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Technology alliance recruiting businesses to Federal Way area

South King County offers some great places to locate a high-tech business, community leaders say.

Now is the time to let the rest of the world know that.

Advancing that agenda, the South King County Technology Alliance will host area representatives from local government bodies, chambers of commerce, educational institutions and high-tech businesses at its Thursday business leaders forum.

Delores Shull, CEO of the Federal Way Chamber of Commerce, said her agency worked closely with local officials to build a list of people to invite.

More than 300 invitations to the forum went out, which, Shull said, was important for many reasons. Technology companies provide family-wage jobs to local residents. Also, locating them in the area keeps residents working and shopping locally. That reduces the number of commuters who would otherwise head to Seattle or the Eastside.

Equally important, high-tech companies have little or no negative impact on the environment and can locate in Federal Way’s City Center, unlike industrial-based businesses, Shull said.

“Federal Way has been kind of leading this group,” said Shull, noting the forum also will provide an opportunity for businesses to network with one another.

Opening the forum, Lorraine Ruff of Milestones, a technology company, will speak on “Building a Business-Friendly High-Tech Community.” Later, participants will discuss how to build the technology alliance into a network for promoting high-tech growth in South King County.

The main reason for the alliance to exist “is that we don’t have a strong identity in South King County,” said Derek Matheson, a Federal Way Assistant City Manager. “The businesses here probably think of themselves as parts of the Seattle or Tacoma high-tech communities,” he said.

Matheson has been involved with the alliance from its beginnings a year ago when it was formed with support from Congressman Adam Smith, D-Washington, and state Representative Mark Miloscia, D-Federal Way. Listening to the alliance members, he said, has already offered some profound lessons to local government leaders.

“It’s almost counterintuitive to those of us in government that too much structure can be counterproductive to more high-tech development,” said Matheson, who will talk about making the alliance and its twice-yearly events relevant for businesses.

“I don’t think we’re trying to replace what Seattle, Tacoma or the Eastside are doing, but we’re trying to build on that,” Matheson said.

That’s good for Federal Way’s short-term hopes to bring down unemployment levels and to fill office space. It also furthers the city’s plans to have an abundance of mixed-use office space in 100-foot-tall buildings in a bustling downtown, Matheson said.

“Ultimately, the success of the network will be incumbent upon the high-tech industry,” he said

One private sector partner hoping to bring that success about is Tukwila-based Web design firm Portent Interactive.

The eight-employee company has worked with Matheson, Shull and others to bring attention to the needs of the local business community.

“In a lot of ways, we are the typical small business,” said Ian Lurie, Portent’s president and founder in 1995.

For high-tech businesses, Lurie said access to high-speed Internet transmission lines – like those available in Federal Way – is important. But so are more familiar concerns, including access to clients in other cities, the ability to negotiate traffic, available housing and finding Class-A office space, Lurie added.

“One of our concerns is keeping our rent low, which is what brought us to South King County in the first place,” Lurie said. “In the midst of the dot-com boom, we were probably paying 50-percent here what we would have been paying in downtown Seattle.”

And unlike many other Internet businesses, Portent is still around, Lurie said. That’s one reason why it’s important for city leaders to listen to high-tech businesses, both big and small, he said.

“You can’t build personality around the one or two big guys. You need to accommodate the small- and medium-sized businesses. As a function of the economy, we are going to be the bulk of the companies that cities will deal with,” he said.

So, are community leaders hearing the concerns of the high-tech business community?

“They’re listening to us, which is not only refreshing but essential,” Lurie said. “That’s impressive, and that’s what’s going to make or break this.”

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