Economic development groups are stepping up efforts to attract foreign investment to Arizona, taking advantage of a weaker dollar, which is making investments in the United States more affordable to foreigners.
"Right now, this is an unprecedented opportunity for us to engage in international markets, through the value of the dollar," said Barry Broome, president of the Greater Phoenix Economic Council.
Broome and other economic development specialists spoke Tuesday at a gathering of business and community leaders at InNexus Biotechnology, a Canadian company that established a $9 million research and development center in Scottsdale.
The event was held in connection with Invest in America Week, a promotion of the U.S. Department of Commerce, which for the first time in a generation is directly encouraging foreign investment in the U.S. through a newly formed Invest in America office.
The department is organizing events throughout the nation this week to showcase the benefits of foreign investment to local communities.
Previously, efforts to attract foreign investments were left to the states, and the federal government did not play a role, said Holly Vineyard, deputy assistant secretary in the U.S. Department of Commerce.In large part, that was because the U.S., as the largest recipient of foreign investment in the world, could attract a lot of capital without a federal program, she said.
"We were the only major economy where there was no federal-level effort to attract foreign direct investment," she said."The states had been doing a great job, but we felt there was more the federal government could do."
The new office is serving as a single contact point for foreign investors who are encountering problems with their businesses - from dealing with federal regulations to difficulties obtaining visas, she said.
The office also assists state officials in selling the U.S. as a place that is "open for business," said Aaron Brickman, director of Invest in America.
"For a long time we were complacent with foreign direct investment," he said."We assumed the investment would keep flowing."
But the U.S. share of total foreign investment has fallen because of the emergence of economies in Eastern Europe, India and China, and a greater effort is needed for the U.S. to stay competitive..
In Arizona, more than 200 foreign-owned companies employ 64,000 workers, which is more employees than in either the aerospace or semiconductor industries, Broome said.Germany was the largest source of Arizona's foreign investment last year, followed by Japan, the United Kingdom, Netherlands and Canada.
Jeff Morhet, chief executive of InNexus, said he is happy with the company's investment in Arizona. The company operates labs in a research building at the Mayo Clinic in north Scottsdale, where technicians are developing antibodies to help fight cancer and other diseases. Arizona offered what the company needed, including a skilled work force, and the company plans to expand beyond its 31 employees, Morhet said.
"There are greater resources available to technology companies in Arizona than most people give it credit for," he said.