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If you wish to bring a sparkle to the eye of any entrepreneur, or a snap to the step of a venture capitalist, or watch economic development officers salivate, just mention two words: Silicon Valley. Remember the 19th century statesman who once scoffed that Italy is not a country; it is merely a geographic expression! Well Silicon Valley is more than a country. It is, at once, both a description and a talisman a tocsin for excitement. Although it is centered on San Jose, it is far more than a geographic expression – it is a state of mind – a state that looks to the future and disdains the thought of anything being impossible.
It is a fabled land of innovation and entrepreneurship – a valley at one time compared to the fertile crescent of biblical times, but a modern incarnation, economic fertile beyond belief. In the past five years we have created 200,000 jobs and 15,000 businesses. Household income 101k. This “miracle” that occurred was part vision and part hard work but, it was not inevitable.
When you tell someone how close they are to the angels, Pascal warned, always remind them how shortly removed they are from the beasts!
Only 50 years ago San Jose was a different place …
We stuffed peaches and pears into crates, instead of stuffing Pentium chips inside computers and placing applies on children’s desks. The wines of Paul Mason, Mirassou and Novitate were the staples: prunes, apricots, cherries. The pace was slow, the mood relaxed. People relished in our nickname, “Valley of Heart’s Delight” or “Blossom Valley.” No one had heard of transistors, or VCR’s or disc drives, space probes or the Internet; they were unconcerned with how much information could be squeezed onto a microchip or how quickly one could “surf the net.” In the 50 years that preceded those years of change, San Jose was a different world from the amazing place it has become. It was the “home of farmers and vintners.” Scientists and engineers would not be immediately associated with our city or our valley.
You most likely will find American culture and commerce in a city.
3 of 4 Americans live in a city; tens of millions in urban California.
Over 1.5 million people have found it in a place called San Jose.
A place to imagine and indeed
“The future belongs to those who can imagine it” as Luis Valdez said.
We will talk more of imagination in a few moments.
But first, what is a city?
Webster: A large or important town – quite prosaic
Jean Gottman: 1960 / Boston to Washington D.C. = coined megapolis
And urban areas have developed far beyond what Brendan Behan once described: “A city is a place where you are least likely to be bitten by a wild sheep!” Sparse or humorous definitions do not capture the size, reality, color and excitement of the modern American city.
It’s hopes and dreams
Some observers judge American cities harshly, in a spirit of crisis that so powerfully paints the urban picture in American minds. I have lived in a city all my life, and can understand the fatalism amply demonstrated in the morning headlines and the evening news!
There is much heartache
Every American has in her head or etched in his mind a picture of the American city today. For many, the media provides the image: Tim Burton’s “Gotham City,” designed and portrayed so darkly in his Batman movies or that nightmare image, of the slick and faceless violence of the not-so-futuristic city in Blade Runner. It sets for a lot of us a hackneyed mental portrait of modern urban life. For millions of others now, the picture is a freeze-frame view of Los Angeles during the 1992 riots: the random beating of trucker Reginald Denny at a corner in South Central Los Angeles, “Live and in color” in every living room in America. Then the replayed clubbing of Rodney King, over and over by swarms of police on a dark, ghoulish street. We saw the long shots of the bleak Los Angeles skyline with entire city blocks ablaze and out of control. All these images combine to provide us with our common national metaphor: “The Dying City.” Look at one set of statistics: 1960 – 1 cop, 3 felons; 1998, 3 felons, one cop. Illegitimate births 70% in some center cities.
There are many challenges in the city.
I have experienced it – first hand! At the bedside of cop – funerals of your children.
But that is only part of the truth. America and Northern Ireland both have their erroneous stereotypes. Other forces are at work.
Cities and their leaders must learn the same lesson that our valley has learned. Don’t let stereotypes get you down. Don’t listen to overly broad, unfocused alliances like L.A.’s flawed incarnation in response to riots; these are not the answer to the problems of the cities, nor are imposed expert solutions or wish lists.
I advocate “Tough Love” for cities – tough, but thoughtful. Progress and innovation come from below, from the motivated people on the urban front lines: the Jackie Redpaths, Eamon Hamas, and John McConnells. Those who believe they can be greater than the sum of their parts.
There is much more to be found in the “City.”
Let us look at the San Jose experience.
It was built by immigrants: It is still a land of immigrants…and, of course, entrepreneurs of every variety. Some from Iowa and Ireland, other from Vermont and Vietnam. Except for this flood of people, many experts could not find San Jose – a few short years ago.
San Francisco cast a long shadow. Maps did not show us!
We were not historically a city of “economic” or “geographic” importance. We were only a hinterland, country cousins to San Francisco.
But the pundits or the cartographers of Rand McNally were not our chosen audience.
Our Valley exists, as much in the mind and imagination as in a physical location – it is an entrepreneurial environment – JB Say, who coined the word, says an entrepreneur “shifts economic resources out of lower productivity and into area of high productivity and yield.”
