Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Silicon Whatevers Dot US Map High Tech Hopes

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Silicon Whatevers Dot US Map High Tech Hopes

Article excerpt

Looking over a St. Louis skyline that includes a vacant office building and a notch of the Mississippi River, Dick Fleming gets a gleam in his eye. "Could we become the Silicon Valley of biotech and life-sciences?" he asks. "Absolutely!"

His enthusiasm reverberates everywhere a development head (like Mr. Fleming) aims to boost an economy and add jobs. To succeed, cities all over the world are turning themselves into Silicon somethings.

There's Silicon Alley (New York), Silicon Orchard (Wenatchee Valley, Wash.), and Silicon Snowbank (Minneapolis). So many Silicon Prairies dot the landscape (nine at last count) that the one in Kansas City is suing one in Oklahoma for trademark violations. The phenomenon has spread overseas: Silicon Plateau (India) and Silicon Bog (Ireland).

Other high-tech hopefuls are busy creating Multimedia Gulch (San Francisco), Telecom Corridor (Richardson, Texas), and WebPort (Portland, Maine). Rather than merely trying to duplicate the valley across the country, these cities are relying on local strengths to give them a toehold in the 21st century economy. In New York, it's graphics; in St. Louis, perhaps it will be biotech.

So far, such efforts have created more names than success stories. But cities keep trying.

Despite the unpredictability of the process, most everyone agrees other Silicon Valleys will pop up. "They'll happen over time for one main reason: Silicon Valley isn't big enough," says Jeff Christian, president of Cleveland-based Christian & Timbers, an executive search firm. Land and housing costs are becoming so expensive that exploding high-tech sectors, such as the Internet and telecommunications, will spill over elsewhere.

Among Mr. Christian's picks for possible high-tech boomtowns: Haifa, Israel, and Bangalore, India. "There's a possibility to encourage the engineering of them {new Silicon Valleys}," he adds. But "I don't think there is a way of guaranteeing success."

Recipe for success

By now, everyone knows the formula that turned a onetime strip of California apricot orchards into the world's leading generator of high-tech wealth. Ingredients include world-class research universities, a cluster of high-tech companies, abundant venture capital, high quality of life, and a culture that encourages risk- taking and forgives failure. But uncorking Silicon Valley's magic remains tricky.

To be sure, some regions do stand out for their transformation into high-tech regions, such as North Carolina's Research Triangle and Boston's Route 128 (although it has slipped of late). In the early 1990s, Austin, Texas, lured away so many semiconductor and computer firms even Silicon Valley got scared and created an organization to improve the valley's quality of life.

Then the Internet boom came along and the valley was off and running again with fast-track companies like Netscape, Yahoo! …

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