Opinion: Investment in autonomous vehicle industry could reap 75K jobs

As we embark upon a new decade, it’s hard to miss the technological advances happening all around us. Arizona in 2020 is a state ripe with investment in cutting-edge technology, one where entrepreneurship is thriving and the breakthroughs of tomorrow are happening right in our own backyard.

Arizona’s autonomous vehicle sector is a prime example of how our state has positioned itself to be on the leading edge of the future. After all, it’s where The New York Times said “self-driving cars go to learn.”

While it’s easy to imagine a future zipping around the state in driverless cars, what hasn’t been simple is measuring the actual economic impact of this future for our state. But economist Jim Rounds crunched the numbers and recently released a report for the Arizona Chamber Foundation on the various models and assumptions for Arizona. One thing they all point to? By leading other states, Arizona is poised to reap a disproportionate share of the billions in economic growth and investment this new industry will bring.

Rounds estimates – conservatively – that a $6.1 billion investment in autonomous vehicle research and development would lead to over 75,000 new Arizona jobs across the industry itself and in supporting industries by 2026. To put this in perspective, the growth alone in autonomous vehicle-related work in the next few years will employ more than double the number of Arizonans working in state government.

Much of this growth can be attributed to the way Arizona has uniquely positioned itself among the states to provide a welcoming environment to innovators. For example, thanks to an executive order from Gov. Doug Ducey, the Arizona Commerce Authority now houses the Institute of Automated Mobility, a team that bridges government, innovating companies, and higher education institutions to facilitate the safe development of these technologies.

Higher education is actually a critical part of this consortium. By training students for a high-tech industry poised to grow here at home, Arizona’s colleges and universities are simultaneously meeting the industry’s demand and retaining Arizona’s best and brightest.

We are investing in a workforce designed to grow with the autonomous-vehicle industry, positioning our state as the top location for additional investments by companies working in this space.

In fact, Arizona’s universities are partnering with the firms pioneering this technology to graduate engineers and software developers. That means the students we are investing in at our state universities are staying here, working here, and keeping their economic contributions here in Arizona.

But it’s not just our universities. Community colleges in Phoenix’s East Valley and Pima Community College in Tucson have developed training programs in cyber-security and autonomous truck operation that are training Arizonans directly for high-demand jobs in the workforce.

With more Arizonans taking jobs in this promising, high tech field, and companies like Waymo and Intel – which in 2017 purchased Israel-based autonomous tech firm Mobileye – expanding their research, development, and manufacturing footprints to support that growth, there is also substantial benefit to the state and local governments in tax collection over the next decade.

If we continue to support the growth of autonomous-vehicle technology in Arizona, it will yield significant resources to state and local governments that can be re-invested in priorities like education and public safety. Rounds estimates that an additional $250-350 million in taxes could be collected by 2026 in autonomous-vehicle sector growth alone, using a conservative approach to modeling the calculations. Those are substantial resources for reinvesting in our state’s priorities.

Rounds’ calculations give us a clear vision for Arizona’s economic future if we continue on the path of welcoming the forward-thinking industry. It’s an Arizona with 75,000 more people working in good-paying jobs, an Arizona training our students for the jobs of the future, and an Arizona that’s reaping the benefits of a growing, successful tax base.

But perhaps more important than any of the economic growth that Arizona will gain by being a leader is the potential impact to road safety we stand to gain. Over 800 people die in fatal car crashes in Arizona each year. Autonomous vehicle technology has the potential to bring that number down dramatically by reducing the human error that is the cause of so many accidents. It’s why groups like Mothers Against Drunk Driving and the National Safety Council have partnered with Waymo here in Arizona. We owe it to ourselves in Arizona to welcome technologies that have potential to keep our roads safer and save lives.

As this new analysis methodically predicts, Arizona can anticipate a bright, safe, and economically prosperous future if we continue to welcome innovation and resist overregulation.

— Glenn Hamer is the president and CEO of the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the chairman of the Arizona Chamber Foundation.