EXECUTIVE MANAGEMENT TEAM
The ACA executive management team consists of seasoned executives bringing together the best in economic development, management and communications. Each individual brings an unrivaled background, talent and skill set that, when combined, perfectly positions the ACA to usher in this new era of economic development — the passionate pursuit of business, the creation of jobs and the stimulation of the economy to benefit all of Arizona. The Arizona Commerce Authority’s executive team carries forth the ACA’s mission locally, nationally and globally.
Sandra Watson is an economic development professional with 28 years of leadership experience in business attraction and expansion, innovation, entrepreneurship, economic policy and workforce development. She and her teams have worked with more than 1,113 companies committed to creating more than 247,000 quality jobs and investing more than $105 billion in capital in the state.
Currently, Ms. Watson serves as the President & CEO of the Arizona Commerce Authority (ACA), a public-private partnership that leads statewide economic development. The unique structure of the ACA brings together leaders from private industry, academia and all three branches of state government. She also oversees the Workforce Arizona Council and Arizona Office of Economic Opportunity, a data-driven team focused on economic and labor market analysis. In addition to leading the ACA and serving on its Board of Directors, Ms. Watson serves on Arizona Governor Katie Hobbs’ leadership team as her Senior Economic Policy Advisor.
Ms. Watson serves as a founding member and the Chair of the State Economic Development Executives Network board. She is also a member of the National State Science and Technology Institute Board of Trustees and the Make-A-Wish Foundation Arizona Board of Directors. She is also a founding partner on the Institute for Automated Mobility Board of Directors.
Ken Burns serves as Chief Financial Officer and Chief Operating Officer of the Arizona Commerce Authority (ACA), where he oversees teams responsible for financial incentive program administration, accounting, information technology, human resources and overall operations.
Prior to ACA, Mr. Burns served in a similar capacity for the Greater Phoenix Economic Council for more than seven years, where he was active on Finance, Audit, Resource Development and other strategic planning committees.
In addition to his economic development experience, Mr. Burns has served as an independent management consultant and with a regional CPA firm. His executive experience includes serving as Chief Operating Officer for two mid-sized law firms. He also served on the firms’ executive management committees.
In his earlier years, Mr. Burns held leadership positions in diverse industries including manufacturing, telecommunications and the construction trades.
He currently serves on the Clearinghouse CDFI Arizona Board of Advisors and volunteers on the Finance Committee for Florence Crittenton.
Mr. Burns earned Bachelor of Science degrees in Business Administration, Mathematics and Computer Science from Wayne State College in Nebraska and an MBA from Arizona State University. Mr. Burns has also completed University of Arizona’s Basic Economic Development Course and is a Certified Public Accountant, licensed in Arizona.
Brian Sherman serves as the Chief Innovation Officer of the Arizona Commerce Authority. Mr. Sherman approaches economic development as a social entrepreneur, startup evangelist and bureaucracy hacker. He believes human-inspired, market-leveraged, data-driven entrepreneurship can create a better world. His work is focused on public sector strategy, technology-based economic development, entrepreneurship, early-stage capital formation and technology commercialization, as well as innovation in public policy, strategy and finance.
Mr. Sherman is a 20+ year public service veteran serving in executive positions at the Arizona Technology Council, Arizona State University, the Town of Gilbert, the State of Arizona and on the founding team of the Arizona Commerce Authority.
Mr. Sherman has a Bachelor’s degree in Geography/Geographic Information Systems and an MBA from the W. P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University.
Susan E. Marie
Susan Marie is a strategy executive with more than a decade of experience in communications, operations, and business development. In her role as Executive Vice President of Strategy for the Arizona Commerce Authority (ACA), she focuses on plans and partnerships that help the organization exceed its goals. Ms. Marie collaborates across every team at the ACA and with external stakeholders to ensure alignment and execution of the organization’s foremost initiatives.
Since joining the ACA in 2014, Ms. Marie has worn many operating hats, making her uniquely positioned to both advise and act on strategic visions. She has led many key initiatives including a statewide branding campaign conducted under the Governor's direction, the creation of two five-year business plans, execution of high-level CEO Forums held during mega-sporting events including the Super Bowl, Final Four, and NCAA Championship Game, production of the National Semiconductor Economic Roadmap, and more.
