Archive for June 14th, 2006

I strolled over to Jeff Mangan’s new site — MOTTO – and saw a couple of posts about communities trying to recreate Silicon Valley. (Post 1, Post 2.) It’s based on Guy Kawasaki’s post, “How to kick Silicon Valley’s butt.” Mangan’s posts are, of course, musings on how – or whether – to attract high-tech business to Montana.

Let me say I think we should try to get high-tech businesses here. High-tech is where it’s at: they don’t pollute, they pay well, they are forward-thinking growth businesses not likely to become obsolete, like mining or forestry. Or farming. (Sorry, Jon.)

Here’s the deal: Montana is in an excellent position to lure high-tech business to the state – but not startups or companies funded by entrepreneurial dollars. Instead, Montana’s best shot at getting high-tech biz is not by transforming into a mini-Silicon Valley, but into a mini-Bombay. That is, Montana’s in a good place to become an outsource supplier for high-tech firms in California and Washington.

First and foremost the biggest problem with luring tech companies here is lack of engineering talent. The Palm office in the article had a difficult time finding qualified people for even entry-level testing jobs despite the proximity of the University. You could argue that there isn't an established network for finding tech jobs in the state (like dice.com in the Bay Area), that the industry hasn't reached critical mass so as to get engineers to even consider staying here, but the bottom line is that there aren't many qualified people here.

Second, the assumption that we need entrepreneurial investors is…all wrong. Kawasaki claims that high housing prices are essential to creating startups.

If houses are cheap, it means that young people can buy housing sooner and have kids. When they have kids, they can’t take as much risk and don’t have as much energy to start companies. (I have four kids—I barely have the time and energy to blog, much less start a company.) Also, if houses are cheap, it’s easier to “make it big,” and you want it to be hard to make it big.

While many non-Missoulians think Montana city prices are high, I say….pshaw. They ain’t high, my friends. Housing in Montana is ridiculously cheap. Not compared to Montana income, true, but compared to national standards.

But these low costs are a strength for Montana. Housing is cheaper, the lifestyle priceless. People work for less money and need less money to live.

A better strategy to develop high tech industry, then, is to offer up the state as an alternative outsourcing region to Asia. The wages are lower, but there's no language, shipping, or public relations problem. Montana is the perfect place for the entry-level or non-core elements of the tech industry: testing, support, documentation. Outsourcing offices wouldn't be subject to the ups and downs of the market: if anything, if the market takes a hit, Silicon Valley companies will be more interested in investing in Montana offices.

(I admit it would be cool to turn, say, Phillipsburg into a laptop-slingin' New Western boom town, with PDAs in holsters instead of six-shooters. But startup tech businesses rely so much on buzz and visibility, which can't happen from Montana. Unless you're a grassroots politician, of course.)

Having outsourcing companies in places like Missoula, Billings, and Bozeman will spur more, higher-level tech businesses, too. Once enough tech-minded people start milling around, things happen.

And the best way to get this started is to build the infrastructure tech companies need. Like Missoula’s “business incubator” – the Montec building on East Broadway:

The cluster of businesses housed in the incubator receive high-speed Internet access, fax and copy service, secretarial service, office and lab space, and use of conference rooms. Entrepreneurs also get ready access to a host of business advisers provided by UM and the Missoula Area Economic Development Corp., and MAEDC is now headquartered in and managing the new facility. Rudbach says rent in MonTEC is comparable to other business space in Missoula, but the many benefits have enticed renters to sign on. Perhaps the greatest benefit of being in the incubator, he says, is sharing a building with an energetic community of entrepreneurs who share ideas and marketing efforts.

Of course, state government can’t start up outsourcing agencies by itself. (Although I suppose the Governor could put out the word to California and create some incentives for businesses to open offices in Missoula.) It takes businesspeople to create the ventures.

Anybody listening out there?

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It's funny watching the national media groups try to explain James Webb's victory in the Virginia yesterday. Here's a WaPo "analysis" of the race:

Those focused on beating incumbent Sen. George Allen in November tended to vote for the eventual winner, James Webb, a combat veteran and Navy secretary under President Ronald Reagan who campaigned primarily on his opposition to the war in Iraq.Those trying to pick the "better Democrat" — the candidate they agree with on a broad range of social issues — more often picked Harris Miller, a former Washington lobbyist and a Democratic Party activist.

Additionally, most of the headlines of the race highlight Webb's former political allegiances. "Ex-Regan Aide." "Ex-Republican." "Ex-Navy Secretary." There's a sense of bewilderment emerging from the traditional DC powers over Webb's victory, just as there was over Tester's victory. How can two underfunded candidates win a race? How can two unlikely candidates win a race? Webb — the "conservative" in a liberal primary — and Tester the "liberal" in a red state?

The answer is that most of the lefty blogosphere — yours, truly, included — prefers, not the candidates who toe the ideological lines on lefty issues, but candidates who will govern responsibly, who are free from the taint of corruption, and who are clear in their beliefs and willing to stand up to the Republican machine. We need fighters, not timid, waffling, hesitant legislators protective of their pork.

Harris Miller is the example of the latter. That's why the Virginia blogosphere turned to Webb, who promises to give incumbent George Allen a good race.

Howardpark:

The mainstream media still stereotypes the Netroots at purist lefties who froth their fingers off whenever any Democratic candidate deviates from political correctness. That is the DLC line on Ned Lamont. According to that view, bloggers should have been with Harris Miller who was noticeably to the left of Webb on the traditional Ideological spectrum (except for Webb's strong, early stand against the Iraq war). Some also think that leftist Netrooters would never support anyone like Webb, who had worked for Ronald Reagan. Webb was hurt by those who seek to place an unwelcome mat before the door of any lapsed Democrat who wants to return to the party. The reality was and is the opposite. The Netroots were united behind Jim Webb. Virtually everyone concedes that there is no way Jim Webb could have won (despite being outspent about 2.5 to one) without the Netroots.

Congratulations, James Webb!

Links…

Holy smokes! Lamont is now only six points behind Lieberman!

Good news: Jim Webb wins the Democratic nomination for the Virginia Senate seat. Some Virginia bloggers take credit for his win. The Guardian discusses Webb’s appeal.

Intelligent Discontent’s take on today’s cr*ppy editorial from the Missoulian, this time on immigration. You know, I don’t regurgitate press releases, and I’m just a partisan hack.

Then again, at least the Missoulian has opinions, not like the Gazette, which scrutinizes the motives for flying a flag.

Gerik sees fear for Burns in Freeperville.

Wrong Dog posts about another conservative up to his elbows in porn.

Conceptual Guerilla has advice on how to fight against Republican tactics.

With one more vote in the US Senate, “we'll be well on our way to the first-ever constitutional exception to Americans' free speech.” If the flag-burning amendment passes we’ll join Cuba, China, and Iran in our dedication to liberty.

A Kansan examines the recent crossover of state Republicans to the Democratic party: “Please trust us Kansas Dems to know our *ss from a hole in the ground. We know what we're doing. We trust Kathleen Sebelius.”

Jon Stewart interviews RNC chairman Ken Mehlman. Mehlman: “Now the audience warming up to me.” Stewart: “No, they’re not.” Again, why is a fake journalist asking the best questions?

Our Liberal Whacko examines Republican porn.




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