In the early 1990s, my company was exploring locations for a strategic expansion into electro-optic system development. The criteria included access to a deep pool of talent, a robust ecosystem in electro-optic technologies and a desirable place to live that would attract and retain the best and brightest from around the country.

With the presence of an internationally recognized research university, a vibrant tech base in electro-optics, and an outstanding climate and community, Tucson was the clear choice.

After 20 years and over $200 million of revenue, our decision to establish a Tucson operation has proved to be the right one. Our success is tied to the generation of new innovation by cutting-edge scientists and the ability of skilled engineers to put such innovation into practice. We draw both ideas and inspiration from the research conducted at the University of Arizona, hire a significant fraction of our workforce (bachelor’s through Ph.D. level) from the university, and rely upon the UA to develop teachers to educate our own children as well as provide the next generation of STEM professionals.

This experience is not unique to the field of electro-optics. Many companies, spanning technologies from medical diagnostics to renewable energy, have either started in Tucson or established operations here to capitalize on the innovation and talent base anchored by the university.

Unfortunately, the UA is facing a number of challenges, including a significant decline in state support. It is an internationally renowned research institution, and lack of sustained support would jeopardize not only the continued vitality of the school, but also compromise its effectiveness as an economic engine for Tucson and the state.

In my field (applied mathematics), the university’s graduate program is ranked among the top three in the nation. The College of Mathematical Sciences is a nationally recognized leader in math education, and graduates more Hispanic mathematicians than any other college in the country. The graduate interdisciplinary program in statistics has risen to the challenge of providing rigorous training and research in statistical theory to address emerging “big data” problems in many fields, from public health to climate change.

Now is the time for the community to recognize and support the gem within our midst.

I put my bet on Tucson more than 20 years ago, a bet that has paid off handsomely. Let’s ensure that when faced with a similar opportunity, another CEO will pick Tucson first.

John McLean is a third-generation Arizona native, a 1975 University of Arizona graduate in mathematics and currently CEO of Areté Associates, a 300-person company with seven offices in five states.