How Can the Peninsula Attract High-Tech Companies?
Q: With all the talk about increasing economic development and developing technology, what needs to be done to attract technology firms to the Peninsula?
A: Community leaders throughout Hampton Roads want high-paying technology firms to replace the federal government's shrinking contribution to the economy.
Opportunities exist for every sector. Some entrepreneurs are interested only in cost, so developing areas, with old buildings and low rents, may be exactly what they need. Others will want established commercial and industrial parks, with the trimmings that come with such a location.
However, most high-tech ventures often have some general needs in common:
- Educated work force: High-tech firms emphasize research to improve old products and develop new ones. The entire community - parents, kids and educational institutions - must support this need if Hampton Roads is to become a haven for technology companies.
- Low cost of doing business: Only a few places in the nation compare with the Peninsula's low-cost business climate, but the region must avoid being perceived as a place that offers only low wages. Indeed, the cost of doing business could go up if the region does not invest in transportation and technology.
- Access to intellectual capital: The technology transfer programs at NASA Langley Research Center and the Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility hold great promise, and local technology firms have done well attracting federal research grants. This requires knowledge of licensing, joint ventures and strategic alliances.
- Access to financing: Tech companies need access to risk capital. It's a new way of thinking, but the region is working on it through credible efforts such as the Hampton Roads Private Investor Network, the Virginia Venture Capital Forum and the Center for Innovative Technology's grant program. A few venture-capital funds now even call on the region regularly.