What if California were still a haven of high-profile tech companies but had lower personal and corporate income taxes, a lower cost of living, more affordable housing, a lower regulatory burden, fewer mudslides, fewer cars on the freeway, no Kardashians, and better pizza?
It wouldn't be California.
It would be Phoenix.
(Sorry, New York and Chicago. The pizza thing is true. Phoenix was named America's best pizza city by Travel and Leisure, which also means it is possible--though calorically inadvisable--to eat a burrito for breakfast, a Sonoran hot dog for lunch, and one of America's best pizzas for dinner, as long as you're in the Valley of the Sun.)
That's the argument being made by the Greater Phoenix Economic Council (GPEC), the regional economic development organization that's launched an aggressive campaign it's calling #CAstruggles to recruit tech companies and entrepreneurs to one of the nation's largest and fastest-growing cities.
While #CAstruggles just launched, the region has already shown remarkable success recruiting brand-name tech companies. Amazon, Apple, Gainsight, Opendoor, Upgrade, Waymo, Yelp, and ZipRecruiter have all opened offices across the metropolitan area in recent years. Greater Phoenix's desirability among Millennials is one big reason so many knowledge-based companies are viewing the region as a destination. Recent research ranked the city as the fourth-most-desirable urban area in the country among Millennials.
One reason may be the average age of Phoenicians: 36, which is solid Millennial territory.
It's worth noting that Millennials are just human beings born between 1981 and 1997, not the exotic and lazy--yet somehow still dangerous--animals often caricatured in pop culture. At 36, the age of the average Phoenician also intersects nearly perfectly with the average age of a founder running a startup with $1 million or more in revenue, which, according to the Kauffman Foundation, is 38.
Greater Phoenix's youth, large and still-growing population, and relative ease of living (especially when compared with California's major cities) haven't been lost on civic leaders, including GPEC president and CEO Chris Camacho.
"Over the past few years, our leadership has been engaged with Steve Case, Sean Parker's Economic Innovation Group, and other visionaries who have championed the idea that entrepreneurship and innovation aren't limited to the Bay Area," said Camacho. "Throughout our participation in that dialogue, it has become clearer and clearer that Greater Phoenix can become the country's hub for tech innovation and entrepreneurship. We have no intention of becoming a discount version of San Jose. We know we can become the region of choice for tech companies and leaders, and we can do that while maintaining our strategic advantages--including affordability."
Lots of cities have stepped forward and tried to claim the mantle of the "Next Silicon Valley."
Several have been profiled in this column.
So, what's different about a city that, not all that long ago, was a sleepy cowboy town that owed its entire existence to the invention of air conditioning?
The difference, according to Camacho and the city's civic leaders, is that the city isn't trying to become the second Silicon Valley.
It has a bigger, more original vision:
It intends to become the first Greater Phoenix--a brand-new hub of innovation that ironically doesn't have to rise from the ashes of a collapsed industrial economy, as so many cities outside the coasts have.
Camacho and his team are aggressively selling that vision of a first Greater Phoenix--rather than a second San Jose--to California's innovators and tech leaders.
And they're ready to sell it to the rest of the nation.