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Scottsdale Combines Tourism and Big Business

Jan 1, 2016

Tourism not only ranks as Scottsdale’s most important industry, it has become the industry that brings business to Scottsdale.

Wealthy CEOs, many of the millennial generation, come to play tennis, golf, relax at a resort spa, hike and bike in desert mountains and take in the city’s vibrant arts and culinary scenes. So taken are they with the lifestyle in this city next to Phoenix, they buy vacation homes and move their companies here.

They come to play; they stay to do business.

“Scottsdale epitomizes a work-life-play environment,” says Kate Birchler, member of the Scottsdale Tourism Advisory Task Force and assistant vice president, tourism marketing, Macerich Shopping Centers. “The city is very pro-tourism, given it’s the top economic driver.”

But to preserve the quality of life that defines a resort community, the city has been careful to encourage development that does not stress its resources and jeopardize its appeal.

“Essentially, Scottsdale is focused on responsible and quality wealth-generating development that will preserve and enhance our local quality of life,” says Danielle Casey, the city’s director of economic development. Target industries include advanced business services, information, communication and technology.

George-Ann Tognoni's The Yearlings marks the entrance to Scottsdale’s Civic Center Mall.

George-Ann Tognoni’s The Yearlings marks the entrance to Scottsdale’s Civic Center Mall. © Katherine Rodeghier

Businesses moving to or expanding in Scottsdale include the Web-hosting company Weebly; California tech companies Zenefits and Boomtown; software developer InEight; online marketing company Yodle; and the leading platform for service commerce, Booker. These join established companies such as General Dynamics, whose Mission Systems makes communications networks for the military and government, including NASA. The health care industry ranks as the largest employer with three major hospitals, including a branch of the Mayo Clinic.

Scottsdale “has a reputation for a very high level of entrepreneurial activity,” says Casey, who refers to findings from the investment monitoring firm CB Insights that show “it has witnessed the highest number of venture capital ‘deals’ of any city in the Metro Phoenix area.”

The quality of life in Scottsdale is an obvious factor driving business development, says Casey, but cost and location also play a role. “For example, a company expanding out of the Bay Area may be very enticed by our low cost of overall business operations, large labor pool and proximity to the West Coast.”

The city also attracts a significant amount of foreign investment, especially from the Canadian market, says Casey.

The Canadian presence “started to move very dramatically during the recession when Canadians were pouring into the United States in very large numbers,” says Glenn Williamson, Canada’s honorary consul in Arizona. A decade ago he founded the Canada Arizona Business Council, when he estimates the state had 30 or 40 Canadian businesses. Now it has 350.

“We started to see a much younger Canadian crowd in Arizona, specifically Scottsdale,” he says. They were drawn to the active lifestyle and the competitive restaurant and nightlife scene. This age-35-to-45 crowd was buying “every piece of commercial and residential property,” says Williamson. Now 90 percent of all international commercial property and 95 percent of all international residential property in Maricopa County, which includes Scottsdale, is Canadian-owned. “Almost all the companies that were setting up shop here, their CEOs had a house here, they played golf here, and the bulk of them were in Scottsdale,” he says. “A million-dollar home per week for almost three years was sold to a Canadian.” He adds that these new homeowners began “to question why they had their U.S. offices in upstate New York or New Hampshire or Jersey when they were down here.”

While lifestyle proves a big draw, other factors bringing business from Canada include lower labor costs — a welder might make $75 in Alberta, but $18 in Arizona — and the rejection of California and its regulatory practices, says Williamson.

According to Williamson, local government in Scottsdale is extremely pro-business. It went through a negative phase six or seven years ago when some government officials feared development would threaten the quality of life in their land-locked community. Now, he says, by carefully choosing target industries “it elevates the type of companies that Scottsdale gets: a smaller percentage of companies much higher in the food chain.”