The people of San Jose instinctively knew that salient fact. We appealed to kindred spirits in business and industry.
Ours is a place of 1.6 million people, roughly the size of this piece of the world. Anxious to move forward, looking for partners.
The key ingredients that helped make San Jose the center of the new world economy were:
1) Educational institutions (Stanford, Santa Clara, San Jose State University. Linchpins / our intellectual capital.
2) High quality of life (weather, parks, safety, cultural amenities)
3) Venture capital – money to give an idea, a start –
Three keys to the future.
But it also had another important, vital item: Vision. The Vicar of Christ’s church, Dean Swift, described vision as the “Art of seeing the invisible.” Think about that. Leaders and citizens in San Jose were as one: Trying to build a better life, seeing an invisible future.
We knew that we were not an industrial center; nor did we have a port; or natural resources. We knew that we could become one only if we had the imagination, planned carefully, and had a sense of history.
History can be used for so many different and often times damaging purposes. It can be as Joyce said, “A nightmare we are trying to awaken from.” Yet it can also be crisp and clear; informative and clarifying. It can remove the clouds and allow people to see the sky – yet, if the people of San Jose had listened to those who said we could not build a special spot, with great economic prosperity and a low crime rate, with virtually total employment: one million jobs and great abundant education opportunities, we would have stagnated.
Agriculture would have been our past – and our future. We dared more.
As the path of progress was winding its way down from Stanford University and the industrial incubators in the vicinity, our task was to recognize the historical trend and prepare out industrial zones and public policy for rapid chance. We had to make decisions and move with a speed that public / private partnerships must have to succeed.
When Rodin was asked how best to make an elephant, the sculptor said, “Get a large block of marble and then remove all that is not an elephant.” We removed indecision and in its place substituted the three “P’s.”
A mantra for the new city-state.
Somerset Maughan: 3 simple rules for writing a novel … but no one can remember them! During my second term, which began in 1987, as our entrepreneurial style took hold, our neighbor San Francisco was losing 100 companies per year. We remembered the 3 rules:
1) Professional Management: The best people and allow them flexibility.
2) Public Entrepreneurship: “The meek inherit nothing.”
Just as America launched the Marshall plan to rebuild a war-torn Europe after the cataclysm of World War II, we battled urban deterioration by priming the economic pump ourselves. In the capital of Silicon Valley, instead of debating enterprise zones for a decade, we enacted them in eight weeks. By waiving taxes initially to attract small and large business, we soon saw tax revenues flow into our coffers. We gave to get, and we got San Jose’s new skyline, featuring a landmark Fairmont Hotel, office towers, a new convention center, three new museums, light-rail trolleys, an 18,000 seat arena and a city full of workers making good salaries and paying taxes to hire police and youth workers. To maintain the economic base underwriting all our efforts in building a safe community, we aggressively sought business partners among Valley firms, following the advice given in Casablanca by Claude Rains: “We began to round up the usual suspects.” An entrepreneurial city hall helped IBM, Hewlett-Packard, Adobe and dozens of others expand, while we recruited Fujitsu, Cisco, Netcom to our industrial tax base, adding more revenue. Neal Pierce, a Washington Post columnist, called our approach “An amazing exercise in Robin Hood economics.” Describing our redevelopment strategy to use industrial park revenues to finance a new attention to our decayed core, he approvingly wrote in 1987 that “For the first time anywhere, downtown is exploiting suburbia – not the reverse.” We then used the downtown tax base to revitalize our neighborhood centers.
3) Political Will
The final key item in our toolbox
Control the budget – you must spend to get!
* 1980’s we invested $1.5 billion public venture capital
* Created an office of economic development / worked with Bob Noyce for policy changes – and others – Partnership = Sematech
“Steal a team – Venice = Biblical thief = body of St. Mark
Pigeons and lovers celebrate ever since.
The independence and self-reliant style of the new city-state will require the political will stay the course and to fix what is broken.
Our police department is now the best in the nation / highly educated – but not always -“In and of the people” – community policing
John Gardner’s “Networks of responsibility.” Innovation from below.
With these rules, and other innovations, San Jose became the virtual capital, the metropolis of an imaginary but very real place, Silicon Valley.
It is hard to believe. Some times we must be pinched. Tom Clancy said that fiction is harder to write than fact – because it must make sense.
The creation of Silicon Valley defies rules.
City and business leaders must become evangelists:
City leaders/mayors/lord mayors must be zealots.
In the words of a former mayor in a neighboring city, Clint Eastwood “A man’s got to know his limitations.” Know what you can do and what you can dare.
Be willing to make mistakes for lofty goals the physician can bury his mistakes, but the architect can only advise his client to plant vines. — Frank Lloyd Wright
A thriving building with vines is better than a fallow field.
Mistakes are not made by timid and faint of heart; those type of people sit and stagnate.
We also had to plan with the end result in mind
As we showed confidence, others began to look at our city in a new way.