Prior to the ACA, Ms. Marie held positions in Phoenix advertising agencies, with experience in B2B, B2C, and early-stage startup marketing and communications. She worked with Invest Southwest to reposition its brand and launch a new signature pitch competition, Venture Madness, serving on the Executive Committee as Marketing Chair for three consecutive years.
Passionate about all aspects of building vibrant communities in Arizona, Ms. Marie is active in the state’s arts and culture sector and volunteers with the Phoenix Art Museum docent program. She holds a BS in Political Science from Arizona State University.
Jena Coolidge McGovern
Jena Coolidge McGovern serves at the SVP of Marketing & Communications at the Arizona Commerce Authority. She is responsible for leading and executing the ACA’s strategic marketing plan. Ms. McGovern and her team amplify Arizona’s unique value proposition across a variety of tactics including paid and earned media. She believes the recipe for marketing success is achieved with three key ingredients: a team of passionate professionals, a culture that promotes creativity and leading-edge tech tools.
Previous to joining the ACA in November 2017, Ms. McGovern worked as a digital strategist and copywriter at local Phoenix advertising agencies where she developed marketing experience across CPG, B2B, health care and non-profit sectors. Ms. McGovern is also passionate about growing and supporting the state’s marketing community. From 2019-2021 served as President of the Arizona Innovation Marketing Association. She has held a position on the AZIMA board of directors for seven years and currently serves as the TIM Awards Co-Chair. Ms. McGovern is an alumna of Texas State University - San Marcos where she earned a Bachelor of Arts with a major in Journalism.
Vic Narusis serves as the Executive Vice President of Business Attraction for the Arizona Commerce Authority. Mr. Narusis oversees the business development team at ACA that are responsible for bringing businesses to Arizona and assisting companies already in Arizona grow and thrive. His relationships with local community partners including municipalities and utilities allow him to find the best opportunities and solutions for businesses. Mr. Narusis also oversees the Film and Digital team and manages ACA’s Arizona Trade and Investment offices.
Prior to joining the ACA, Mr. Narusis has spent over two decades in economic development for various organizations including the State of Illinois, the Delta Regional Authority, McHenry County Economic Development Corporation, and Woodstock Chamber of Commerce. Mr. Narusis also spent several years working in real estate development and commercial banking.
Mr. Narusis holds BS from Marquette University, an MBA from St. Louis University, and a Certificate in Public Administration from Clemson University.
Shawn oversees several research teams at ACA that collect, code and analyze employment data and produce bespoke research products to support ACA’s business attraction and expansion efforts, workforce development and marketing outreach. She also directs Arizona’s endeavors to maximize the positive impact of Opportunity Zones and Opportunity Funds in the state.
Previously, Ms. Neidorf worked in public opinion polling at the Pew Research Center in Washington, D.C., and as a newspaper and magazine journalist, most recently at The Mercury News in San Jose, California.
Ms. Neidorf has a doctorate in economic and organizational sociology from the University of Illinois at
Chicago, where she completed a concentration in survey methods. She also has a master’s degree from UIC in sociology and a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
Patrick believes in the power of compelling storytelling and is passionate about the art of simple, effective writing. At the ACA, he leads strategic public relations and external communications efforts, alongside the Senior Vice President of Marketing and Communications, with responsibilities that include sharing Arizona’s story of economic diversification, technological innovation, and policy leadership with local, national, and international audiences.
Mr. Ptak joined the ACA in December 2020. Prior to that, he spent a decade doing communications and legislative work for elected officials and political campaigns, starting as an unpaid intern on Capitol Hill. He served in the press offices of U.S. Representatives Adam Kinzinger and Martha McSally in Washington, D.C. before moving to Phoenix in 2017 to serve on the team for Arizona Governor Doug Ducey, eventually joining the governor’s senior staff as Communications Director from 2018 to 2020.
Originally from Illinois, Mr. Ptak earned bachelor's degrees in English and Political Science from the University of Dayton (go Flyers!).