The primary focus is to build business organically without incentives or subsidies, says Mayor W.J. “Jim” Lane. It’s a balancing act between bringing in new business and maintaining Scottsdale as a resort city. He estimates between 20,000 and 25,000 employees are in the fields of health care, bio-science and biotechnology, industries he says appeal to the millennial generation.

The city features a AAA bond rating, and the financial news company 24/7 Wall St. ranked Scottsdale No. 6 on its list of best-managed major U.S. cities last year.

When choosing a location for business, “most companies are looking for a well-run city,” says Lane. From street cleaning to pothole repairs, “we can ill afford to let anything go” without risking tarnishing the city’s image as a resort destination. “Tourism is our economic engine,” he says.

Among the major business centers in the city are Scottsdale Airpark, next to Scottsdale Airport, and SkySong Center, a public/private partnership with the Arizona State University Foundation.

Covering 8.6 square miles, the Airpark ranks as one of the largest employment centers in Arizona, with 41,000 employees working for companies such as GoDaddy, Taser, JDA Software and Nautilus Insurance. SkySong is a mixed-use project of 1.2 million square feet of office, retail and research space. Its ASU Scottsdale Innovation Center provides a platform for companies to come together for collaboration and growth.

Things to Do in Scottsdale

With more than 330 days of sunshine a year, leisure time in Scottsdale often means being outdoors.

The beauty of the Sonoran Desert unfolds in Scottsdale’s McDowell Sonoran Preserve, covering 30,200 acres with nearly 150 miles of trails for hiking and mountain biking among those giants of the desert, the saguaro cactus. Rock rats can choose from 200 named climbs of varying difficulty inside the preserve.

Outside the preserve, hiking the Echo Canyon Trail up Scottsdale’s famous peak, Camelback, has become almost a rite of passage. Sunrise or sunset hikes yield the best views. Those who’d rather not explore the desert on foot ride horseback or take off-road tours through the foothills of the McDowell Mountains in a Jeep, Hummer or luxury SUV.

It may seem counterintuitive to consider water sports in the desert, but the Scottsdale area has eight lakes and rivers for boating. The Lower Salt River’s calm waters make ideal conditions for kayaking or tubing. During seasonal peak water flows, the Class III and IV rapids on the Upper Salt thrill whitewater rafters.

Hot air balloons offer a great way to see the desert landscape from on high.

Hot air balloons offer a great way to see the desert landscape from on high. © Katherine Rodeghier

The beauty of the desert can be appreciated from above in a hot air balloon. Hot Air Expeditions picks up passengers from Scottsdale resorts for sunrise and sunset flights. Passengers arrive early to watch the balloons inflate and then climb into a wicker basket for liftoff. A chase van follows along to the landing site, where the crew sets up breakfast or evening hors d’oeuvres.

At 75 resorts in the Scottsdale area — a good portion in the Five-Diamond category — outdoor recreation means myriad opportunities for tennis and golf. Its 200-plus golf courses include the notable TPC Scottsdale, Troon North and Grayhawk as well as classics McCormick Ranch, Camelback and Gainey Ranch.

Those resorts also offer plenty of options for pampering in their spas. Treatments may use elements of the desert such as Arizona river rocks, desert clays, Arizona honey and desert herbs. The Spa at The Boulders has a Native American tepee for meditation and a resident shaman who helps guests get in touch with their spiritual side. The Willow Stream Spa at the Fairmont Princess offers a Well & Being program with a medical doctor, nutritionist and integrative medicine practitioner who help guests create a customized wellness plan.

Find Western wear and Native American items in the shops of Old Town

Find Western wear and Native American items in the shops of Old Town © Katherine Rodeghier

Head indoors to explore Scottsdale’s arts and cultural side. Western Spirit: Scottsdale’s Museum of the West opened this year with five galleries showcasing paintings, sculptures and artifacts telling the story of westward expansion. The Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art sits in a 21-acre park in Old Town and features modern and contemporary art and architecture. Fans of architect Frank Lloyd Wright tour Taliesin West, his winter home.