The “Grand Manner” of other places features a heroic scale, ceremonial boulevards and vistas, all sorts of baroque grandeur as seen in Paris. The “City as Diagram,” favored by utopians like Jeremy Bentham and Thomas Jefferson, using strict geometric circles and polygons to achieve some sort of cosmic significance. Robert Moses in New York implemented the grand plan – tell people what they want – loudly – then bulldoze the opposition.
But the Silicon Valley model is much more practical; it is the model of the garage – begin small – listen and innovate – HP and Apple; Seagate and Intel. With this strategy. Invest in a few key critical blocks. (Belfast has the plan: — waterfront, science museum, arena.)
Those of your who have seen Silicon Valley know that the plan is standard, only the result is impressive.
I. A modest industrial redevelopment grew into – 7,500 acres 7% of all San Jose – it captured Silicon Valley
II. Project Crackdown
Let parents and teachers help themselves. We invested in “Networks of Responsibility” to let all of us advance together.
Sometimes we call it a cathedral / strategy
Everything proud was once only imagined. – so said William Blake
The character of an ancient civilization if often judged by the physical. Landmarks it left behind. – The Roman aqueducts, Stonehenge, Emain Macha (Navan) – or its great churches.
The people of a city, in any era, can either pursue individually a thousand definitions of self-interest or focus on communal definitions of the public good. – How indeed do we all advance together.
What do you want for your city – set the goal, and implement, implement, implement.
But the cathedral strategy binds the city as it builds itself, leaving for future generation and the outside world a clear picture of what their community attempted and maybe even achieved. The Notre Dame – Armagh of today are cathedrals of innovation and hope. They may be a manufacturing unit that began in a garage – or a teacher’s college that became a great university – they are not purely secular, for what more noble, enduring concept can there be than to build a better world for our children.
In Derry, the Foyle Valley holds the spark of another Silicon Valley: University like – Magee
Entrepreneurs : Seagate – A Vanguard
Quality of Life
Alliance with San Jose / Silicon Valley
Leadership like John Hume and John Keanie, Prof. Fabian Monds
Exemplify this – we recognize them in Silicon Valley
Belfast: advancing on so many front: Shankill / Redpath
Phoenix Trust – Hanna
Look to the Past:
The great poet, Seamus Heaney, writes of the old bardic schools of Ireland, where poets and artists sat in the dark and stared at a wall until inspiration arrived. Well it does not often work for me, but the modern equivalent may be staring at a computer screen.
I had the opportunity to see something very special yesterday. I went to see the launch of the Bytes Center in Woodvale – the first time I saw this area was six years ago. Traditionally a place for people would work for shorts, or a shipbuilder or a textile factory, just as in Silicon Valley they worked in agriculture – I looked at the children and young people – although I knew none of them; they were all familiar. I have seen them in South Boston, East San Jose and Central America. Each using technology for good; just the same as Shankill or the falls: It is thankfully the face of the future.
Others can succeed – Look at the model – and add 3 “P’s”
A. Ten years ago San Jose was like Rodin’s block of marble unformed – full of flaws but bulging with potential.
1) Today Tech Museum – Smithsonian of West
2) Convention center – Architectural Digest’s 100 key buildings in the world.
3) Arena – Sports, Paverotti, Streisand
Information and innovation centre of the world.
B. Look closer to home:
Ten years ago, I participated in the seminal announcement of the Intel plant in Lexlip, west of Dublin, one of many economic alliances between Ireland and San Jose/Silicon Valley. Ironically the site is quite near Lucan, the home of the Jacobite leader of the “Wild Geese,” Patrick Sarsfield. I wrote about it in a column for the London Times – Signpost.
How long ago and how anachronistic seems the dynastic battles that pitted army against army at the Boyne water – how slight the issue, how foolish the sacrifice. The plumed cavalier, Sarsfield had to leave his country, this island, to find ephemeral success, and an early grave abroad. How many have left from cork as my grandparents did, or Derry “Kay” or now the Belfast airport. How many had to imagine the future far from the land of their birth, far from the people they loved. At Sarsfield’s ancestral home, there are 2,500 new, motivated, inspired “Wild Geese” making a life here, they never had to fly! – Just as Seagate – helps young people build their future “Beyond the black pig’s dike” in Northern Ireland.
What a special way to utilize the young idealists that in other days left for America or went over the top with the 36th Ulster division.
Remember the San Jose Miracle; but this can be the Derry or Belfast or N.I miracle. This is the imagined future. Miracles are things that deviate from he known laws – a city of the future transmuted from a valley of farms, Pentium chips in Lucan; a young man in Woodvale changing the world with (not a bomb) but a magical box called a computer – things change. Miracles are made of vision plus – sweat, hope and stubborn determination.
One day soon, all of you working for a new future will the triumph, there is no doubt, the laptop will forever replace the weapon – and the shadow of the gunman will be replaced by the silhouette of the engineer.
This is the future that beckons – a place of peace and opportunity – we are all travelers on that journey. It will be an exhilarating trip.