As Senior Vice President for Infrastructure, Marisa Paula Walker focuses on the intersection of economic development, infrastructure and transportation innovation. Ms. Walker leads several initiatives on behalf of the ACA, including Institute of Automated Mobility (IAM): A public-private consortium focused on defining the safety standards science and policy required for a future of ubiquitous automated transportation in Arizona and the nation.
The IAM is currently working on identifying a safety assurance methodology and the specific safety metrics to evaluate the performance of ADS-equipped vehicles. The IAM also includes an Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) initiative, AZSkyTech, which facilitates a robust ecosystem of strategic partnerships to position Arizona as the most advantageous location for research, testing and safety in deploying these aerial vehicles.
Ms. Walker began her professional career at the University of Arizona, where for more than a decade she held positions that advised the University’s Associate Vice President for Economic Development on Arizona-Mexico and NAFTA issues; analyzed border economic development opportunities and competitive advantages; and organized forums and symposiums on trilateral collaborations among academic institutions in Canada and Mexico in the areas of university research parks, agricultural biosciences and optical sciences-photonics. She has authored several reports on subjects including cross-border economic integration and development, targeted industry assessments of Arizona’s Bioscience and Software Industries, and women entrepreneurship and business ownership in the state.
Ms. Walker also served as the Executive Director for the Arizona Governor’s CANAMEX Task Force where she was responsible for managing projects and priorities regarding transportation and telecommunication infrastructure; technology and process enhancements for cross border shipments; and international trade policy.
Keith Watkins serves as the Senior Vice President for Economic and Rural Development for the Arizona Commerce Authority. In this capacity, Keith plays a vital role in advising the ACA and Governor’s office on rural economic development issues and opportunities. Under his leadership, the ACA has played a direct role in creating and executing more than $6 million in new rural investment grant programs, assisting more than 60 businesses expand or locate in Arizona’s rural communities, creating more than 6,000 jobs, and generating $542M in private capital investment.
Mr. Watkins also serves as Vice Chairman of the Water Infrastructure Finance Authority (WIFA), a public bonding authority that works with Arizona communities and publicly regulated water and wastewater companies to develop, acquire and expand water-related projects. With a bond portfolio of over $1 billion, WIFA serves as a vital financing arm for these core infrastructure needs.
Prior to his work at the Arizona Commerce Authority, Mr. Watkins was Vice President of JF Companies, a privately-held diversified real estate development and water resources firm with holdings in the Western United States. Mr. Watkins managed a real estate holdings portfolio worth nearly $100 million and was responsible for negotiations for property acquisitions, entitlements, public affairs, marketing, and dispositions.
A third-generation Arizona native and University of Arizona graduate with a Bachelor of Science degree in Regional Development, Mr. Watkins has earned a national reputation for his work in economic development. He has extensive public and private-public economic development experience, having served in executive positions in many organizations.
Mr. Watkins spent nine successful years at the Greater Phoenix Economic Council (GPEC), where he led the organization’s high performing business recruitment efforts, helping to land companies such as Vanguard, Charles Schwab, and Midwestern University. Playing a direct role in the retention and recruitment of more than 200 firms, Mr. Watkins's leadership helped generate over 165,000 new private sector direct jobs and more than $2 billion in private capital investment. He also served as a founder of the Economic Alliance of Greater Baltimore, where he was recruited to start up this new private-public partnership that serves the City of Baltimore and five adjacent counties. While there, Mr. Watkins developed and executed the first region-wide business retention and attraction enterprise, helping to recruit more than 24 new employers during his tenure and helping to retain an existing General Motors plant. He also served as Economic Development Director for the Town of Buckeye where he initiated the airport master plan and aggressively marketed the Town.
Mr. Watkins also serves on many boards and commissions, representing the Arizona Commerce Authority and State of Arizona, including:
- Water Infrastructure Finance Authority (WIFA), Vice Chairman
- Maricopa County Economic Development Council, Member – this group advises the Maricopa County Government on economic development issues and opportunities
- Rural Business Development Advisory Council, Board Member – this group advises the Arizona Commerce Authority on rural policy and issues
- Arizona Association for Economic Development (AAED), Board Member
- Commission of Indian Affairs, ex-officio Board Member
- Greater Prescott Regional Economic Partnership, ex-officio Board Member