Friday, April 25, 2008

Information Technology as Economy Builder

(Employment Bubble Diagram from Cluster Chart, Prosperity Partnership)

This week the class Entrepreneurship in Technology had a visit from guest speaker Bruce Kendall. Bruce is the President & CEO of the Economic Development Board for Tacoma-Pierce County (EDB), a private, non-profit corporation focused on the retention and recruitment of primary industries in Tacoma and Pierce County, Washington.

He was also, as was I, one of the many people representing business, local governments, nonprofit organizations, port districts, work force development councils and chambers of commerce to help build a Puget Sound coalition called the Prosperity Partnership. This partnership was launched by and is a project of the Puget Sound Regional Council, a four county transportation, economic and growth planning agency.

The Prosperity Partnership’s task was to build an economic strategy which focused on fostering growth among five strategic industry clusters identified in their studies as the best suited to sustain and grow high-wage jobs.

One of the rationales behind having a class like Entrepreneurship in Technology is that the opportunities that arise from technological innovation, which happens at a high speed pace, are unique in many ways and provide extremely fertile ground for new businesses and products. Students in the class, made up more of Computer Science and Engineering majors than Business Majors, have as one of their deliverables a basic business plan that utilizes innovation and rapid change as an advantage. This includes getting advice and direction from guest lecturers whose expertise runs from business planning for technology based companies to human resource strategies when encountering a high demand workforce. A hiring manager from Vulcan, Inc. helps them fill out one part of the plan while a angel investor gives them advice on another.

This week it was about understanding the effects of the Information Technology cluster, identified by the Prosperity Partnership as important to the economic future of the region.

Photo: Patrick Hagerty

Bruce’s presentation outlined the clusters and how they ranked in terms of the Puget Sounds ability to succeed in those spaces. He also expressed how important finding property that would work for your business was and how the availability of a qualified workforce was a key component to getting a company to locate in your area.

He noted that a company needed to be at a certain size to take advantage of the EDB’s services, but was able to detail the small business support organizations that help to grow companies into that size.

An interesting note on a slide he presented which represented the clusters in the South Sound via 2003. Tech companies were on the downturn at that time, an aftershock of both the bust and the economic aftermath of 9/11 no doubt.

The next evaluation of the tech sector and other clusters is scheduled to come in 2009, and from the activity I am seeing in company growth and new company creation here in the South Sound, I expect that there will be a significant change in the charting of its trajectory.

Unfortunately, there were more questions than time to answer them, which is often a good thing because it means people are thinking and the conversation has not ended, but is just getting started.

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