Making Economic Headway in High Technology Downturn / Massachusetts Finds Strength in Idiversified Technology

Article excerpt

BOSTON - Although there have been thousands of layoffs in some sectors of the computer business in the past two years, the Route 128 region of eastern Massachusetts has been spared the brunt of the downturn.

More than just a road from one place to another, Route 128 - a freeway that arcs through the suburbs 10 miles beyond this historic port - is an international symbol ofJapanese competition, Route 128 has been moving from strength to strength as different industries pick up the slack from those in trouble.

``Route 128 has emerged with the highest concentration of diversified technology in the United States,'' said A. George Gols, a public policy economist at the Cambridge-based consulting firm of Arthur D. Little.

Opened in 1951 to ease traffic in Boston, Route 128 developed first into a high-technology corridor and then into the jumping-off point for development that now stretches from the Rhode Island border into southern New Hampshire and Maine, and from Boston and Cambridge to Interstate 495, a newer ring highway about 15 miles beyond Route 128.

Nearly all of the current engines of growth in the region are based on high technology, ranging from Fortune 500 companies such as the Digital Equipment Corp., the rejuvenated leader of the minicomputer market, and Raytheon, a leading military contractor, to myriad newer computer software companies and medical technology concerns. Service companies geared to high technology-based business, ranging from research consultants to bankers, are also doing well.

A number of high-technology companies in the region are producing gloomy headlines. Data General, which has laid off 1,000 people in the past year, and Prime Computer have not bounced back yet from the computer industry slump.

Wang lost $30 million in the quarter that ended Sept. 30. Computervision, once the market leader in computer-aided design equipment, is struggling to right itself after falling to third place behind IBM and Intergraph.

Polaroid, the world leader in instant photography technology, has stabilized its work force at 12,000, down 8,000 from 1978.Business is stagnating at Symbolics, a pioneer in computers designed for artificial intelligence systems, and slumping for suppliers of equipment to the semiconductor industry such as Genrad.

Nevertheless, the strong performance of neighboring companies has kept unemployment figures as low as 2 percent in some parts of the region and at just about half the national average over all.

The Massachusetts division of Employment Security expects employment in high technology-based industries and services to expand 30 percent by 1990, with the service sector leading the way, according to Robert Vincent, an agency executive. …