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Well-Connected Locations

From VoIP to Wi-Fi and WiMAX, the latest telecom technologies are positioning communities to attract and retain industry.

Apr/May 07
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Telecom and Site Selection
Telecommunications infrastructure is gaining importance as a site selection factor. With the increasing impact of globalization on companies of all sizes, communities with top-notch telecommunications have a definite advantage.

"Companies making major investments in facilities increasingly want to centrally deliver key network, telephone, video, wireless, and ongoing technical support services," adds McNutt. Reliable, high-bandwidth connection is also essential for telecommuting, which is a growing trend in the business world.

"Companies want choices," emphasizes Joe McCourt, vice president of marketing and business development for DukeNet Communications in Charlotte, North Carolina. "They understand that the most important assets they have are their customers and their data. Real-time access to this information from across the hall - or across the globe - is a critical component of doing business. Many companies today can employ data-based solutions across multiple providers for added levels of resiliency. Cities that have a competitive infrastructure quickly rise to the top as places to set up a regional or headquarters presence."

Another big factor is having several telecom players competing for services. Competition is good for business by keeping technology advancing and costs down. "Recent trends point to a formalization of relationships between companies and wireless providers," says Littmann. "This formalization takes the form of business pay and reimbursement plans. Flat rate wireless pricing is taking over - stand-alone long distance is disappearing."

But companies must still have a secure, fiber-rich telecommunications framework. "Corporations today want and need options, and are concerned about reliability as well as scalability," says McCourt. Vendor diversity also plays into most business continuity/disaster recovery planning strategies."

Even if the infrastructure is lacking, most ISPs will accommodate the network needs of large enterprise businesses. "They will make custom fiber runs to the businesses on an individual-case basis," says Littmann. "However, it will cost considerably more to bring fiber to a location that they aren't currently serving. Moreover, companies can typically negotiate better deals if they exist in the proximity of two major carriers' fiber runs."

Some Examples
Orlando has one of the strongest technology markets in the country - thanks in part to its outstanding broadband connectivity and digital infrastructure, including pervasive, fully redundant, self-healing fiberoptic systems. Orlando also has two incumbent local exchange carriers; the competition results in a high level of capital investment in systems and infrastructure.

"Three of the top four growth occupations through 2011 in Metro Orlando will be IT-related," says Jennifer Wakefield, public relations director for the Metro Orlando Economic Development Commission. "Our strength in telecom is attracting companies like Convergys, Fiserv, Lockheed Martin, Oracle, Kirchman, and Symantec." And it's not just the big guns coming to town - the number of small businesses in Orlando has grown at an annual rate of 34 percent from 1998 to 2003.

Seattle has long been known as a major telecommunications center, especially for wireless. "Our telecom infrastructure has been critical to the growth of this city," says Tom Flavin, president and CEO of enterpriseSeattle. "In the past Seattle was a market for natural resource-based industries, but today our economy is driven by knowledge-based companies. Microsoft added 4,000 employees last year and will add 2,000 in 2007 and 2,000 in 2008. Google and Expedia are also here. Seattle attracts high-tech companies because of its outstanding telecommunications infrastructure."

"Seattle has also been the number-one retail market for three years in a row," adds Jeff Marcell, executive vice president and chief operating officer for enterpriseSeattle. "We wouldn't have that ranking if we didn't have outstanding growth, and we wouldn't have that growth without our IT capabilities. The ripple effect is very strong."

Once known as the steel capital of the nation, Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, has cut the cord to both its wired networks and the past. The Southside Bethlehem Keystone Innovation Zone has developed a 2.5-square-mile broadband wireless network to bring Wi-Fi access to a crucial group of people - emerging business leaders. Ben Franklin Technology Partners spearheaded the development of the network, which is now fully operational.

"This Wi-Fi network complements the Ben Franklin Business incubator and the Bethlehem Technology Centers as an important support amenity to early-stage technology firms," says Chad Paul, CEO of the Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Northeastern Pennsylvania. "Through the network, the Southside Bethlehem KIZ enables entrepreneurs to remain connected during their companies' critical early stages."

Even before the network was up and running, one of Ben Franklin's companies began creating products for the zone and beyond. With a $25,000 investment, hField Technologies developed the Wi-Fire Hi-Gain Wi-Fi Adapter to extend the range and increase the connection speed of laptop and PC users. The company received FCC certification for its product on August 31, 2006, and began selling it the next day.

As a final example, Portland (ranked as the fifteenth most-wired city in the country) just launched the first phase of its free, citywide wireless coverage (the second phase that will expand the network is currently being developed). By the time the project is finished in 2008, wireless will cover about 95 percent of the city.

"As companies demand faster and cheaper mobile access for their operations," notes Logan Kleier, project manager for Portland's Bureau of Technology Services, "cities that have a high-speed mobile communications infrastructure will be better positioned to attract and maintain companies."

Keeping pace with the needs of the business community, and building public/private partnerships to invest in the necessary infrastructure, are high priorities for cities that want to create a dynamic business climate.

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