Tacoma business census shows growth of tech firms

The current state of the Tacoma and Pierce County technology industry is the subject of a census by the Tacoma-Pierce County Chamber’s technology affiliate, the Tacoma Technology Consortium.
Recent media reports have played up the struggles of local dot-coms that have gone into hibernation mode or have disappeared altogether.
The release of the chamber’s findings of the second annual census of local technology firms swings the pendulum back to the positive side.
Paul Ellis, the Tacoma Chamber’s director for metropolitan development, says the majority of firms here have weathered the shakeout and remain solvent, pay their bills, and are slowly growing.
Ellis talked to us about the growth of local tech since Sept. 11 and our growing niche in Internet security firms.
Q: What about the rumors that the Tacoma technology community is in a state of demise?
Ellis: To paraphrase Mark Twain, “The rumors of our demise are greatly exaggerated.”
Q: I know you’re working on a census of the local technology firms. What are you finding?
Ellis: I should mention the difference between a census and a survey. A census is actually going out and touching every technology firm in Pierce County. It’s not a survey.
A survey is when you sample these folks. This is a precursor to a survey that we’re doing in conjunction with the Pierce County Careers Consortium.
The Tacoma Technology Consortium, which is an affiliate of the Tacoma/Pierce County Chamber, has been in the process this past month of identifying all the technology firms, just as we did about a year ago.
What we found is the good news that, despite the Sept. 11 disaster and the economic consequences that have rippled throughout the economy and through all kinds of businesses, we’ve found that about three-quarters of the firms operating last year at this time are still operating.
Q: If you compare that to national averages of small business start-ups, isn’t there like a 50/50 chance that a small business will fail within a couple years?
Ellis: Yes, most start-ups only have a 50/50 chance of surviving the first two years.
This then would be a strong indicator, at least in my mind, of the health of technology companies when this many of them, despite one of the worst years in the past decade, are still there.
Q: What types of companies are seeing growth right now, according to your census?
Ellis: Without having analyzed all the data, what my general sense is we have a broad base technology community in Pierce County. We have a little bit of everything. Probably less biotech than some communities.
Other than that exception, we have a pretty wide diversity in terms of the type of firms we have.
We seem to have a very strong and growing niche in the area of security and Internet security with firms like Topia Ventures (topiaventures.com) and Sagem Morpho (www.morpho.com) and a relatively new firm Prepared Response (preparedresponse.com).
We seem to be separating fairly quickly over the past few months into the quick and the dead.
The quick are growing very fast and are having a hard time keeping up, as fast-growing firms.
We have a small amount of firms that have gone by the wayside. But if you’re not growing, you’re probably dying in today’s economy.
Q: So are you drawing a distinction between a true technology company, like a software development company and a Web site company, like Donation Depot.
Ellis: Where we drew the line is with the company’s primary purpose. So if somebody’s primary purpose is to deliver services or develop something that has a direct technology base, that we would call them a technology firm.
So Donation Depot would be included in that stable, as it were. Companies like the Frank Russell Company, that probably has more programmers on the payroll in one place or another than even Donation Depot does, isn’t a technology firm because that’s not their primary purpose.
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In keeping with the findings of the census, the Tacoma tech community will get another shot in the arm with the coming South Sound Technology (SST) Conference 2002 next month. The SST2002 will be held May 30 at the Tacoma Sheraton Hotel. SST 2002 is an annual forum designed to further the continuous growth of technology in the South Sound region and provide information about global technology issues. To find out more, visit www.sst2002.com.
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Dana Greenlee is a Web designer and co-host of the WebTalkGuys Radio Show, a Tacoma-based talk show featuring technology news and interviews. It is broadcast locally on KLAY 1180 AM Saturdays at 11 a.m. The show is also on CNET Radio in San Francisco and Boston, on the Web at www.CNETRadio.com, www.WebTalkGuys.com and via the XM Satellite Network, on IM Networks’ Sonic Box and on NexTel’s Wireless Web. Past show and interviews are also web via the Internet at: www.webtalkguys.com.