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Arizona, other states jockey to pitch potential to foreign investors

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OXON HILL, Md. – Foreign businesses looking to invest in the United States have heard the success stories from California and New York. They need no convincing of the perks of settling in the Big Apple or Silicon Valley.

But other places in the United States – like Arizona – need to work harder to prove their worth to investors.

“Most of the people that we talked to honestly did not have an idea that Arizona was even a player in international business,” said Stephane Frijia, director of international business development for the Greater Phoenix Economic Council.

Frijia and other economic development officials from across Arizona descended upon National Harbor this week for the SelectUSA Investment Summit, hoping to build a brand for the state and convince foreign investors of Arizona’s pro-business climate.

The two-day SelectUSA Investment Summit – the second of its kind – brought together 1,300 companies from 70 countries and more than 500 economic development officials from across the United States. The Department of Commerce program, established by President Barack Obama in 2011, promotes business investment in the United States.

During his speech Monday, Obama said the goal of the summit is to make it easier for states to attract investors, while also making it “easier for our international partners to find the best opportunities.”

“We’ve got a good story to tell, but we want to make sure all of you had a chance to hear it,” Obama said.

Inside a large exhibit hall at the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center, representatives from 45 states and two territories spent the better part of two-days trying to do just that – pitching their state’s story to investors from all over the world.

Some pitches were flashier than others, with some state meeting under giant displays reading “Team Texas” and “Indiana – A State That Works,” while others settled for a small table and some pamphlets.

Arizona’s booth featured a wall-size display of an illuminated freeway leading to the downtown Phoenix skyline, under the question, “How do you access an express lane to the world’s largest markets?”

It answered its own question with “Arizona know-how,” followed by a laundry list of selling points from “aggressive pro-business climate” to “unbeatable quality of life.”

The Arizona team included representatives from the Arizona Commerce Authority, Greater Phoenix Economic Council and several cities throughout the state.

Frijia said many of the potential investors at the summit knew about the Grand Canyon and the universities in Arizona, “but it’s very superficial knowledge.”

“They don’t understand that the region is the 14th-, 15th-largest region in the U.S., or the city of Phoenix alone is one of the largest cities in the West,” Frijia said. “So when you start really going into the details you see a lot of ‘ah-ha’ moments and smiles on their faces because they learn something new.”

Their messaging appeared to be working, with 30 back-to-back meetings scheduled between the two days, and dozens of passers-by stopping to pick up brochures about Arizona cities.

Frijia said the Greater Phoenix Economic Council and Arizona Commerce Authority also arranged a dinner reception Sunday night before the summit where they met with 50 people from nine countries.

“We don’t wait for companies to just show up at our booth,” Frijia said. “We were actually very proactive in our approach.”

Valentin Hernandez, vice president of business attraction for the Arizona Commerce Authority, said the amount of traffic at the Arizona booth shows that more people are beginning to see what Arizona can offer.

“The U.S. is open for business and so is Arizona, and I think it’s showing through the appointments that we’ve got and the interest we’re getting here in the exhibit hall as well,” Hernandez said.