Following on yesterday's post about GSO's opportunity to be a part of AT&T's new broadband rollout -- and the importance of that infrastructure to our economic development -- the last I heard is that AT&T is "interested in working with communities that appreciate the value of the most advanced technologies and are willing to encourage investment by offering solid investment cases and policies," and that "Greensboro Mayor Nancy Vaughan said Monday she hasn’t heard from AT&T."
I assume she's picked up the phone since then.
Beyond that, what's the plan?
GSO actually did a pretty good job of courting Google during the national contest to host its big fiber network.
That courtship generated serious, sustained attention across the community, with organization at the highest level and energy from the grassroots. A key consideration then was not focusing on what Google could do for us, but what we could do for Google -- and letting the company know, in detail.
Time to get the band back together again.
I didn't see anything about this in Friday's report from the City Manager. That was disappointing.
Madame Mayor, please let us know your plan, and what we can do to help bring this necessary project to town.
This is a potentially tragic turning point in American politics and policy. We are on the verge of turning over the internet – the most important communications system ever invented– to telecoms that grew huge through the government granting them monopoly status. Barring a genuine shift in policy or a court stepping in to ensure fair treatment of captive customers – or better yet, genuine competition – companies like Verizon and Comcast will have staggering power to decide what bits of information reach your devices and mine, in what order and at what speed. That is, assuming we're permitted to get that information at all.
Do we want an open internet? Do we want digital innovation and free speech to thrive? If we continue down the regulatory road pursued by the former cable and wireless industry lobbyist [and FCC chair] Tom Wheeler, all of those good things will be in serious jeopardy.
Worse, when Dan says "the telecom cartel has frantically worked to get state legislatures to prevent [communiity broadband networks] from existing," well, that frantic work was effective in North Carolina. Our econ dev and political leadership in GSO missed an opportunity to build out some rare and important infrastructure while they could.
But we are where we are. And where we are looks somewhat better than it did just few days ago, because we are maybe in line for some serious broadband service from AT&T (caveat: "Before anyone gets too excited, AT&T isn't promising that it will actually build in any or all of these cities.")
And AT&T is making nice noises about competition with the cable giants. So, good.
It's easy to understand why the RFMD merger matters to the mobile phone industry: It creates a major supplier to one of the most important growth businesses on the planet. And phones are just the beginning -- we're headed into an era of mobile devices and smart machines that will take us far beyond the handsets we use today.
But this is also a huge deal for Greensboro. We need HQ jobs and advanced manufacturing jobs. We need companies to build around as we create a new economic ecosystem to replace the one devastated by globalization, automation, the financial crisis, and corporate consolidation.
NewCo fits the bill on all those particulars. It's the kind of business that could easily attract and sustain other good companies. Along with HondaJet, it's one of the best things we've got going for us.
GSO, Guilford County, and the State of NC should already be working on ways to keep the merged company here and encourage growth around it. This is a very big moment. Please don't blow it.
The RFMD-TriQuint deal is billed as a merger of equals, but outlets including the WSJ and Reuters are calling it an acquisition by the Greensboro company.
Let us hope that is the case.
And let's hope that Nancy Vaughan has already sent a congratulatory candygram to Bob Bruggeworth, the RFMD boss who will be CEO of the combined company, and even now is on the phone with Pat McCrory, planning ways to keep the HQ in Guilford County.
This would be an excellent time to focus our state and local economic develpment efforts on a home-grown, high-tech manufacturer.
UPDATE: As reported from Oregon, TriQuint's home, it sounds like a lot of things are up in the air:
“Both Hillsboro and Greensboro will be headquarters, if you will, for a reasonable amount of time – perhaps forever,” [TriQuint CFO Steve] Buhaly said.
The deal does create uncertainty, though, about the future of TriQuint’s Hillsboro factory, known as a fab in industry terms...
“There’s at least equal possibility that the Greensboro fab closes and this one is busier than it is now,” Buhaly said.
GSO should put the money it was going to give "lend" the Civil Rights museum toward the Retain RFMD Fund.
