancement regardless of whether a company choses to reside in one of our Innovation Zones,” Bopp explained. “But of course, if an organization is interested in participating in research initiatives, or is aligned with any of our Industries of Excellence, they tend to realize co-location offers a far greater range of benefits, including access to expertise, facilities and university resources.”   

Industries of Excellence include aerospace and aviation, autonomous vehicles, biomedical devices, cybersecurity, data science and engineering, and semiconductors, among others. Some of the tenants who call an ASU Innovation Zone home include Dell Technologies, Infosys and Amazon Web Services. 

According to Bopp, there’s more to an economic development mindset than meets the eye, and he’s seeing more and more interested companies appreciate the nuances of what ASU offers in terms of business support. Certainly, savvy companies want strategically located operations with low regulatory burden, as well as access to transportation hubs and a skilled workforce. They also want to be in an environment that’s appealing with regard to cost of living and access to education, nature, and arts and culture.

“Companies also recognize the value of good corporate stewardship, and of being in an environment that supports diversity, equity and inclusion,” Bopp said. “ASU has become a champion of global sustainability, and we’re developing specialized training and development programs to meet the needs of our corporate partners. Being aligned with an institution like ours brings an inherent value that many of our partners and tenants are looking for.”

Bopp said ASU is very proud of the fact that an affiliation with the university is seen as a real plus for businesses looking to relocate or expand in Arizona. “They’re in good company,” Bopp said. “And we’re in good company.”

ASU Innovation Zones are located in seven distinct locations throughout the Valley, each providing unique options for partners and tenants. A site selector is located on the website to help companies, leasing agents and developers zero in on a location that meets a company’s specific needs. Bopp also provides personal consultations to help interested parties determine what will work best for them.

“ASU does not take a ‘one size fits all’ approach to anything we do,” Bopp said. “Not only are corporate economic development needs unique, they’re very likely to evolve as a company grows and expands. We’re an advocate, and a resource. We’re here for the lifecycle of that evolution, and we’re here to help every step of the way.” 

Written by Lisa McQuerrey. Top photo by Todd Photographic Services.

The untold origin story of ASU's beloved late albino rattlesnake Hector


May 10, 2021

Editor’s note: This story is featured in the 2021 year in review.

In April 2019, Arizona State University said goodbye to Hector, the beloved 25-year-old albino Western diamondback rattlesnake who had been at the School of Life Sciences for more than two decades. Being a rare breed of snake, Hector had a far-reaching impact on the ASU community, even after his death. Hector, the beloved 25-year-old albino Western diamondback rattlesnake who had been at ASU's School of Life Sciences for more than two decades, had five offspring — including Joey, pictured here. Joey is still on display today in the Life Sciences Building A. Photo by Max Conacher/ASU Download Full Image

But it wasn’t just the ASU community he had a long-lasting impact on. Now, the children of the man who rescued Hector from the wild are sharing an untold side of the beloved snake’s story.

In 1995, Bert Allen “B.A.” Naholowa’a was driving with his oldest daughter, Makalika, near where they lived in Tonopah, Arizona, when he spotted the albino snake slithering across the road.

“It stuck out to him because of the color,” Makalika said. “He didn’t think the snake was likely to survive in the wild, because its coloring in the desert is a disadvantage.” 

B.A. pulled off to the side of the road and picked up the snake with his bare hands — which wasn’t a totally uncommon thing for him to do as he had adopted and handled snakes regularly.

He named the snake Hector and although his family can’t recall why he chose that particular name, they said for B.A. it made sense that all animals he encountered would have names. B.A. and his family are Native Hawaiians, and Native Hawaiian beliefs were reflected in how he perceived nature and animals.

“In traditional Western sciences, there’s no place for personification of animals or plants,” said Callie, B.A.’s second-oldest daughter. “Many parts of nature have names, spirits and personhood in Indigenous cultures. Naming something doesn’t make it any less of what it is, if anything it just makes you appreciate what it is more.”

