Like Silicon Valley only better

I’m in Durham, North Carolina this morning, part of  Research Triangle. Last night I spoke at a Research Triangle Analysts meeting and this morning I’m giving at talk at RTI.

Just like Austin and Salt Lake City, Research Triangle wants to be another Silicon Valley, only with lower taxes and a lower cost of living.

It appears the Silicon Valley wannabes are doing well. I don’t know whether they are drawing companies away from Silicon Valley, but they’re growing.

Silicon Vally’s sales pitch is that geography matters at lot. You need to be where the venture capitalists, other tech companies, and lots of potential employees are.

Areas like Research Triangle make a more moderate argument. They also want to say that geography matters. If geography doesn’t matter, then why move to Durham? But they also want to argue that geography doesn’t matter so much that you need to pay California taxes and rent.

I think the future is on their side. Geography matters, and always will, though not as much as it used to. It’s not necessary (or even possible) to have everyone you work with in one area. I expect Silicon Valley will continue to thrive, but more affordable alternatives may grow faster.

11 thoughts on “Like Silicon Valley only better

  1. As a long-time resident of the Triangle (locals refer to the actual Research Triangle Park (RTP) as a specific place where they might work, and the greater Raleigh/Durham/Chapel Hill area as “the Triangle”), I have found that these wanna-be Silicon Valleys aren’t necessarily stealing companies away but, like Austin and Boston, are areas for Silicon Valley-based companies to grow. I have worked for several companies with headquarters in Mountain View and Sunnyvale who also have engineering sites in RTP, Boston and India (Pune and Bangalore). Growth in Silicon Valley can get very expensive – property as well as salaries rise rapidly as the resources become more scarce – so the better route is to expand where the property and salaries are not as high and the resources are more plentiful. The Triangle has a lot of highly trained people coming from the three major Universities that form the corners of the triangle – UNC-CH, Duke and NC State, plus less expensive property. But there isn’t as much venture capital here as in Silicon Valley, so there’s fewer start-ups, but there’s still plenty of tech jobs in lots of domains (technology, medicine, finance, etc) here.

  2. Except, when you’re in California, you’re not in a Red State with its emphasis on low-taxes, poor educational systems, poor and expensive health-care systems, disdain for Union activity, and conservative politics. Probably the Research Triangle has less of that than some other parts of the state — but then again, do you really want to be in a state where your area is both the cash-cow AND resented as a bunch of liberals?

  3. Sergio González

    I’m doing an internship at Google this summer and I was given the choice between two teams: one in Mountain View and one in the very small Chapel Hill office. I chose Chapel Hill because the project was cooler but there are money-related advantages too. Free public transit, lower taxes and much lower cost of living; and I still get to work with awesome people. I don’t think I’ll regret the decision.

  4. Some of the comments above get at an idea that I’ve heard: Silicon Valley is as much a culture or mindset as it is a location. You can be a part of Silicon Valley and live/work in NYC, Toronto, North Carolina or India. As you point out, in some ways geography doesn’t matter as long as you have a broadband connection.

  5. A close relative and his family took a job in Chapel Hill. After a year they left. It looks good on paper but the elitist environment made it unworkable, specially for its long winter of isolation. It doesn’t work if your social circle ends up comprised entirely of blue collar, minorities and accountants/lawyers.

    Unless you have good connections or rich, the doors to the intellectual/cultural/cool circles are closed and you’re not welcome.

  6. “Unless you have good connections or rich, the doors to the intellectual/cultural/cool circles are closed and you’re not welcome.”

    I have a hard time imagining where in reality I’d find this egalitarian Utopia in which the wealthy (in terms of financial or cultural capital) are welcoming and inclusive of the poor.

    America may have been a normally distributed (i.e., middle-class) society once upon a time, but it’s increasingly a pretty bimodal (i.e., third-world) one now.

    At least that’s the way it looks to me.

  7. Jake: Silicon Valley may feel more egalitarian than Chapel Hill because there are no poor people in Silicon Valley.

    As far as America being more of a bimodal society, that’s the argument of the book Coming Apart. The author argues that the cultural differences between the rich and poor were smaller a couple generations ago.

  8. Jake:

    I was referring to the intellectual/cultural/cool circles, not the rich themselves. But the rich were welcome there. By rich I mean upper class, not upper-middle class.

  9. In the 90s, I was talking with my boss, who got his PhD in 1940, about a complex piece of scientific equipment called a “liquid scintillation counter”

    And we were looking at an old one, that was taking up space in the lab.
    and my boss said 3 things
    In the old days of vacumn tubes, you could price electronics by the pound

    HP = high priced

    The liq scint counter we were looking at was made in Brooklyn NY, cause if you were a hi tech startup in 1950, building state of the art electronics, NYC was the only place you could go down the street and find..whatever you needed, machinist, custom vacumn tubes, circuit boards, all availabe asap

    (there is also , somewhere, a story in the New Yorker, about the birth of HiFi, a similar story, garage that became Fisher)

    as those of you who have been to Cambridge MA may know, the red line subway stop near MIT was redone in teh late 90s with a history of Cambridge theme (and some cool musical instruments you could play)
    And it was clear that for awhile, Cambridge MA was a center for a very hi tech industry – pre built steel bridges !!

  10. Allan L5
    In the 60s, I went to summer camp in the blue ridge of NC.
    And we had a handyman, who was a yankee transplant
    20 years earlier, he had tried to start a union at the local fabric mill.
    He still, 20 years later, had a device to remote start his car (this is the 60s, remember) and remote turn on lights at home when he arrived in the evening (bomb protection)

    My dad had a job at Univ Florida Tallahassee, and he claims that when he and my mom, NY Jews, arrived, the neighbor came over and told my mom, don’t drive alone at night, the sheriff deputies will rape you

    imo, less change since then than you think

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