Q&A: Steve Zylstra, CEO/President At Arizona Technology Council

By Giving Hope ArizonaJune 22, 2016
Steve Zylstra
Steve Zylstra

Steve Zylstra is considered one of the premier association leaders and community activists in Arizona. He was recently named by Arizona Business as one of state’s top innovators in healthcare, energy, aerospace and tech. 

Q: What are the key value propositions to market to current and new members?  

A: The Arizona Technology Council is the voice and face of the technology community. We continually lobby state legislative and congressional delegations, and introduce legislation that improves the business climate for technology companies. We advocate on behalf of all of our members — from startups to large, multinational companies. For larger companies, we work collaboratively with their government relations staff. For smaller companies that need to stay focused on their core business, we represent them and work to protect them from excessive government regulation.   

In addition, we constantly inform and connect our members by annually staging more than 160 events, with most educational in nature. Member companies send their teams to our events for professional development and to connect with others who want to grow through that experience by doing business with each other.   

Through our digital publication,  

TechConnect, social media channels, newsletter and website, we also promote the industry and our members throughout the state and the country. Our objective is to shine a bright light on the technology industry, our member companies and the people and technology behind them.   

Additionally, we negotiate lower-cost products and services through our Business Essentials programs, including 401(k) plans, health insurance, cybersecurity insurance and other business services.   

Finally, through our standing committees, we enable companies and individuals to work together on issues that the technology industry in our state faces. They get to roll up their sleeves and create lasting relationships that are useful in the business environment.   

Q: Name a few key results that AZTC has made on AZ with your efforts (lobbying or ?)   

A: In 2008, we helped pass a bill that gave Arizona the best Research & Development (R&D) tax credit in the nation. In 2010, we helped pass a refundable R&D tax credit for companies with fewer than 150 employees. We also were instrumental in getting approval of an Angel tax credit and are now working to recapitalize it.  

In 2011, we were successful in getting the support needed to pass the Arizona competitiveness package, which lowers corporate income taxes. We also were the lead organization asking former Gov. Jan Brewer to veto Arizona’s Religious Freedom Act, similar to legislation now wreaking havoc in North Carolina and Mississippi. 

Q: What do you gain by networking and being on community boards?  

A: It’s important that we model the behavior that we expect of others. Each Council board member volunteers and makes a financial commitment to participate on our board. As president and CEO, I try to model that same behavior by participating on other boards around the state that are particularly germane to our cause and our industry. I serve on many boards focused on science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) with the intent of giving back to the community, and using our knowledge and experience in the same way we expect of our own board. I also develop long-term relationships in the community that are vital to our success in those efforts. Networking is what the Council is about. We’re a place to connect and grow. 

Q: What are most important programs or tactics the AZTC uses to enhance awareness? 

A: TWe have a very robust set of activities in marketing, public relations and social media. I’m also a guest columnist for multiple publications serving Arizona, including the Phoenix Business Journal, AZ Business Magazine and InBusiness magazine. We collaborate with the Arizona Commerce Authority to publish TechConnect and very actively update our website. We promote not only our organization, but our value proposition: our members, the people and the technology.   

Q: Best marketing programs AZTC has done? 

A:The Council recently launched a different kind of marketing program: a peer-to-peer group exclusive for mid-career technology marketers. We modeled it after cohorts exclusively for chief executive officers, entrepreneurs and other executive leaders. The Arizona Technology Council’s Marketers Network gathers 10 to 12 business-to-business marketers on a monthly basis to problem-solve, share best practices and build a trusted marketing community.   

The production of our annual report, which reflects on our past year as it chronicles all of the programs and initiatives the Council produced during that year, also serves as a profoundly important marketing tool. It is mailed to all member companies, government leaders and pertinent media.   

The Council’s TechFlash partnership with the Phoenix Business Journal as well as other contributed pieces in publications such as InBusiness magazine showcase the Council’s thought leadership, brand and reputation within the marketplace.  

Q: Worst 3 marketing programs? 

A:  A print marketing piece to promote the Council’s annual Governor’s Celebration of Innovation gala. It was mailed to all member companies and previous event attendees, proved costly and didn’t deliver a worthwhile return on investment.  

Property and casualty insurance marketed through the Council to our membership. Our members didn’t respond and the messaging clearly was ineffective.  

Attempting to draw advertisers into the Council’s then-print publication, TechConnect, during the Great Recession. The entire advertising industry was changing and ad sales were dismal.  

Q: Does engaging the community in AZTC committees have a positive impact? 

A: One of the most important value propositions of the Council is our 13 standing committees. They are chaired or co-chaired by members and each has staff liaison. Programs and events emerge, and members develop the lineup or agenda that we advocate at the Legislature. It keeps the members engaged and a lot of value comes from their working together.  

Q: Do you and your team rely on technology to enhance your brand or in person? 

A: Yes, and in equal proportion. Enhancing the brand is extremely important through our social channels, blog, newsletter, digital magazine, email communications and the Council’s website. However, with more than 160 events and in-person programs such as the CEO Network, Executive Roundtable and the Marketers Network, coupled with the Council’s leadership speaking regularly to industry groups, in-person marketing is just as important.