Phoenix, ASU's Thunderbird School Want To Make Phoenix A More Global City

By Mark Brodie
Published: Friday, December 18, 2020 - 2:34pm
Updated: Friday, December 18, 2020 - 2:41pm

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MARK BRODIE: After the new year, Phoenix and the Thunderbird School of Global Management at ASU will be launching a new program called Phoenix Global Rising. The aim is to coordinate different entities across the city to make Phoenix a more global city. Among the specific goals are to foster international trade and development, reach U.N. sustainable development goals, and to strengthen the global entrepreneurial ecosystem. Joining me to talk more about this is Sanjeev Khagram, director-general and dean of the Thunderbird School of Global Management at ASU. And Sanjeev, what exactly is Phoenix Global Rising and what is its ultimate vision?

SANJEEV KHAGRAM: It's a simple, straightforward answer, Mark. Phoenix should be and can be a truly global city in every sense of that term. Which means being deeply connected to the international arena in terms of trade, in terms of financial flows, in terms of people coming and going, an international airport that really has flights all over the world — a true global city.

BRODIE: So what are the areas in that, in which Phoenix is so far doing OK or doing well? And what are some of the areas where the city might need to improve?

KHAGRAM: Well, we've come a long way in the last 15, 20 years, as you know. Obviously, just as — take the last thing — Sky Harbor Airport, we're starting to get more and more international flights. Obviously, the pandemic has made that a little bit more difficult, but we're going to get over it — out of that. I'm very optimistic about that. Number two, international trade with our major partners, Mexico, Canada, of course, has grown, but we're starting to diversify to certainly to Asia and even to some, interestingly, Eastern European countries. Number three, of course, the city is incredibly diverse, internationally diverse. Immigration continues to grow and more and more people come to Phoenix from all over the world because of the opportunity for jobs and a high quality life. So all of these combined make us ready and on them poised. And let me just add two other critical things: One is that we've increasingly become a technology hub and this is the fourth industrial revolution and technology and the pandemic has only accelerated this, and we have incredible institutions of higher education.

BRODIE: So let me ask you about the first thing you mentioned, Sky Harbor Airport. And there are certainly a number of international flights between Phoenix and other cities around the globe. Are there enough and are they to the right kinds of places for Phoenix to achieve these goals?

KHAGRAM: No, they're not enough, and we need to diversify. We need to get a direct flight to China. We need to get a direct flight to Japan. We need to get direct flight to India. We need to get more direct flights to Europe and so forth — Latin America. But again, the growth of the city, fifth largest city in the United States, the fastest growing city in the United States — Maricopa [County], very much equally so in terms of growth, both in terms of population, but economically. So I'm quite confident that we're going to have those airline flights. And they're a single, very predictive indicator of globality, so to speak, being global.

BRODIE: I'm curious about the timing of this. You referenced the pandemic, and I'm wondering why do this now as opposed to maybe waiting until we've really rounded the corner of the pandemic or we're more fully out of it?

KHAGRAM: Well, as a straightforward, we have to be a pioneers when others retreat, Mark. We have to be ready, willing and able to seize the opportunities. The pandemic has created incredible challenges, obviously. But there are many great opportunities that have emerged. And those that are willing to push the frontier, and certainly Mayor Gallego, but all of the partners that we've assembled are ready to go. And, you know, we have a great infrastructure. We have great organizations. We have a lot of pieces. We just need to bring them together and, you know, seize these great new opportunities. And look, we're really excited. I have to put a plug in. Thunderbird is now going to be downtown. We have a great new global headquarters. It's going to be a hub of all these global activities. And it's our social obligation and mission to support Phoenix in every way in becoming a global city.

BRODIE: Is there another American city that you're looking to as a model? Like if Phoenix could be like City X, it would be good for us. We'd be happy with that.

KHAGRAM: Well, there's elements, certainly. You know, let's take our most close and sister city, Los Angeles, right? You know, it is the interstices of Asia, Latin America and North America. Well, certainly Phoenix can do that. And given, you know, the density, the challenges of Los Angeles, still a great partner. There's so many things we could do that parallel what Los Angeles has been and will continue to be. But together, it's not a necessarily just a competition. Together, Los Angeles and Phoenix, that's a smart region that could be really powerful and be part of the globalization sort of pathway we're looking at to seize.

BRODIE: It's interesting because so often, you know, you hear about cities competing against each other. It sounds like you're saying that, for example, in the example you reference Phoenix and L.A., those cities could potentially work together in an area like this.

KHAGRAM: Absolutely. I see technological transformations happening. There are many challenges. I want to be honest about that. But the opportunities are unlimited.

BRODIE: Once this project gets up and running after the new year, what kinds of things will residents of Phoenix see to indicate that this is happening? How will help residents of Phoenix notice that this is a thing that's going on?

KHAGRAM: Look, we need to have some early wins to show that it really means something. So if we can get some more major companies, you know, establishing either major new operations or offices, increasing the number of jobs, high-paying jobs available to our citizens, fantastic. When we start to see that inclusion where we really integrating, for example, refugees and immigrants into the fabric of the city — that's a sign. And, you know, go back to where we started — international airline flights. When we start to see flights to many other places around the world. That's a pretty obvious indicator that we're making progress.

BRODIE: Well, you know, some of those things you mentioned sound like things that the city has been working on in the past. I guess I'm curious what is different about what you'll be doing come January relative to what the city has been doing or at least trying to do over the past number of years.

KHAGRAM: There has never been a systematic, coordinated, collaborative effort to do this at scale. There have been lots of great individual efforts, small partnerships, forays here and there. But as an overall initiative, bringing all the different partners in the city together with the leadership of the city government and Mayor Gallego, that has never happened in this way that we're talking about. It's putting everything, all of our assets, all of our chips on the table and finding synergies that frankly haven't been exploited to date. So that's what's going to make it really different from the past.

BRODIE: All right. That is Sanjeev Khagram, dean and director-general of the Thunderbird School of Global Management at ASU. Sanjeev, nice to talk to you. Thank you.

KHAGRAM: Thank you so much, Mark. Please stay safe and healthy.

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