The Expander: Phoenix
It's hard to pinpoint just one industry that defines the Phoenix metro area. Over the last 20 years, the Valley of the Sun has grown by more than 50 percent, meaning it's had to expand all the basic services needed for a major metropolis, opening huge opportunities for entrepreneurs. With generous loan and grant programs for newcomers and well-developed institutions like Arizona State University's Spirit of Enterprise Center, it's a great place for small-business owners to get started. But don't be surprised if a signature industry emerges over the next decade--a nascent tech scene and coordinated revitalization efforts downtown are attracting more startups and tech-savvy businesses that are planting the seeds of the city's future.
To say the Phoenix entrepreneurial community took an interest in John Shaffer's business is an understatement. When he came up with his idea for a sports surfacing company (think basketball and tennis courts, running tracks and gym floors), he was able to run the business model through Arizona State's off-campus executive entrepreneur program. Then he refined it with the help of ASU's Center for Entrepreneurship and the Phoenix Small Business Development program. After that, he was referred to several local mentors, who helped him work out the details before Rhino Sports went live in 2001. His experience wasn't out of the ordinary, either. "No business begins and survives, grows, or thrives all by itself," says Shaffer. "One of the nice things about Phoenix is the very strong bond of entrepreneurs who want to help each other, both in formal settings and through their businesses." But there is a flip side: Shaffer, who worked for several years in New York, sees Phoenix as a more competitive and fast-paced market than other towns he has worked in. "People think we're totally laid back because we live in the sunshine," he says. "The business atmosphere is casual, but you have to be quick to the punch. It's like the Midwestern mentality sped up. This place has a cadence all its own."