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Self-Driving on Main Street: Technology, Business Development & Growth in Phoenix’s East Valley

August 12, 2020

Partnered with PHX East Valley Partnership

Denny Barney at the PHX East Valley Partnership

Phoenix’s East Valley region is a living example of the promise self-driving holds for building more connected communities and attracting innovative companies, according to a local business leader.

Let’s Talk Self-Driving spoke with Denny Barney, president and CEO of the PHX East Valley Partnership, about the region’s dynamic economic development, how self-driving is playing a role in its growth as a tech hub, and how the pandemic is affecting the community.

Companies meeting human needs during pandemic

In this unprecedented time, Barney said everyone is trying to understand what the new normal will be. He’s impressed by how the pandemic has brought people and companies in the East Valley together in new ways.

“Meeting the pandemic head-on is a local initiative, but even more than local, it’s a human initiative,” Barney underscored. He said companies have pivoted to help their employees and the families and communities they serve. 

“Watching these companies across the region respond at the human level has been probably the most dynamic part of it,” Barney said. 

Barney noted that Waymo, a self-driving technology company operating ride-hailing and delivery services in Phoenix, has also been part of a larger pivot to help others in a time of need.

During the pandemic, Waymo has helped support local nonprofits by delivering essential food and supplies to individuals and organizations in need. Waymo is also continuing its local delivery partnerships with companies like UPS and AutoNation to deliver packages from point A to point B quickly and safely.

Barney said that until now, people thought of Waymo as a people-moving company, but the pandemic has raised awareness that Waymo can also deliver things.

“That has always been the thing that has been most exciting to me about Waymo… the idea that we can move goods and services and people in a way that we can’t even conceive today,” Barney said.

Barney pointed out that this has increased local familiarity with self-driving and helped build trust.

Driving jobs and workforce development

Despite current global uncertainties, Barney is excited about the East Valley’s future.

Barney said he believes the East Valley is resilient as a tech hub because of its long history of companies relocating to the region. He said this unique climate of innovation creates a ripple effect of different career opportunities and jobs, and that companies like Waymo are a piece of that.

“Every high-tech, fintech, and advanced manufacturing company that comes here, they bring all those jobs, but they bring the secondary and tertiary jobs that come along with that. All ships rise with the tide.” - Denny Barney, PHX East Valley Partnership

Self-driving continues to be very much a part of the fabric of the East Valley region.

“Anytime that we can have a glimpse of the future driving around on our streets today, that’s a good thing,” Barney said.

Self-driving and the future

During “Let’s Talk Self-Driving Live,” Barney reflected on his own ride in a self-driving vehicle with his sons.

“I felt safe; I felt comfortable,” he said. “We also joked a little bit about the very idea that it’s a real possibility that my grandchildren won’t need a driver’s license because of where technology has allowed us to go from a safety and efficiency standpoint.”

Among what excited him most  about the possibility of widespread self-driving ride-sharing is it could allow people to use cars only when and where they need them, potentially eliminating the need to have a car that sits in a garage or in parking lots 95% of the time.

“I’m excited for a future that changes the way we use resources,” Barney said, adding that self-driving could also give people who cannot drive, such as people who are blind, a new level of mobility. “I think it’s a blessing across the entire spectrum.”

Watch “Let’s Talk Self-Driving Live” discussions on YouTube, and follow us on Twitter for upcoming events!