The research uncovered a few key lessons on what makes certain cities more attractive than others. While a strong quality of life, talent pool and customer base were the most cited considerations, there was also a surprising lack of mention of business-friendly regulation as a factor. City leaders who dedicate resources to fostering these identifiable characteristics have the highest potential of drawing the types of innovative entrepreneurs, companies and jobs that can transform their local economies.
GSO seems like a contender based on these criteria. We've got some real QOL strengths and are working hard on that kind of stuff. Talent pool may be more of an issue, and we're part of a million+ metro region as defined in certain not-entirely-realistic ways.
So, maybe our whale-catching econ dev strategy should be supplemented by more nurturing of local growth companies and our own version of the Mittelstand.
With the prospect of more consolidation in the broadband market, places with competitive providers offering gigabit speeds or even an alternative to the cable/telco duopoly are looking better if Comcast manages to grab a larger market. Google’s plans to build out fiber-to-the-home networks in Kansas City and Austin, Texas, is one example, but even municipally owned networks or places with smaller providers such as Sonic.net may get a boost.
"Gig City," as Chattanooga is sometimes called, has what city officials and analysts say was the first and fastest — and now one of the least expensive — high-speed Internet services in the United States.
..."It created a catalytic moment here,” said Sheldon Grizzle, the founder of the Company Lab, which helps start-ups refine their ideas and bring their products to market. “The Gig,” as the taxpayer-owned, fiber-optic network is known, "allowed us to attract capital and talent into this community that never would have been here otherwise."
After years of pushing the City and foundation leaders to think about digital infrastructure as a key to economic development, I find this story to be kinda depressing. The same location atop big internet pipelines that makes us appealing to data centers could be valuable for other connectivity options as well -- options that the Chattanooga model suggests work pretty well.
Sorry, dead horse, to whack you yet again, but...are our econ dev people looking at the right things and operating off a coherent, 21st Century plan?
We made a decent run at GoogleFi, and then...what?
Matheny has developed an elaborate economic development plan that he will present at the beginning of the 4:30 p.m. meeting...
In great detail, Matheny’s plan focuses on creating shovel-ready development sites, incentives for development in east Greensboro and such major deals as the proposed Project Haystack data center park.
It's not clear from the article if the N&R has had the chance to analyze the plan, which does not seem to be on Zack's campaign website. I hope the public can see it soon, and that it addresses some of the questions raised here about data centers and their role in our overall econ dev strategy.
Good news for Winston-Salem on the tech-job front, but it’s important to remember that technology has become so pervasive that the line between “tech jobs” and just plain jobs is a blurry one.
Look at GSO’s massive AmEx data center – financial services is an information industry – or consider what it takes to design and build a HondaJet. Or check out Google’s acquisition of Nest, another sure sign that the Internet of Things is transforming traditional businesses into technology companies.
So, sure, it would be great if the software industry added a slew of programmers and engineers to the local workforce, but at this point “technology jobs” is a category that transcends traditional tech firms. Even smaller companies, traditionally viewed as somewhat tech-averse, are increasingly capable in that realm – and I wonder if that’s an area we should be emphasizing more in terms of economic development.
A lot of the focus of our econ dev efforts – at least the public and media focus – seems to be on landing a huge project that will jumpstart the local economy. Which is great, if you can pull it off. But whales are not so common, and I’m not clear on what we’re doing in parallel to those efforts to help our smaller, homegrown businesses grow and to encourage others to move here.
Maybe GSO should be trying to nurture something like Germany’s Mittelstand – the vast network of smaller firms that are a major part that country’s economic success. The success of those companies, though, depends on factors like access to technology and a well-educated, skilled workforce. Those things don’t happen by accident, and I don’t know that Guilford County is concentrating its very real resources on such goals.
I’d be happy to learn that my questions (including yesterday’s queries about data centers and overall strategy) have easy answers. But I have the same lack of clarity as Hoggard, who asks, “What is our economic development master plan, and where can it be viewed?”
What is the Greensboro/Guilford County master plan for attracting technology and advanced manufacturing jobs?
