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November 28, 2012

Host: Ted Simons

AZ Technology & Innovation: Preventing a Shortage of Engineers

  |   Video
  • Paul Johnson, the Dean of ASU’s Fulton Schools of Engineering, says Arizona employers are finding it difficult to find “qualified” engineers, and he explains what ASU is doing to reverse that trend.
  • Paul Johnson - Dean, ASU Fulton Schools of Engineering
Category: Technology   |   Keywords: AZ, Technology, Innovation, ,

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Ted Simons: In our continuing coverage of Arizona technology and innovation issues we focus on the people who make those innovations happen. Engineers. The Dean of ASU's engineering school says state employers are having a hard time finding qualified engineers so the school is working on ways to recruit and educate engineering students and keep those graduates in Arizona. I talked about the shortage with Paul Johnson, Dean of ASU's IRA A. Fulton schools of engineering. Good to have you here. Thanks for joining us.

Paul Johnson: Thanks for inviting me.

Ted Simons: what kind of shortage are we talking about here?

Paul Johnson: There's a shortage and it's going to get worse. It's been mediated a little bit by the economy, but for a little while we had the demand and supply. What we have in front of us is about 40% of the engineering work force is retirement eligible. Many of those people have sort of held on to their jobs for during the weak economy because they were worried about their retirement accounts. We're starting into a phase where they are going to start retiring and the economy picking up. We're seeing that in all the indicators of the recruitment with our students. For example we have a career fair that we're holding in a couple weeks. We have our own career center, so we get postings and keep track of the number of postings, keep track of the number of companies interested in the career fair. The number of postings is up 50% this year. The number of companies coming to the career fair has steadily increased during the weak economy and now it's really taking off again.

Ted Simons: Is there a certain type of engineer we're talking about? Is it across the board? Is it relatively focused? What kind of engineers are we seeing a shortage of?

Paul Johnson: There's a pretty broad spectrum of engineers and engineering skill sets. At the current time employers will say there's a shortage of people in sort of maybe the two to five year time frame of experience. Some people with early experience. They are looking for a lot of those and are having trouble finding that group of potential employees. They are also in certain areas in engineering. There's more demand than others. For example the three primary areas right now are sort of computer science, computer systems. A lot of it spurred by our iphones, all the Apps, smart phones, I-Pads. Electrical engineering is another area, and mechanical engineering is another area.

Ted Simons: You mentioned the brain drain, folks that have worked on these things, developed these kinds of things. Getting older, moving on. Are there simply not enough young people to come around or are there enough young people but they just don't seem to be qualified, they aren't there yet? What's the dynamic?

Paul Johnson: I think we're in a situation if you look at the numbers, so there's about depending whose numbers you use there's 1.5 million engineers across the country. 40% will retire in the next five years, most in ten. The number of engineers produced each year is not going to match the rate at which they are retiring. In addition you have new fields developing, new companies starting up and it's not just a replacement of the people that retiring but it's every time an engineer inconveniences something new and an industry sprouts up because of that, it's like you need a whole new flavor of engineers to help feed it.

Ted Simons: What kind of plans do you have to recruit more students to retain them, and to keep them in Arizona? Is there something you can do? Are there actually focused plans?

Paul Johnson: There really are. This is actually one of the fun things about being Dean of an engineering school is to get to work on these. It's a topic particularly attracting young students to come to college in engineering. It's a topic that resonates with sort of anybody who has ever been an engineer, people in science fields. They want to help. But the key thing, our strategy right now has been we want to make young potential college students very aware of what engineering is all about. There's stereotypes, you have to be good at math or whatever it is. If you want to create things that don't exist, if you want to work on things that really matter, if you want to be the problem solvers, the innovators, if you want to start companies, look at engineering. Here's examples of all those things. So we try to make that there and then we have our students at ASU actually work in the classrooms with teachers in the K-12 system so they can see the students in high school and below can see what a college student looks like, can see they are enjoying what they are doing, they are having fun. They can tell them about the exciting things we're doing. We go down to fifth grade. We host the first Lego league competition in the United States. When students come to us we have to make sure we keep them. Students go through first Robotics these days, first Lego league, they know competition. They know technology can be exciting. Creating things can be fun. So we have actually had in the last four, five years totally reworked our program at the university so that in the old days and actually most engineering programs are like this, you come into the university an you have to make your way through physics and calculus. Then they talk to you when they are a Junior. The generation these days if you don't excite them with what you're doing, if they don't see engineering early on, they are going to go somewhere else in the university. We have changed our program so we have this engineering from day one philosophy. We bring the students in, they are solving problems, creating things, doing real engineering stuff. Just as freshmen, in the first week.

