Tech Parks Arizona celebrates 20 years and plans for 20 more
When people pictured the Sonoran Desert 20 years ago, they may have thought of a wasteland filled with tumbleweeds, coyotes and other critters. While the natural landscape may not have changed since then, the technological environment in southern Arizona certainly has evolved.
Recently, Tech Parks Arizona celebrated its 20th anniversary in Tucson, Arizona. Since its establishment as the University of Arizona Office of Economic Development in 1994, the office has grown to encompass two research parks — UA Tech Park and the Bridges — that sprawl across nearly 1,410 acres.
Since the site of UA Tech Park was purchased from IBM for $750,000 in 1994, the park has become a hub for research and innovation in areas such as STEM education and development, border and homeland security, as well as solar energy.
“One of the areas that we’re working on that is very significant is the whole area of advanced and renewable energy,” Bruce Wright, the associate vice president of Tech Parks Arizona, said. “As part of that effort, we created the Solar Zone, which is one of the largest solar testing, evaluation and demonstration centers in the world.”
On the Solar Zone’s 200 acres, tenant companies are testing and evaluating different types of solar technology with the assistance of students and faculty at the University of Arizona.
With over 40 businesses and organizations such as Citi Group, IBM and Raytheon currently occupying UA Tech Park and employing nearly 6,500 employees, Wright only expects the figures to increase as Tech Parks Arizona works to grow as a community.
“We hope we’ll continue to grow as a major technology center,” Wright said. “We’re really focused around the whole area of helping emerging companies and existing companies develop new products and moving them into the marketplace.”
A main aspect of Tech Parks Arizona is taking a piece of technology through the entire product lifecycle, Wright added. This includes not only a product’s design, but also the prototyping, testing, evaluation, demonstration and first-generation manufacturing of the product.
However, like other research parks around the globe, Tech Parks Arizona is taking its services one step further by making itself into a technology community.
“We’re getting ready to embark on a really aggressive expansion program,” Wright said. “We’re also looking to bring in residential, retail and hospitality developments. This is part of a trend around the world of technology parks being technology communities and being live-work-learn-and-play environments.”
Other expansion efforts and plans include Tech Parks Arizona’s development of its newest research park, the Bridges.
In the next 18 to 24 months, the site should be ready for its first building, which will be a 200,000-square-foot innovation center, Wright added.
The center will be home to Tech Park Arizona’s technology incubator, otherwise known as the Arizona Center for Innovation, as well as Tech Launch Arizona, the UA’s tech innovation and commercialization program that includes Tech Park Arizona.
“Our 20th anniversary is pretty remarkable,” Wright said. “When we first started, there weren’t very many people who thought this was going to be a successful enterprise. Twenty years later, we’re a major employment center in Pima county, we have strong connections to both the educational and research mission of the university and we’re playing a major role in trying to help attract international technology companies into southern Arizona.”
With extensive plans already in motion, Tech Parks Arizona has its eyes set on its 40th anniversary.
Here’s a look at the last 20 years of Tech Parks Arizona:
1979: IBM opens its Tucson facility.
1994: The University of Arizona Purchases the site from IBM and two tenants (IBM and Raytheon) continue to work on-site.
1995: The University of Arizona begins park operations and Moltech Corp becomes the first new tenant of UA Tech Park
1998: The Tech Park completes its first Master Land Use Plan.
1999: UA Tech Park’s releases its first economic impact study. The study reports that UA Tech Park housed 17 companies, created 8,635 jobs and accumulated $28.8 million in tax revenue.
2000: UA Tech Park grows to host 21 tenants, create 12,539 jobs and generate $38.8 million in tax revenue, according to an economic impact study.
2001: The Association of University Research names the UA Tech Park as an “Outstanding Research Park.”
2003: The construction of UA Tech Park’s 70,000-square-foot tenant building — otherwise known as Building 9070 — is completed. The Arizona Center for Innovation also opens.
2004: Citi becomes a tenant of Building 9070 and the Park publishes a revised Master Land Use Plan.
2005: The Center for Technology Commercialization opens and the number of park tenants grows to 31 companies.
2007: The Bridges Planned Area Development is approved by the Tucson mayor and council and the UA acquires land for the Bridges.
2009: The Arizona Board of Regents passes the UA Tech Park at the Bridges Master Land Use Plan. Meanwhile, the UA receives a $4.7 million grant from the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration to improve infrastructure at UA Tech Park and the Bridges.
2011: The $2.6 million Solar Zone infrastructure project is completed, along with the Solar Zone Amonix and TEP Solar City projects.
2012: The Solar Zone TEP II and AstroSol projects are completed while DRS moves into Building 9070 and United Health Services takes occupancy in Building 9040.
2013: The Solar Zone E.ON project wraps up and the Security Innovation Hub Program, the Security
Innovation Hub program, a laboratory for the testing and evaluation of border technologies, successfully hosts its 1st annual Border Technology Showcase.
2014: Tech Park Arizona retires the total $98 million bonds that were used to purchase the Park.