Fresno, technology black hole

@philderksen - "RT @FresnoBiz: Business Journal Survey: The State of Technology in the Valley. Let us know what you think."

That tweet led me to The Business Journal, and a 1000 character survey, which wasn't near enough to explain how I feel about Fresno as a technology center. Phil has one view, I have another.

Look, you really have to want to live in the Fresno area to live here. That may sound like a big "DUH!", but it's true. Those of us that choose to live here will typically give one of a couple answers, here's what I've heard most often; "I could afford to buy a home here." and "I have family here." The second reason is a large part of why we're back in The Valley after living in the Seattle area for five years. Family is hard to argue with, but being near your family comes at a huge price if you're a professional software developer. As for the first reason, well that's not so true any longer. The housing boom forced home prices into the stratosphere, ridiculously high for the region. The Valley is one of the poorest places in California, and I'd imagine the country. It's a weird place to be. We're used to being poor here. The economic downturn has hurt the region but it's not like other regions of the country.

Watch out! It's Fresno, the tech black hole!On to reasons Fresno is a technology black hole, in my humble opinion.

Reason #1: The Valley is poor as dirt

Our economy is based on agriculture. The Valley feeds the world, that's not an overblown statement. A large portion of the worlds fruits and vegetables come from The Valley. We have a large unskilled workforce. A workforce that tends to be very poor. We've become a service industry based region; McDonalds, Burger King, Taco Bell, you get the picture.

Reason #2: Fresno is a cultural wasteland

I once read somewhere, and I wish I could remember where, a site exclaiming "People in Fresno think culture is something the doctor takes." There you have it. What do we have to offer vast fields orange groves, which are amazing to behold, but not likely to draw you to them week in and week out. We have the Chaffee Zoo and the Fresno Metropolitan Museum but they struggle, see Reason #1.

Reason #3: Limited sporting events

We have Fresno State, The Fresno Grizzlies, and The Central Valley Coyotes. Fresno State fans will claim they're great fans. Rabid more like. Think Oakland Raiders. Rowdy-obnoxious-drunken-brawlers. Who wants to deal with that? I certainly don't. I'm not sure how well the Grizzlies are doing. They have a fantastic brand new stadium. I've been there and it is indeed a great place to watch baseball, but I've only been once.

Reason #4: Downtown Fresno is dead

The great technology centers I've visited personally have vibrant downtowns. Seattle is a great example. When I worked for Visio I could step outside and experience wonderful activities on a daily basis; restaurants, shopping, music, art. Seattle had it all, and it was all within walking distance, even after we moved to One World Trade center, which was removed from the core of downtown. Downtown San Francisco is the same, with San Jose being slightly less so, but it still offers workers an abundance of amenities. Fresno's downtown has shown a bit of a renaissance in certain areas, which is encouraging, but it has a long way to go to live up to the technology hotbeds of America.

Reason #5: We have ZERO high tech companies in the region

That is probably the real clincher. Our one great company in the region, Pelco, cannot employ thousands of tech workers. It just can't do it. So where do they go? They flee to the high tech centers; Seattle, The Silicon Valley, Boston. Pelco is trying to turn the corner and become a great high tech company. It'll take some time, but it's getting there. We have the leadership in place and are making moves to achieve that goal, we're working on seriously cool stuff, but once again, one company can't employ the region. Pelco has been a real leader in its' chosen field, but that hasn't drawn companies into the region.

We've had two interesting startups in the region over the past year, both have fled for greener pastures.

Plastic Jungle moved to Mountain View, and Vine Global relocated operations to Arizona. Vine apparently moved because of a big deal with a client and needed to be there for them. I'm not sure why Plastic Jungle left? I'd heard it was at the request of their VC's. If that's true it doesn't bode well for anyone trying raise funding from the Fresno area.

Robert Schultz: "If you weren't aware I wrote another post regarding another startup based on the Fresno area called PlasticJungle. They were recently funded from a Venture Capital firm in which following the round of funding, decided to move most of their operations out of Clovis to the bay area. While I disagree with these moves since I want to see new and innovative businesses grow here in the valley, I understand that the business here is not as optimal as places like the bay area."

Reason #6: It's really hot here!

We just came off a streak of 100+ days. At its peak the temperature was 111, that's just insane, and a lot of folks are really turned off by the heat. Just like living in freezing weather for months on end is a turn off to a lot of people. We lack a certain balance in our weather. It's always warm here, even in the winter. In the past year I'm fairly certain I've worn shorts just about every day.

Reason #7: The air quality is horrible

We have horrible air quality, see for yourself. In the list of 23 places the San Joaquin Valley owns six positons, with three in the top ten! Folks that are sensitive to dust, pollen, and molds are at risk here. Both of our children developed asthma after moving here. Not so good.

But wait, it gets worse

Phil asserts that local tech companies don't allow him to get involved, which is the desire of developers. I haven't experienced this myself, but I understand what he's saying. I've run into a lot of "mom and pop" shops that have a very local thinking mindset, which I think hurts them. We live in a poor region. People just don't like to spend money on custom solutions. I know of a developer that was told he couldn't charge for his implementation on top of an open source solution, what? Because he was going to use a free product he shouldn't charge for his time? Ridiculous. Custom development shops, and consulting, are fine, but they're not the way to build great technology centers. The overhead is too great and you're constantly trying to hustle business from people that don't want to pay up. The real win comes in the form of product. Not the kind you package and put on a shelf. The kind you create, publish in some form, and charge for it. Desktop or web, it doesn't matter. Things like Netflix or Amazon. Why not out of The Valley? Is it lack of networking, brain drain, a combination of the two? Most likely a combination of the two, well that and we live in a poor area. Not many wealthy local entrepreneurs out there.

The bottom line.

Q: Who will change the Fresno technology black hole?
A: Those of us born and raised in The Valley will have to do it.

I wouldn't have it any other way.

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