Ted Simons: well, it will be interesting to see how well that develops an how well we can minimize that particular shortage. Good information. Thank you for joining us.

Paul Johnson: Thank you.

Housing Recovery Research

  |   Video
  • Assistant Professor of Real Estate Andra Ghent of ASU’s W. P. Carey School of Business talks about her research that takes a look at different mortgage laws across the nation and how they help or hinder recovery from the housing crisis.
  • Andra Ghent - Assistant Professor of Real Estate, ASU W. P. Carey School of Business
Category: Business/Economy   |   Keywords: housing, economy, research, ,

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Ted Simons: Antiquated state foreclosure laws can greatly impact the speed of the foreclosure process according to a new study that looked at why some states are recovering from the housing crisis faster than others. Here to talk about all this is the author of the study, Andra Ghent of ASU's W.P. Carey School of Business. Thanks for joining us. As far as the research, what exactly were you looking at?

Andra Ghent So we see different laws across states with very different consequences. They probably put a drag on the housing market in the recovery. So the question was, do these serve any useful purpose? Did different states design them with a Pacific purpose in mind? For the most part the finding was after doing a lot of archival work, no. They seem to be the result of individual judges rather than statutory intent. I didn't see a lot of patterns with a few exceptions.

Ted Simons: You're talking about going back hundreds of years.

Andra Ghent: Yes. That was one of the things I was very surprised by. I assumed that I would be looking primarily during the great depression when we had the last major housing crisis, but it turned out for the most part whether a state requires a judge's approval to foreclose, that's usually decided by the start of the U.S. civil war. Redemption rights go back quite a ways. It's a very long process and they are not -- there wasn't a systematic intent.

Ted Simons: You mentioned judicial involvement. How do you compare the slowness that you see, the delay, with just trying to protect against fraud?

Andra Ghent: I understand there's a big concern about fraud. I think most of that concern is quite misplaced. Even in the robo signing cases in Florida, the vast majority of cases, the borrower has not made their payments in years often. I don't think there's a lot of concern about fraud. Often it's a matter of they don't have the right paperwork. What's happened is lenders realized they didn't have the right paperwork, it was going to be too costly to retrieve it or they didn't are it and they would have to provide other forms of documentation that they owned it, so in some cases they made up the paperwork. Obviously courts cannot turn a blind eye to that, but a better system would be to not require all this paperwork or not require a judge's approval.

Ted Simons: Or streamline the process.

Andra Ghent: Absolutely.

Ted Simons: You have judicial approval, amount of paperwork required. Redemption periods prior to foreclosure, what are those and how long can they be?

Andra Ghent: There are some that are before foreclosure. Some have a waiting period, three months, six months sometimes before the lender can foreclose. That's linked with the advertising requirements before they foreclose. Then there's something after they foreclose. The lender can take possession but the borrowers has a certain right, sometimes up to a year, to say, I would like my property back. Now I have the money.

Ted Simons: The idea is if it's difficult to sell to a prospective buyer it sits and deteriorates.

Andra Ghent: That's the big concern. Some of the hope might be that you see a whole lot more renegotiation when you make it difficult for the lender to foreclose. We don't see a ton of renegotiation but the bigger issue is that when the lender gets the property back it's going to be in much worse condition because it's been that much longer without maintenance. Not only does that have an effect for the lender, it has an effect on neighboring homes. Though you may not have let your mortgage payments get behind you're still suffering because there's a vacant home that's been there for two years.

Ted Simons: we have seen a lot of that in Arizona. Where are we on the scale? Are we doing things right? Can we speed things up?

Andra Ghent: We're definitely one of the fastest states, maybe the fastest to foreclose. We're deed of trust state. Doesn't require any judicial approval for foreclosure. To some degree that may be why we're recovering quickly. Most people heard about the headlines, FHFA index, we were up 26% in home prices year over year. Even with distress sales it's over 15%. That strong recovery probably has something to do with the fact that we have cleared our foreclosure backlog.

Ted Simons: If Arizona has done it quickly and other states are slow, is this a thing where a federal law might make sense?

Andra Ghent: There's been four attempts throughout history to Harmonize mortgage loans across states. I think there's a big push for that particularly that -- mortgage market is basically a national market now. Does it really make sense to have different laws when the lenders are national lenders? I think that would make sense and would make it easier rather than have 50 sets of paperwork and servicers having different training in each state, you can nationally harmonize it, it's difficult to get that through but there is some desire just as a there has been some desire four times this century people have tried to harmonize them.

Ted Simons: Good luck.

Andra Ghent: Nobody is going to pay attention. If we don't do it now nobody is going to do it.

Ted Simons: Good to have you here. Thanks for joining us.

Andra Ghent: Thank you so much.

