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Monday, May 04, 2009

A Tale of Two Cities

I had the pleasure of hearing interesting perspectives on the industry dynamics and synergies of two of the world’s largest technology clusters: Silicon Valley and Dresden, Saxony.

At the Silicon Valley Lunch Forum on April 23, Art Zafiropoulo, Chairman and CEO, Ultratech Inc. gave a nice talk on the history and future of Silicon Valley. Like many observers, he traces the Valley’s tech origins to the founding of Stanford and the invention of the oscilloscope in the famed garage by Hewlett and Packard. With the founding of Fairchild Semiconductor, tech DNA started spreading, duplicating and intermingling. The Valley enjoyed a unique mix of geography, higher ed, specialized expertise, and eventually money that served as a magnet for innovators like Art the world over. A critical mass was established that kept the Valley in the forefront of the computer revolution, the communications revolution and the Internet revolution. He contrasted collaborative, flexible, open Silicon Valley culture with the insular and vertically integrated approach taken in Massachusetts along the Rt. 128 corridor and many parts of the world.

Art still sees the Valley as a center of innovation, but not manufacturing. The region still enjoys the output from best educated people in the world, but suffers from a variety of economic ills generated by the high tax, high spend policies of the State and national government.

Dresden, Germany is one of the great economic success stories in Europe. While only recently behind the “curtain,” Dresden is now home to the most dynamic high tech cluster in Europe (Don’t forget Grenoble, France).

While many people know in chips know Dresden and Saxony as the EU home of Infinion, AMD and Qimonda, its also the center of the world in photovoltaics. We recently a visit from Dagmar Vogt, CEO of Vogt Group, and Harold Bender, VP of Applied’s solar business in Europe who painted a compelling picture on why SEMI needs to be centered in the Saxony-Berlin region. Many of the same dynamics that accelerated Silicon Valley are present in the Dresden region.

The Dresden-centered solar industry encompasses nearly all of Saxony, including Leipzip and Thalheim, which many now call Solar Valley due to the many solar firms located there, including Q-Cells. Actually the region extends beyond Saxony to include Berlin, Arnstadt, and Alzenau. There’s competition between cities, but also synergy and internetworking. Like Silicon Valley, the area enjoys tremendous education and R&D resources from the University of Halle, Helmholtz Centre Berlin for Materials and Energy (HZB). IMEC, Fraunhofer ISE, and EU institutions like the European Renewable Energy Council (EREC).

While Silicon Valley is less of a manufacturing center, Saxony enjoys many advantages as a manufacturing center including low rents and wages.

What distinguishes both areas, however, is the synergies, the intermingling of smart people from business, industry and finance that makes both regions go. It is not the guided centralization that you see at Hsinchu Science and Technology Industrial Park in Taiwan or Shanghai, Pudong, but the informal dynamics of different industries and specialties combining to accelerate progress. SEMI tries to leverage this dynamic wherever we can when creating and developing expositions and conferences. We know that it’s what you plan and expect from a program that generates delight and the “a-ha’ moment, it’s the unexpected that frequently comes from outside your immediate industry and specialty that spurs innovation.
(Phot: Dresden Messe)

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