The past 12 months have been good for most of the largest private sector employers in the East Valley. Many of them have expanded their work forces and are planning to do more hiring in 2007.
Each year the Tribune compiles a list of the 40 largest private-sector employers in the East Valley, and this year’s list includes many familiar names — Intel, Boeing, General Dynamics, US Airways.
A few companies such as Insight Enterprises and Albertsons, which sold some of their operations, have dropped off the list. They were replaced by Lowe’s, the home improvement store, and Go Daddy Group, an Internet company, which have been rapidly expanding their employment.
But for the most part, the same companies appear on this year’s rankings that appeared last year.
Because of ties, a total of 41 companies actually appear on the list, which covers the region east of 44th Street and Tatum Boulevard in Phoenix.
“On the corporate level, there is a robust feel to the economy and the larger companies are continuing to make investments,” said Roc Arnett, president of the East Valley Partnership. “The only one I see hit in our area is homebuilding. . . . But the builders are buying inventory of land and are planning for the future.”
Giant retailers such as Wal-Mart, Home Depot and Walgreens make up a major portion of the list. In fact, of the top 40 employers, 10 are grocery, drug or general retail stores. Most of those companies have increased their employment in the past year as they continue to open new stores to serve the growing population of the East Valley.
Population growth also served as the fuel to drive the expansion of companies in other categories such as health care and banking. New hospitals are under construction in the East Valley, and banks are opening more branches to serve new residents.
Health care-related organizations account for seven of the top 40, including Medtronic, a producer of medical devices, while six financial-services companies appear on the list.
Advanced technology companies also continue to be well represented on the list, led by Intel Corp., the largest privatesector East Valley employer for many years. Intel maintained a substantial lead over No. 2 Wells Fargo even though the semiconductor company embarked on a streamlining in 2006 to make itself more competitive against rival Advanced Micro Devices.
A total of seven high-tech and defense manufacturing companies appear on the list. Also present is Salt River Project, the East Valley’s largest electric utility and water supplier, and electronics distributor Avnet, a Phoenix-based company with major East Valley operations.
Tourism and transportation were the other major categories represented on the list, which include hotel service companies Marriott International and Starwood Hotels & Resorts, US Airways Group and cargo carrier DHL.
Among that group, Starwood and US Airways expanded their East Valley staffs the most aggressively in the past year.
Homebuilders were not on the list because most of them work with subcontractors and don’t have large numbers of employees themselves.
Arnett said the number of jobs is likely to expand as long as the East Valley’s population continues to grow.
He said the region’s population is projected to grow 14.2 percent between 2006 and 2011, which is slower than the 20 percent growth from 2000 to 2006 but is still substantial.
He also said many of those future jobs are likely to command higher wages.
“Those (bank) teller jobs and Wal-Mart jobs will always be there, but higher wage jobs will be available,” he said. “Many of the cities in the East Valley are really focusing on attracting the high-wage industry jobs.”
He said the median household income in the East Valley exceeds the metro Phoenix, Arizona and national averages, and the gap is projected to widen in the next five years.
Tracy Clark, economist for the W.P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University, also is optimistic that new jobs will continue to be created.
As long as the national economy remains strong, people will continue to migrate at a rapid rate to Arizona, creating a demand for more service jobs, he said.
About the only disappointment that Clark sees has been in high-tech manufacturing, which he said has not grown as fast as many economists had expected.
“The problem is we are no longer the low-cost producer the way we used to be,” he said.
On the bright side, a new $3 billion chip fab being constructed by Intel in Chandler will be capable of manufacturing the company’s next generation of microprocessors, “so we’re guaranteed to have a good part of that (business),” he said.
Among the fields that he thinks will remain strong is health care, with the baby boomer generation reaching an age where they need more medical services.
And even with the trend toward outsourcing, there will always be a demand for people who have an understanding of local conditions, he said.
“There is one thing you can’t get away from: Even if you are competing against a very intelligent person in another country, they don’t understand our culture as well as we do,” he said.