One of the most concentrated neighborhoods of galleries in the country, the Scottsdale Arts District, and nearby Marshall Way Arts District in downtown Scottsdale host ArtWalk on Thursday nights with receptions, artist demos and music. The Fifth Avenue Arts District, also downtown, boasts more than 60 shops.

Visitors looking for retail therapy find more than 500 shops, galleries, restaurants and bars downtown. Across the Arizona Canal lies the biggest shopping destination in the Southwest, Scottsdale Fashion Square, with more than 250 retailers.


General Manager, Hotel Valley Ho

As chair of the Scottsdale Cultural Council, I’m involved heavily with the city and the arts community. We have a great arts and cultural scene. The performing arts are going fantastic and pretty much operate year-round. A hot topic at the moment is a desire to continue to grow Scottsdale as an arts and cultural destination. We have a desire to organically grow great events, world-renowned events like an Edinburgh Festival. Whether it be spring training, golf tournaments, the Fiesta Bowl, car auctions or a culinary festival, everyone loves hosting events in Scottsdale.

Scottsdale developed a really great culinary scene. There are a lot of great independent local restaurants. We have fantastic chefs, great mixology, and it’s not just Southwest cuisine anymore. It’s an undiscovered foodie paradise.

The weather is fantastic; it’s pretty much sunny 12 months of the year. I hike every morning as the sun comes up. The Sonoran Desert is amazing. People don’t necessarily pair beauty with the desert — the desert is barren, the desert is bleak — but here the desert is really beautiful.

I think sometimes the tagline “The West’s Most Western Town” is confusing. It’s a young and up-and-coming place. It should be called the “New World of the West.” It recovered from the recession, and residential and commercial development is going gangbusters. The Scottsdale we have now and the Scottsdale we have in five years will be very, very different — and all for the good.

Scottsdale Info to Go

Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport lies less than 10 miles southwest of downtown Scottsdale; taxi fare costs about $30 in moderate traffic. SuperShuttle charges about $20 per person to downtown Scottsdale for a shared van, $69 for an exclusive non-stop van. Scottsdale Airport, nine miles north of downtown Scottsdale, serves private and corporate jets; US-VISIT customs service eases entry for international visitors with proper visas. A taxi to downtown Scottsdale runs about $35 in moderate traffic. Fares vary from either airport to locations outside downtown.

Scottsdale: Just the Facts

Time Zone: GMT -7 (MST: Does not observe Daylight Saving Time)
Phone Code: Country code: 1 City code: 480
Currency: U.S. dollar
Entry/Exit Requirements: International visitors should consult U.S. Customs and Border Patrol for admission into the United States.
Official Language: English
Key Industries: Tourism, technology, health care, insurance, finance

Where to Stay in Scottsdale

The Boulders Resort & Spa Nestled among 12-million-year-old boulders, the resort recently joined Hilton’s Curio brand. Renovations added 5,200 square feet of meeting space. 34631 N. Tom Darlington Drive, Carefree $$$$$

Fairmont Scottsdale Princess This mega resort near the McDowell Mountains is good for couples as well as families with kids and hosts the PGA Tour’s Waste Management Phoenix Open. 7575 E. Princess Drive $$$$$

Hotel Valley Ho This boutique hotel downtown is retro cool with mid-century architecture and furnishings, plus handcrafted cocktails in ZuZu Lounge named for 1950s movie stars. 6850 E. Main St. $$$$

Restaurants in Scottsdale

Bourbon Steak This steakhouse showcases fine cuts of beef, but one of the most popular dishes is lobster pot pie served tableside. Fairmont Scottsdale Princess, 7575 E. Princess Drive $$$$$

FnB Organic ingredients from Arizona farms turn up in imaginative seasonal menus in this highly praised downtown gastropub. Arizona wines get top billing. 7125 E. Fifth Ave., Suite 31 $$$

Virtù Named for the Machiavellian goal of excellence, this Old Town restaurant’s rotating menu is described as “wandering Mediterranean”: house-made pastas, seafood and locally sourced produce. 3701 N. Marshall Way $$$

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