The hot spot
Young engineers are discovering new lives in the Arizona desert
You can live anywhere. And there are certainly locations that are good for building a career.
Two young Raytheon engineers have found the right place for both: Tucson, Arizona, home of Raytheon’s Missile Systems business.
“I love having cheap rent and being able to live alone and save money,” said Amelia Swan, a mechanical engineer who designs, builds and tests missile steering hardware. “I have friends who are in San Francisco and rent is half their paycheck.”
Affordability and quality of life are also big draws for Tyler Allen, a systems engineer building simulations for the RAM missile, Tomahawk cruise missile, Stormbreaker bomb and Javelin weapon system. Even more important to him: The opportunity to work on innovative technology.
“We create virtual environments that missiles fly through,” Allen said. “We give them targets, terrain and things that could distract them. That’s how we quantify how the missile’s going to perform before it ever gets to the range.”
Tucson is becoming a new hot spot for young engineers looking for a healthy work-life balance and a lifestyle that's much more affordable than, say, Silicon Valley. The total cost of living in Tucson is below the national average, while San Francisco's is 62.6 percent higher. Money Magazine has even named Tucson one of the top five cities for millennials.
It's also home for Raytheon, the largest private employer in southern Arizona with nearly 11,000 employees. The company is looking to add more than 2,000 jobs in the next five years as it expands several of its missile lines.
“Many of the 200-plus aerospace and defense companies that call our region home are here in large part [due] to Raytheon,” said Joe Snell, president of Sun Corridor Inc., the region’s economic development organization. “Raytheon has been a true partner of ours, assisting our efforts to recruit and expand high-wage, high tech companies to our region.”
Swan is finding that Tucson offers plenty of opportunities to grow in her career, beginning with a Raytheon boot camp for new hires that provides on-the-job training on software not learned in college.
Raytheon also offers its employees opportunities for higher education, providing tuition assistance and flexible programs through the University of Arizona or online institutions such as Johns Hopkins University Engineering for Professionals.
Swan realized early on that even though her education and career were important, she needed more. She found it when she joined a Tucson performance company as a dance instructor.
“Dance is something I always did as a kid,” she said. “Eventually, a lot of those things you enjoy sort of go away as you focus on paying the bills, and so I was very fortunate to find this thriving dance community that I wouldn’t have expected.”
Allen also appreciates the size of Tucson and amenities the city has to offer. “Tucson is a big enough city to give you that metropolitan feel,” he said.
Over the last year, the city's vibrant food culture has blossomed in its thriving downtown, where dozens of chefs are preparing heritage foods in distinct modern ways. Tucson’s thriving culinary scene has helped earned it Unesco’s coveted title of Capital of Gastronomy.
Tucson’s downtown now offers more restaurants, theaters and new living options, from urban lofts to eco-friendly single family homes that generate more energy than they use. Locals and visitors also frequent the area for shopping and nightlife, which includes food trucks and open concerts. In the warm climate, there's a lot of outdoor living.
With more than 350 days of sunshine and an average temperature of 70 degrees, it’s good to be a golfer in Tucson. Both private and public options are plentiful.
“You always know what the weather’s going to be like,” said Allen, a Midwest native. “It does get hot, but it’s pretty much always dry. You have monsoon season, which people here think is a lot of rain, and it’s not.”