Wichita isn’t Silicon Valley, but it’s got plenty of high tech jobs.
Just about every business now relies on technology. That means ordering inventory over the Internet, managing databases or countering malware attacks.
And Wichita has had a string of homegrown high-tech businesses over the decades, such as Mycro-Tek, Brite Voice Systems, Newer Technology, LendingTools.com, High Touch Technologies, Pulse Systems and Boxcar. Some went out of business, others were bought out and left, still others remain.
“We have a very large IT community, but it’s very quiet,” said Dave Bossemeyer, managing director for the Greater Wichita Economic Development Coalition.
One of Wichita’s biggest high-tech assets is its many hundreds of aircraft engineers, according to one private organization that ranked the city 12th in the nation for the concentration of high-tech jobs in 2008 – largely on the basis of engineering jobs.
Wayne Chambers, president of High Touch, has had difficulty filling some of his technology jobs as other companies in the area hire. He is leading an effort to assemble an alliance of about 100 local technology companies to work with local colleges to feed them more and more appropriately trained workers.
To Chambers, Wichita definitely has a technology cluster, even though that means both technology companies and the technology operations inside of other companies.
One longtime Wichita technology facility is expanding because of the local talent pool and culture.
NetApp has added about 80 workers at its facility at 37th and Rock Road in the last year, on its way to 415 new hires in the next four years.
Joel Reich, NetApp vice president of the Array Product Group, acknowledged that Wichita isn’t a natural fit for his company because of the specialized talent he needs, but that few places are.
The facility at 37th and Rock has been around since it was built by NCR in the early 1970s. Many of its engineers and technicians have worked there for years, even decades.
“The folks we got at the time are experienced in the deep technical knowledge of storage systems that is hard to find anywhere,” Reich said.
It takes a computer science degree and 12 to 15 months of experience writing specialized software to even be employable there. Reich said there are really only four places in the country with the industry cluster and specialized labor pool needed to start up a data storage research and development facility: Silicon Valley in California; Boulder-Longmont, Colo.; Research Triangle Park, N.C.; and Boston.
But the company has worked with Wichita State University to develop a specialized feeder program so that along with a core of experienced engineers it can attract graduates from Wichita State and other regional universities.
“I can’t put an ad in the Wichita Eagle asking for a storage developer with 15 years experience,” Reich said. “Chances are I would be hiring somebody who already works for me. I have to build on the core group with college graduates. And we’re not having any trouble finding them.”
Midwestern students – and international students – don’t seem to mind the idea of moving to Wichita for high-tech work. For them, the ability to buy their own house instead of living eight to a room in Mountain View, Calif., – where housing costs are among the highest in the U.S. – is appealing, he said.