Well, I’m a “booster.” I’m very proud of where I live, both the natural beauty and the economic opportunities, especially those in technology. When it comes to regions well known for economic opportunity and high technology, none can equal the Silicon Valley of California, that prosperous and booming area south of San Francisco that is home to so much technology and entrepreneurial spirit. The San Jose and adjoining cities are, without a doubt, the kings of the kind of industry I am interested in.
As other regions attempt to duplicate this combination of technology, education, and success, you often hear of the “silicon this” or the “silicon that.” The area near Portland, Oregon and towns of Beaverton and Hillsboro refer to themselves as the “Silicon Forest.” Colorado and especially the area south of Denver and around Colorado Springs preferred the “Silicon Mountain.” I’m not sure what the high tech area around the city of Boston or the Austin, Texas area called themselves, but I’m willing to bet there was a “silicon” in there someplace.
The reference to the base element for transistors, semiconductors, integrated circuits, and all that modern computer element jazz is not misleading. It is the electronics and especially the computer business that is at the heart of this revolutionary entrepreneurial success. It’s not all computers, of course. There are closely related industries such as telecommunications and satellite and other space industries. There’s also the aviation industry and the medical and pharmaceutical industries and others of that type. The contrast of “silicon” is with the older, “heavy” industries such as steel making and other metal manufacture or automobile production.
Also distinguishing these new industries is the importance of a very smart and well trained workforce. Computers and particularly the software industry is really all about bright and fresh ideas: the next big thing. Research Triangle Park, a successful business area in North Carolina, has a rule against manufacturing. Only “development” is allowed on that campus. With software, all there is is development. There’s no real software manufacturing, especially in this age of downloaded programs. Interstingly, RTP considers software development “manufacturing,” so IBM located their large program lab on the border, but just outside of RTP. Maybe they're right. Maybe software is the new manufacturing!
I mentioned the Silicon Mountain, and certainly the Colorado Front Range, the area at the edge of the mountains and extending from Fort Collins in the north to Colorado Springs in the south, figures in any list of these high tech regions and challengers to Silicon Valley.
The Front Range and particularly the Denver-Boulder area, is a hub of innovation and entrepreneurial activity. According to Startup Colorado, a regional consortium of entrepreneurs who share a vision of expanding entrepreneurship along the Front Range, Boulder alone boasts 166 startups and 7 investor groups. Some are established and very well-known – Coors Brewing Company and Celestial Seasonings – while others are on the rise now: Camp Bow Wow, Level 3 Communications, Spyder (ski apparel), and Rudi’s Organic Bakery.
California’s Silicon Valley has long been the premier hot spot for start-ups, but here are some reasons why Colorado just might be next in line:
At the state level, Colorado has adopted a number of innovative strategies in its successful efforts to attract high caliber people and companies. Colorado is ranked #8 on CNBC’s list of best states for business. Metro Denver scored #5 on Forbes’ 2012 “Best places for business and careers” list, while Fort Collins came in at #3. USA Today ranks Boulder/Denver as a top 10 city for technology start-ups. Moreover, Colorado, on a per capita basis, is well ahead of other states in the areas of green technology, health care, telecom, energy, aerospace, bioscience, high tech, health food, and organics.
Among companies that have relocated or expanded operations to Colorado are Arrow Electronics, Vestas Wind Systems, DaVita, Lockheed Martin, Hitachi Data Systems and the new U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. All of these moves signal recognition of Colorado’s unique quality of life, business-friendliness, availability of capital and drive to spur innovation. As U.S. Senator Michael Bennett (D-Colorado) said regarding Hitachi’s recent move, “It is recognition that Colorado is an environment where innovative companies like Hitachi can thrive.”
Longmont, the other large Boulder County city has also shared in this advancement and is a center of technology and innovation. I believe it began back in the 50’s when Longmont’s city fathers (and I suppose mothers too) enticed the Federal Aviation Administration to locate an Air Route Traffic Control Center here. That was followed by the establishment at a point half-way between Boulder and Longmont of a large IBM manufacturing and research facility in the 60’s.
Soon many new and existing high tech companies began locating in Longmont as the region became a center for the telecommunications and cable industries. Storage and disk drive manufacturing also concentrated here as well as other industries that would be right at home in the Silicon Valley chose this less expensive, and naturally spectacular location to start or expand.
Today, besides the FAA and IBM facilities, Longmont is home to such diverse corporations as Seagate Technology, which is a combination of the local Seagate as well as the local Maxtor facilities when the companies merged; Intrado, a 911 mapping and services company; as well as DigitalGlobe, a satellite mapping organization. Western Digital, another large disk drive company is also located in Longmont.
Amgen biopharmaceuticals and Croc shoes are located here as are Circle Graphics, a designer of digital billboards and Xilinx, a manufacturer of programmable logic chips. We also have small branches of Intel and Texas Instruments, so Longmont is well represented in the original “silicon” works.
Dot Hill Systems develops fiber channel computer devices while the nearby GE Energy produces power generation and energy technology. OnCore Manufacturing provides contract and custom manufacturing for design organizations and LSI designs integrated circuits for storage applications and the cloud.
Thule Organization Solutions creates computer, audio, and video storage cases while the local Woodley’s Fine Furniture manufactures home furnishings sold all along the front range. Micron Technology creates electronic displays and also industrial strength disk drives, making Longmont a key source of computer storage from nearly any brand. Finally, Mentor Graphics is one of the largest software development groups in Longmont.
This list will never be complete because startups and new companies are appearing all the time, leasing small spaces in Longmont’s many industrial parks and making a bet that their product will be the next big thing.
With the University of Colorado only twelve miles away and other excellent Colorado Universities and schools within an easy commuting distance, Longmont seems well situated to be part of this 21st century businesses. With the majestic Longs Peak as a backdrop and Rocky Mountain National Park a short twenty mile drive away, this area beckons to those wishing to be part of these dynamic industries and have a love of biking, hiking, and other mountain recreation. So grab your skis and your text books, update your resume, and head for Colorado. Things are booming. You might check out Longmont, it’s not a bad place to live and work.