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Gov. Hobbs tells space-related companies Arizona is 'open for business'

2-day space summit at ASU brought together leaders in space industry

Arizona Gov. Hobbs on stage for space panel

Arizona Gov. Katie Hobbs (left) speaks with Sandra Watson, president and CEO of the Arizona Commerce Authority, on the second day of the Arizona Space Summit on Thursday, March 28, at the Omni Tempe Hotel at ASU. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU News

March 29, 2024

More than 150 academic, business and government leaders in the space industry converged in Tempe March 27–28 for the Arizona Space Summit, a statewide effort designed to elevate Arizona as a premier hub for the space sector.

The event, co-partneredAdditional partners include the Arizona Commerce Authority, Arizona Technology Council and the Greater Phoenix Economic Council. by Arizona State University, Northern Arizona University and the University of Arizona, was a future-focused collaboration that featured a speech by ASU President Michael Crow, a fireside chat with Arizona Gov. Katie Hobbs and panels that discussed issues such as commercial low Earth orbit for research and economic development, learning from leading space hubs as models for economic development in Arizona, the promise of space for new resources, and the current investment climate for space ventures.

“There is no greater or more impactful concentration of space science and engineering professionals in the world than in the state of Arizona,” said Jim Bell, professor and director of ASU’s NewSpace Initiative, in his opening remarks at the Omni Hotel Thursday. “Between the state’s universities, the support we get from companies and institutions across the states, it’s spectacular. We're here at the intersection of academia and government and commercial space, and that is an exciting place to be.”

Bell said it was important that everyone in the room share in the dialogue about space.

“You’re here because you’re representing your company, your institute, your university, your own personal passion for space,” he said. “I think that regardless of which sector you’re in, probably all of you are space junkies on some level. Let’s share that. Let’s enjoy being in a room full of like-minded people who care a lot and want to see the state, the nation, the planet do incredible things in space.”

Jim Bell, ASU School of Earth and Space Exploration
ASU Professor Jim Bell, director of the NewSpace Initiative, speaks on the second day of the Arizona Space Summit on Thursday, March 28, at the Omni Tempe Hotel at ASU. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU News

Crow said that for Arizona to best meet the needs of the commercial space sector, new ideas and a new way of thinking is vital. In that sense, he said, the New American University model at ASU is emblematic of the path space industry leaders need to take.

“We’re decidedly uninterested in building something anyone has ever built in the past,” Crow said. “So, in this area of space, technology, space exploration, all these things, if we just approach them the way that we’ve approached them in the past, we’re going to fail.”

Crow used ASU's Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering and the School of Earth and Space Exploration as examples of innovative thinking.

He said ASU used to have 6,000 engineering students, and one third of them would not finish their freshman year. Currently, he said, ASU has 32,000 engineering students, with about 15 times as many minority students as in the past, and 90% complete their freshman year.

He said the School of Earth and Space Exploration was the desirous result of connecting the university’s geologists, astronomers, physicists, engineers and astrobiologists, and pointing them toward exploration, which he called the “core of the human spirit.”

As a result, Crow said, ASU now has approximately 450 astronomy majors compared to 40 in the past.

“The point I’m making to you is that for all of this to work, everything has to change,” he said. “The new companies that you’re forming; the new divisions that you’re forming; the new trajectories and initiatives for established companies. All these things.”

ASU president Michael Crow
ASU President Michael Crow speaks on the second day of the AZ Space Summit on Thursday, March 28, at the Omni Tempe Hotel at ASU.. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU News

Innovative ideas require an innovative workforce, the topic of a Wednesday night panel hosted by Janeya Griffin, co-founder and CEO of Equity Space Alliance, a global company committed to bridging the gap between resources and historically excluded communities within the space sector.

Greg Autry, the director and clinical professor of space leadership at ASU’s Thunderbird School of Global Management, said it’s important that the workforce is composed of “hardware workers,” like machinists and welders, as well as those with university degrees.

“I can tell you, when you go to talk to one of these new disruptive space companies, they don’t care what your GPA is,” Autry said. “I’m sorry to tell you that they absolutely freaking do not care. They do want to know if you ever built a hovercraft out of a lawnmower engine and accidentally cut the cat’s tail off. We need a lot more hands-on at every level.”

