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Thursday, Nov 30, 2023

New Gold Rush Emerging In the Local Tech Scene?

On April 3, 2000, the day I came to work for the

San Diego Business Journal,

the Nasdaq fell.

I mean, really fell. Some 349 points. That represented a 7.6 percent plunge of the tech-heavy stock index to 4,223.68.

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I should have taken it as a sign of things to come. The world of technology sure looks a lot different nowadays. Last Thursday at press time, the Nasdaq Composite Index closed at 2,018.79.

MP3.com. Excite@Home. Webvan. Pets.com.

Those dot-com companies , and many others , are all gone.

Back then, I was 37. I had just moved back to San Diego from a small town in the Sierra, in the back yard of Yosemite National Park. For three years I had covered school board meetings and copied crime reports from the sheriff’s log for the (Sonora) Union Democrat. I pretty much ignored the tech sector. Bay Area residents came to my part of the country to get away from the crazed atmosphere in Silicon Valley.

Sonora had a modest economy still has. Tourism and the state prison pump money into the area. But it wasn’t always an economic backwater.

Patches of land are still badly eroded where people used high-pressure water cannons to blast gold out of the landscape. That happened in the 19th century. More recent is the Jamestown open-pit mine, which operated when the price of gold got high enough to make excavation profitable.

The town of Tuolumne was built around the sawmills of the West Side Lumber Co. Trains snaked into the mountains to haul down big trees. By the time I saw it, the cute little houses of the company town had foil over their windows and people who didn’t have a whole lot of work to do.

I make the place sound pretty bad, but it has a lot of charm. I’d even recommend taking state Route 49 , the aptly named highway linking Gold Rush towns , from end to end.

After five years at the Business Journal, I realize I have been watching another gold rush. Qualcomm Inc. has been coming up with new uses for cell phones while pushing its technology into new markets. Cymer Inc. is making equipment to produce microchips with ever-smaller geometries.

This week, Sony expects its 5 millionth personal computer to emerge from its local production line.

I’ve met some very smart people who are attempting incredible things.

Aerospace companies are taming temperamental materials, and Poway’s SpaceDev produced the rocket engines for the first private space shot.

Government contracting has its exotic side. The people at General Atomics are still working to achieve efficient nuclear fusion. And the people at UC San Diego are pushing all sorts of technologies as far as they will be pushed.

But I still like to think about the Mother Lode vein, 500 miles to the north, lying deep and untouched. It provides a nice metaphor for business.

The good news is that there’s gold under everybody’s feet. The only problem is getting at it.

Contact Brad Graves at his new e-mail address, bradg@sdbj.com, or call him at (858) 277-6359, Ext. 3115.


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