More Cow Technology — Really

Publication: SAN JOSE MERCURY NEWS
Headline: COLD CALL
NORTH DAKOTA WOOS SILICON VALLEY FIRMS
A FRIENDLIER CLIMATE (BUSINESS, THAT IS) OFFERED TO COMPANIES
Subhead:
Web Headline:
Reporter: MIKE CASSIDY column
Day: Tuesday
Print Run Date: 3/23/2004
Section: Business
Edition: Morning Final
Page Number: 1
Section Letter: C
Memo: Silicon Valley Dispatches
Corrections:
Dateline:
Slug
Text: When North Dakota came to Silicon Valley looking for jobs last fall, Rock Clapper bought what the state was selling.

Of course, Clapper grew up in North Dakota, which partly explains why he’s expanding his Palo Alto software start-up in the Peace Garden State. It also explains why Clapper is staying put in Palo Alto.

“It would be hard to come back to North Dakota and live full time, ” says Clapper, chief executive of Datatic Technologies, while on a North Dakota visit. “I love the Bay Area.”

Bay Area. North Dakota. Bay Area. North Dakota.

It would be an adjustment. Just ask Scott Lawley, the chief technology officer Clapper sent to run the team of 12 programmers the company is hiringin North Dakota.

No, Lawley didn’t draw the short straw. OK, he did.

“Right now it’s about 5 degrees outside and it’s blowing snow and there’s lots of ice in the street, ” says Lawley, who is settling in North Dakota with his wife.

With jobs leaving Silicon Valley for India, China and most any points cheaper, it’s worth wondering whether the Datatic story is a cautionary tale or a quirk.

North Dakota’s sales pitch is aimed directly at executives who’ve complained mightily about California’s business climate.

North Dakota offers lower wages, cheaper workers’ compensation, low union membership and a government that is ready to make life easy for companies willing to take on the state’s long, cold winters. (Summers are great in North Dakota. Both weeks.)

“Now that we’re here, ” Clapper says of North Dakota, “everyone is very excited that this is perhaps starting a trend.”

Perhaps. But it’s still North Dakota. And Datatic’s story is hardly one-size-fits-all. The company of 18, including a dozen workers in India, develops software that gathers data from many sources, crunches it and helps reveals trends — market trends, for instance.

The company has turned its attention to using the technology to keep tabs on the health of livestock based on information gathered by field veterinarians.

Clapper says he was looking for an uncongested area with lots of cows. He was thinking Wyoming or Montana or South Dakota.

Then along comes North Dakota hosting a November dinner at the Fairmont to sell itself as the business-friendly state. Clapper was impressed.

“It was a slam dunk.”

Now Datatic is the newest corporate citizen of Langdon, N.D. (pop. 2,200), a suburb of Canada. Twenty-two hundred? Does it even have a stop light?

“It has like a caution light, ” Lawley says, “that little yellow flashing thing.”

Truth be told, North Dakota’s biggest draw for Lawley was that he’d get to keep his job at a time when finding new ones is tricky.

But already he has found that the state’s people are exceptionally friendly.

And he says North Dakota is probably a great place for outdoor activities. You know, once you can actually go outside.

“I haven’t seen it, because it’s all covered with snow, but apparently there’s a nice country club, ” Lawley says.

So, did Clapper give Lawley any advice on North Dakota living?

“He said the other day, to amuse yourself when you’re driving the great distances between these towns, you turn your head 90 degrees and see if you can stay on the road.”

Godspeed.

SILICON VALLEY VS. NORTH DAKOTA

Average pay 2002

Silicon Valley: $62,500

North Dakota: $26,550

List price for two-bedroom, two-bath homes

San Jose: $639,500 (randomly selected)

Langdon, N.D.: $55,000 (only home for sale listed)

Population

Silicon Valley: 2.4 million

North Dakota: 633,837

Unemployment Dec. 2003

Silicon Valley: 6.4 percent

North Dakota: 3.3 percent

Average temperatures for March 23

San Jose: low 47, high 67

Grand Forks, N.D.: low 18, high 34

Average annual snowfall

Silicon Valley: None. OK, a dusting or two on Mount Hamilton.

North Dakota: 32 inches.

Sources: Joint Venture Silicon Valley, Job Service North Dakota Web site, state of California, World Book Encyclopedia, realtor.com, mercurynews.com, U.S. Census Bureau, weatherunderground.com

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