David Cela, the director of alternate missions at Raytheon, said the next generation of space workers also must be open to out-of-the-box thinking.

“It’s not necessarily a skill set,” he said. “It’s more about having an open mind and saying, ‘I have to accomplish this mission. I have this thing the fighter needs. And what do I have today right now, in my tool set, that can make this happen relatively quickly?’”

Kyle Squires, dean of the Ira A. Fulton School of Engineering, said ASU can provide that tool set by building a learning structure that focuses on experiential learning. Rather than limiting students to a summer internship, he said, have them maintain that internship through the fall semester while continuing their education through ASU’s online curriculum.

“Companies hiring the best graduates are not waiting until the fourth year to pick off that graduate,” he said. “They’re starting even before these kids begin their first day in August as first-year students. So how do we build a structure to make that learning as impactful as possible?”

Four people sitting in yellow chairs on stage as part of panel
Kyle Squires, dean of ASU’s Fulton Schools of Engineering speaks in a space workforce development panel at the Arizona Space Summit on Wednesday, March 27, at the Student Pavilion on the Tempe campus. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU News

Griffin asked the panelists how the space workforce can be diversified. According to Space Workforce 2030, an initiative designed to increase diversity in the workforce, just 57 of the 534 people who have gone to space have been women, and only 14 of the 534 have been African American. In addition, just 28% of aerospace and defense industry executives are female, and only 9% of aerospace and defense industry executives are African American or Hispanic.

Mark Van Dyke, associate dean of research at the University of Arizona, said it’s imperative universities broaden their thinking about who can become engineers.

“There’s a lot of students out there that can be engineers … and then they show up on campus and we beat them over the head with the math placement test,” Van Dyke said. “We have to stop doing that. We have to think about the barriers these traditions create, and how they’re keeping people out. We have to really think deeply about access, and how we can put programs in place that help students succeed. Especially those students who start off not as privileged as others.

Squires said ASU is one of the few places trying to solve the diversity problem at scale. He said more than 7,000 women are enrolled at the engineering school.

“That’s more than the enrollment in entire colleges of engineering,” he said. “That is serious.”

A Thursday morning panel hosted by Autry focused on why the concentration of government space activity is located in a few key states — Florida and Texas being the prime examples — and how Arizona and other states can sustain a long-term space economy.

The panelists pointed out that Texas recently launched its Space Commission with an initial investment of $350 million.

Eric Sundby, executive director of the Space Force Association, which works to get people involved in the space industry, said buy-in from state leaders is critical. He also said a state like Arizona should approach the space industry with a regional perspective.

“You can go across the state and tap into other areas,” Sundby said. “Not everything has to be located in Phoenix. Having coordination from the state really brings in a lot of those different strengths and can make the state a very attractive place for companies and just the industry as a whole.”

Group of five people speaking on panel with moderator standing behind lectern
Alires Alman of the Colorado Space Business Roundtable speaks during a panel discussion on “Insights from Leading Space Hubs” on the second day of the Arizona Space Summit on Thursday, March 28, at the Omni Tempe Hotel at ASU. Greg Autry, director and clinical professor of space leadership at Thunderbird School of Global Management moderated the panel, which included (from left) Jeff Greason, with Electric Sky; Daniel Da Cruz, consulate general of Luxembourg; Bryce Kennedy of Space Valley Coalition in New Mexico; Eric Sundby of Space Force Association in Texas; and Alman. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU News

Hobbs said that coordination already is happening in Arizona. She noted the Future 48 Workforce Accelerators announced last year that train Arizonans for careers in industries such as semiconductors, battery manufacturing, aerospace and defense.

She said Arizona already ranks first in the nation for the concentration of guided missile and space vehicle manufacturing, second for employment in those sectors, and ranks in the top five for aerospace and defense manufacturing employment.

“And we are just getting started,” she said. “One of the things I think separates us from all the other states is that we always drive to bring everyone together. We’re a very collaborative state bringing government, industry, academia, community partners and more to provide solutions that benefit everyone as we grow the space industry.”

Hobbs had a direct message for space-related companies looking to expand operations.

“Well, it’s pretty simple,” she said. “Arizona is open for business.”

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