Nanotechnology and alternative energy sources fueled the Colorado technology environment in 2006. Alliances were formed with other cities to recruit high-tech companies, and an international partnership will create technological breakthroughs at Atmel and the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs.
Alliances, partnerships, collaboration.
Organizers of the first leadership forum of the Rocky Mountain Technology Alliance believe those are the keys to improving the technology business environment in Colorado Springs, and the corridor of the Rocky Mountains from Albuquerque to Fort Collins.
“We need to look beyond our borders,” said Mike Semmens, principal and co-founder of Imprimis Inc. and executive director of the RMTA. “The economy of Colorado Springs is not really that diverse and we need that diversity. Our strategy is to grow companies here, and then keep them here.”
The group has membership committees in Albuquerque, Fort Collins, Denver and Colorado Springs. Their goal is to foster economic growth in the Rocky Mountain region, and entice venture capital firms to invest in Colorado Springs, thanks to partnerships with national laboratories in New Mexico.
Two Colorado Springs groups embarked on an international journey to research and create nanotechnology for uses ranging from medicine to communications.
The University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, Atmel Corp. and Queens University in Belfast are working on research projects involving silicon germanium and other technologies.
“They are doing what few people in high-tech industry do, collaborate,” said Margaret McMahon, executive director of the Northern Ireland International Trade Center in Denver.
While the UCCS engineering department has been involved in other international arrangements, the latest with Queens University is especially exciting, said Jeremy Haefner, dean of engineering.
With the growth in the nanotechnology sector, the Colorado Nanotechnology Association’s goal is to make the state one of the top 10 places for nanotechnology companies.
“It’s the single most important industry of the next 10 years,” said Debbie Woodward, the group’s executive director. “Everything we do, all the new products and all the existing products, will use nanotechnology — the cars we drive, glasses we wear, computers, what we clean our sinks with.”
Nanotechnology involves building electronic circuits and devices from single atoms and molecules. It is expected to be a $1 trillion global industry by 2015, and employ 7 million people in the United States. In Colorado, the industry accounts for $40.5 million of the state’s economy and $14.2 million in research and development expenditures.
The association is focused on attracting, retaining and expanding nanotechnology in Colorado. The association was formed following a 14-month study by the University of Colorado at Boulder Leeds School of Business.
Many energy analysts are looking at the trees — security problems in Nigeria, nationalism in Venezuela, dismantling major oil companies in Russia, problems getting production increased in Iraq and the status of Iran — and missing the forest.
Richard Nehring of NRG Associates, said experts should be focusing on the amount of oil estimated to remain, and how much time remains before alternative sources need to be in place.
“It’s very easy now to look at the insecurity in the oil fields, the increases of demand in China and India,” he said. “But we need to look at this from a long-term perspective, what it means for the industry. There are definite strains on the system.”
Nehring has worked as a database and oil field analyst for more than three decades — he saw the energy crisis of the 1970s and the drop in oil prices during the 1980s. But 2006 will be seen as a turning point for the energy market, he said.
Despite the rapid rate of new ways to increase production — Nehring cites deep-sea drilling off the coast of Brazil and in the Gulf of Mexico — current sources are good for only the next 10 to 15 years.
“But the question is: how much oil is left,” he said. “And that’s hard to tell, because governments in many countries aren’t talking. What we can recover from those current resources, even the very heavy oil in Canada and Venezuela, is around 3 trillion barrels, ultimately.”
If hydrogen is going to replace fossil fuels as the future of energy for the United States, there are still a few hurdles that must be overcome, and the focus must expand beyond the automotive industry.
The Colorado Fuel Cell Center on the campus of the Colorado School of Mines in Golden focuses on fuel-cell research, development, education and commercial application.
“Everyone asks about cars,” said Executive Director Robert Remick. “But that’s only one of the things we’re doing — we’re helping 3M develop new membranes for vehicle fuel cells. Our mission involves so much more than that.”
The center provides education about the benefits of fuel cells, performs research and provides support to commercialize research and get products to the marketplace.
Energy prices increase focus on sustainability
The business world might be nearing a “tipping point” — as companies focus on becoming more efficient, using less energy and implementing renewable and sustainable practices.
Businesses including General Electric and DuPont are moving toward sustainability, said Christopher Juniper, a director at National Capitalism Solutions in Boulder, a nonprofit organization that helps businesses develop sustainability goals.
“The best, most efficiently managed corporations are asking questions about how to maintain quality and reduce the social impact,” he said. “Those of us who have been doing this for a while see we’re at a tipping point, where sustainability becomes mainstream.”
G.E. has started an “ecomagination” program, Juniper said — jumping onto the bandwagon behind other companies.
“DuPont has been doing this for years,” he said. “The vast majority of the Fortune 200 companies have pretty serious sustainability efforts.”
Even retail giant Wal-Mart is considering ways to increase efficiency, lower carbon emissions and reduce the threat to global climate change throughout its supply chain.
For seven years in a row, Colorado has been ranked as having the highest concentration of tech workers in the nation, according to the American Electronics Association.
Data shows that of every 1,000 private-sector workers, 88.7 were employed in the high-tech industry.
Colorado’s high tech workers earn an average salary of $76,000, the AEA study found. The state’s high-tech payroll amounted to $12.2 billion in 2004.
The study also found that Colorado fared well in attracting venture capital investment. The state saw a $197 million increase in venture capital investment between 2004 and 2005, putting it in third place behind California and New York.
Amy Gillentine covers technology for the Colorado Springs Business Journal.