Before the 1940s, the world had not exactly beaten a path to the East Valley’s doorstep. Tempe had a growing state college, but agriculture still drove the economies of the little towns that dotted the region.
World War II began to change that. The area’s role as a military training center raised its national profile. After the war, people and businesses began to stream in.
Among them was Motorola Inc., the Chicago-based giant then in the global forefront of technical innovation.
One of the more colorful versions—albeit perhaps apocryphal—of Motorola’s arrival has it that the Army asked the company to move some of its research facilities out of Chicago because it was worried the big city would be hit by an atomic bomb.
In any event, Motorola opened its first Arizona facility—a research and development lab in Phoenix—in 1949.
Within a few years, Motorola became the largest employer in Arizona, with major plants across the metro area. Tempe, Chandler and Mesa all hosted large Motorola operations. They supported Motorola’s cutting-edge work, which had begun with the development of the first car radio, included the world’s first mobile phones, and linked humanity to the moon during the Apollo missions.
Mesa’s plant, at Broadway and Dobson roads, opened in the late 1960s. The company made semiconductor wafers there for more than 30 years before closing the factory in the early 2000s. The site is now a thriving industrial park.
Motorola moved out of its Chandler campus, in what is now called the Price Corridor, in 2008. The land is now being redeveloped.
Motorola itself began to fragment more than a decade ago, eventually splitting into two major components, neither of which remains a major player in the region. But a 2004 spinoff corporation, Freescale, in turn was sold to a company called NXP Semiconductors, which still has operations in Tempe and Chandler.
Motorola’s legacy in the region lives on in another tangible way—a way that illustrates the importance of legacy corporations in a community.
Virginia Galvin, the widow of company founder Paul Galvin, had visited the Valley often during business trips with her husband. She moved to the area in 1972 and married Motorola vice president Kenneth Piper.
Her will specified that her fortune would endow the Virginia G. Piper Charitable Trust, which issues grants to a spectrum of nonprofits across the Valley.
Thus, money generated by Motorola generations ago has continued to support East Valley organizations such as Southwest Shakespeare Company, the i.d.e.a. Museum in Mesa, the Boys and Girls Clubs of the East Valley and others.