I was wondering about that as I looked at ideas for Project Haystack, the ambitious proposal to develop land now occupied by the County prison farm in eastern Guilford. The concept includes a substantial concentration of advanced manufacturing, but at this point seems focused on giving over a bunch of valuable acreage to giant data centers.
Would locating data centers on the farm be the best use of the land at a time when large, undeveloped tracts are a dwindling asset? I’m not certain that a data farm is a bad idea, but I’d like to have a better understanding of the overall strategy and the perceived role of data centers in bringing a substantial number of quality jobs to the region.
We know Guilford County is good for data centers – we’ve got abundant water, cheap power, and sit atop major fiber-optic pipelines. That’s why we have a very large American Express facility, which doesn’t get as much press as other major North Carolina data centers (e.g. Google, Apple, and Facebook) but is a whale nonetheless.
And we know that data centers can be good things for a local or regional economy in terms of tax revenue, while bringing a relative handful of good jobs and of course a massive construction project at the front end. There’s also the promise that these facilities give host communities a place in the information economy, which is true, as far as it goes – it’s just not a very exalted place in the value chain. On their own, data centers are about extracting resources from one place to support job creation and wealth generation somewhere else.
So, back to my queries: How do data centers fit into our economic development master plan? Are they an end to themselves (and if so, is that a good deal for us), or can we leverage them into something beyond (needed) tax dollars? How do they tie into our better-articulated econ dev plans, including nanotech and an aviation cluster? And is that big piece of public land in eastern Guilford best leveraged by putting up massive buildings that are largely empty of people, or is there a plausible better possibility out there?
The announcement just before Christmas that HondaJet’s HF120 engine has been certified by the FAA was good news for Greensboro – potentially very good news.
If production of the small jet ramps up as planned, and if the company goes on to capture anything close to the 15% marketshare projected by Honda Aircraft Company CEO Michimasa Fujino, then we’ll have a shiny new $2 billion manufacturing firm on our hands, complete with headquarters, service, and assembly jobs It's true that the plane has been beset by delays, and new entrants into the private aviation game have a poor track record. But the engine certification was a genuine milestone and Honda has demonstrated a serious commitment to both to this plane and this region, so it’s reasonable to hope for the best.
Beyond the value of the company itself would come other benefits to the local economy, including:
Validation of the GSO as an emerging player in the aviation industry, with a meaningful HQ and assembly operation joining FedEx and the big Timco service facility at our passenger-starved airport. Boeing was never going to bring its 777 production here – but if this goes well we might make the cut for future projects.
Strengthening the regional identity and self-awareness of the Greensboro/Burlington metroplex (the engines will be produced in Alamance County). Last year’s merger of Cone Health and Alamance Regional Medical Center, along with the potential development of the County farm in eastern Guilford, underscore the momentum this long-term trend toward regionalization has achieved.
The PR value of having a genuinely sexy high-end product made here in the NC Piedmont.
Most important, to my mind, is the big boost HondaJet would represent in terms of advanced manufacturing. America still makes a lot of stuff, but we don’t make it the way we did back when manufacturing turned this region into one of the richest parts of the state. These days it’s all about the highly engineered design and service of smart products, and, yes, that’s a jet engine on the cover of this report that I worked on for the day job. Building engines and assembling planes at the end of a complex supply chain is a sweet spot in the modern economy, and it could attract and also spin off other high-value businesses.
HondaJet alone isn’t going to be a silver bullet. This is a strength we'll have to work to develop. GTCC, A&T engineering, the nanotech campus, our logistical muscle, and smart political leadership – all could play important roles.
There were other big local economic stories in 2013, including the ongoing changes to the healthcare industry (not just the Alamance/Cone deal but the large, negative impact of North Carolina’s refusal to expand Medicaid) and of course the significant progress toward two major downtown projects, the performing arts center and the joint higher-ed campus. But if HondaJet pans out and then spurs development of our advanced manufacturing muscle, that easy-to-overlook certification notice could be the biggest news of all.