Solar Energy Conference

  |   Video
  • Leaders in Solar Energy are meeting in Phoenix this week for the Solarpraxis PV Power Plants Conference. Greg Watkins, the President of TAWA Power, a California-based Native American-owned renewable energy company, comments on the conference and renewable energy opportunities & challenges on Arizona’s tribal lands.
  • Greg Watkins - President, TAWA Power
Category: Energy   |   Keywords: arizona, solar, energy, future, ,

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Ted Simons: Solar energy leaders are gathering for the fourth annual P.V. power plant conference joining us now is a participants in this year's conference, Greg Watkins, president and CEO of a California-based Native American owned renewable energy company. Good to have you here.

Greg Watkins: Thank you for having me.

Ted Simons: The goal of this particular solar conference, utility scale?

Greg Watkins: Yes. The goal is to update everybody on the advances and the complex tease associated with large scale generation of power, both privately and on Native American lands and how they can be tied into the national grid and the local grid.

Ted Simons: What is the state of the solar industry right now?

Greg Watkins: There's quite a bit of flux in the photovoltaic as prices are continued to drop precipitously in the cost of panels. Over five years they have dropped 50%. Now large scale project, about $1.5 a lot. The price has dropped, putting some technologies out of business, so there's a shake-up from continued technological advances.

Ted Simons: Compare if you would rooftops with the large scale systems.

Greg Watkins: Well, rooftops are limited to the size of your roof, which typically on a one-or two story building would only supply maybe 30% of the load of the building underneath it whereas a farm is out of the way, less valuable piece of land where you can distribute completely the energy efficiently to different users that may not have the opportunity to do it themselves.

Ted Simons: Is that a more vibrant aspect than rooftops now?

Greg Watkins: Yes. The industry is consolidating. It's cheaper to do bigger scale projects, less disruptive. There's less liability issues with leakage, smaller systems are just more complex than large unified systems.

Ted Simons: Now as far as tribal lands are concerned, this is a focus of what you do, what are you seeing?

Greg Watkins: Well, the Native American nations all are nations. They have excellent opportunities because their solar insulation is so good. Lots of times powerlines cross their property, so we work with Native American tribes to help them own the systems. So others in the past have leased land from them, but we bring the equity, financing and all that, we take a reduced equity position and training them to own their own systems to export first self-generate for their conditions and administration and schools, then also to export off to the Department of Defense or other off-takers that actually have to take power from Native American tribes.

Ted Simons: Are you seeing that aspect of the industry develop?

Greg Watkins: It's trying to. It's complex because the tie-in spots are very complex and very expensive. The process just to make an application is over a quarter million dollars. So that's at risk a little bit. It's very difficult, but yet in California, the solar pipeline is already full through 2017. They have more projects than they can take. They are at a 33% renewable energy portfolio standard and are going to take it up to 40%. That's one thing Arizona could do.

Ted Simons: I was going to say, that's California. We're in Arizona. Why are we not the solar leader of the world?

Greg Watkins: You actually have the best sun in the world in Arizona and northern New Mexico. Better than California. One of the reasons is, well, you have cheap energy. You have nuclear power and natural gas. Both of them have other consequences like long term storage of nuclear materials and carbon thrown into the atmosphere, none of which happens with solar. A feed-in tariff would help, but a higher renewable energy portfolio standard would drive innovation, drive investment to come to Arizona to capture your natural resource.

Ted Simons: Seems like an advancement on the standard we already have may be a long while in coming. Feed-in tariff. What exactly is that?

Greg Watkins: It's the price people pay for power. There's grid stability. A years ago somebody in Arizona flipped the switch an it blacked out all of Southern California. When those sort of issues -- that was -- that lost business and all kinds of stuff. Grid security, national security, portfolio spread, all coming into the energy mix of the United States.

Ted Simons: As far as manufacturers and developers are concerned it seems this is such a developing market, things change so quickly. Talk about durability with costs and how to prepare for the future.

Greg Watkins: Well, the technology is changing very fast. A lot of money is going into the market. Pretty much anything that is a utility scale project has very good warranties backed up by big companies with insurance and so it's getting more and more feasible, the cost has dropped, reliability is going up. Arizona is manufacturing quite a few panels.

Ted Simons: It is. What do you see for the future of Arizona as far as solar is concerned?

Greg Watkins: If they change their RPS, you'd have a lot more entrepreneurial developers coming in to do projects here. Without that I think that you're going to -- you're setting up solar to compete against nuclear and coal, and gas. So it's going to have a hard time on a pure price point basis all thought price is getting close to grid parity right now.

Ted Simons: Interesting. Good to have you here. Thanks for joining us.

Greg Watkins: Okay.