In addition to his profound reverence for animals and nature, B.A. was also interested in the sciences. This led him to contact the Phoenix Zoo, in the hopes that the snake could receive safe harbor while serving as a source for learning and inspiration to the community. However, the zoo didn’t believe B.A. had a Western albino rattlesnake, as they are incredibly rare.

Because of the fees to visit animals at the zoo at the time, B.A. was concerned that he and his family might not be able to see the snake if it was in the zoo’s care. B.A. then contacted ASU, and after having a look at the snake, ASU faculty agreed to care for Hector and keep him on display for all to enjoy.

“Hector was on display for more than 20 years and during that time likely tens of thousands of students, both in grade school and college, saw him,” said Dale DeNardo, a professor in the School of Life Sciences and attending veterinarian and director of the Department of Animal Care and Technologies. “The impact of his presence and the legacy he left is exemplified by the comments I still get from people I meet away from campus about the large albino rattlesnake they saw on campus.” 

Over the years, the School of Life Sciences lost contact with B.A. and his family. But earlier this year, after coming across the article announcing Hector’s passing, B.A.’s children reached out to ASU in the hopes of sharing their father’s story. 

They were sad to hear of Hector’s passing, as they were also grieving the loss of B.A., who died in 2016, after having a heart attack while volunteering as a medic at the Dakota Access Pipeline protests on the Standing Rock Indian Reservation.

B.A. had five children — Makalika, Callie, Howard, Reuben and Angelique. His daughters all attended ASU and often visited Hector where he was on display in the Life Sciences Building A. Over the years they also brought their own children to see Hector. 

Coincidentally, Hector also had five offspring of his own — he was bred several times when faculty realized the importance of carrying on the genes of the only captive albino Western diamondback snake in Arizona.

Hector’s legacy of education and enrichment lives on in 2021. One of Hector’s male offspring is still on display in the Life Sciences Building with his mother, with an additional female offspring also kept at ASU off exhibit. Another male offspring is cared for at the Phoenix Zoo. In addition there was a single offspring born at ASU in 2019, a grandchild of Hector, who will likely be adopted out to another institution.

After discovering the scope of Hector’s impact on the ASU community, the Naholowa’a family said they are full of pride, and they're sure their father would be too.

“It's such a big deal to all of us and we are super proud of our dad. Hector was so beautiful, I know our dad took major pride in being a part of his life,” B.A.’s son Howard said. “Nobody else would have picked up that snake and made the effort to get him protection. Our family has come a long way, but we had no money and very little resources at that time. It was a major effort to contact the zoo and ASU, and then make the 60-mile journey to deliver him.

"I'm really happy that so many people were able to see the snake. I never realized how big of an impact he had on the people walking through that hallway until I read the ASU article.”

B.A.’s children believe that including his part in Hector’s story is important, and that bringing the Indigenous worldview their father had to science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) can positively change our understanding of Indigeneity and science.

“Too often Indigenous characters are left out of real-life stories about science, so we really appreciate the chance to share the part that my dad played in Hector’s life. I think a lot of times the media portrays Indigeneity as being spiritual and not scientific, and that is not correct,” Makalika said. “Indigenous spirituality is fundamentally based upon observation, which is what Western science is based off of … It is so important to recognize the role of Indigenous contributions to our lived experiences in the sciences. Understanding that we are a part of that story gives an accurate depiction of the system and makes space to help bridge these gaps between Indigenous worlds and the Western world.”

Above all else, they hope their father’s story inspires others to respect animals and view them as one with humans.

“Understanding the wonder of nature and the wonder of the animal kingdom is so powerful,” Callie said. “If we view animals as people, and we start treating them with the respect that people are due, then it's not only good for the animals, it's actually good for us, because it makes us better human people. What I would love to see happen as Indigenous people are included in these conversations is that institutions are actually empowering everybody to be better humans.”

Emily Balli

Multimedia specialist, New College of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences