Coastal North County communities are riding the wave of technology, hoping to create tekkie hubs and attract new-media workers.
Cutting-edge technology is not the only selling tool for these new-media centers by the sea. The kickback beach lifestyle, artsy and eclectic surroundings, and even things like yoga and tai chi are being used to lure high-tech workers to the North County coast.
It’s the best of both worlds, said John Martin, managing director of Media 101, a planned digital tech center in the heart of downtown Encinitas.
“It will be a high-tech, artistic and fully wired office,” said Martin, who, for now, works out of a temporary trailer.
Media 101, scheduled for completion next year, is at Second and E streets in Encinitas in an old Bank of America building that has been vacant since 1997.
The project calls for major renovation of the building as well as construction of another building on the bank’s parking lot. The two buildings will be linked by an open-air skywalk.
The 16,250-square-foot project will include office suites, artist’s lofts, and audio and video production and post-production studios. Media 101 will also have multimedia/conference rooms, super high-speed data transfer work stations, a kitchen, courtyard, sundeck and shower facilities for those long lunch breaks at the beach. Martin has hired a feng shui artist to help with the interior design and furniture placement.
Cox Communications also has pledged to make Media 101 its North County fiber hub.
“We look at Downtown as our virtual studio,” Martin said. “With all this fiber we can go live from anywhere.”
Martin plans to broadcast live events over the Web, such as concerts and performances at the historic La Paloma Theater on Coast Highway 101.
Media 101, which will be wired for Web TV, is the first of three such planned centers. Martin, who has been in real estate development for the past decade, wants to open another new-media center in Encinitas, plus one in Oceanside within the next five years.
Martin said 30 to 40 companies have already expressed interest in moving into Media 101, including multimedia firms, Internet start-ups, design firms, and audio/video producers.
“Probably 20 to 30 percent of the people who are coming here have five to six people working out of their house. That’s the spirit we’re looking for,” said Martin, who’s been involved with video production for three years.
Media 101 plans to offer paid internships by the spring. Students will learn the latest cutting-edge tekkie stuff like how to edit DVDs.
Media 101 also plans to collaborate with the Downtown Encinitas Merchants Association (DEMA) and Planet X TV, local producer of extreme sports programming, to produce a local cable series depicting life along the highway.
“We want to make Highway 101 like the new Route 66,” Martin said.
Peter Norby would like nothing better.
Norby, DEMA executive director, noted that most of the nation’s downtowns were started in the 1920s, ’30s and ’40s.
When the interstate highways were built, however, downtowns were bypassed, he said. From the 1960s to the 1980s, most downtowns went through a period of degradation.
A rebirth has begun.
“Consumers have grown tired of (strip malls) and are coming back downtown,” Norby said. “Many of our downtowns are positioned to take advantage of this digital commerce. Many of the buildings are ideal for these (new-media) companies.
“This is a very valuable tool for historic downtowns to use to get a piece of the economic pie,” he said, adding Cox plans to lay fiber throughout downtown Encinitas.
DEMA has also created Web sites for its members and offers Internet classes to keep Encinitas merchants up to speed.
Freeways To Bandwidth
Norby pointed out the onramps and off ramps into and out of communities are now bandwidth.
“Successful communities in the 1900s planned downtowns,” he said. “In the 1950s, they planned infrastructure to capitalize on the new opportunities the new freeway systems brought. Successful communities today will have the insight to prepare for this new kind of commerce.”
What Norby is talking about is building a sustaining a smart community.
John Eger is an expert in the smart communities concept, a way communities use technology as a catalyst for economic development.
He said projects like Media 101 will help build the city of the future.
“What’s happened is the musician and the artist and the computer programmer are all living and working together,” said Eger, also director of SDSU’s International Center for Communications and a Lionel Van Deerlin endowed professor of communications and public policy.
“It’s almost like a commune. These new high-tech communes are the secret to not only building your downtown but your regional economy.”
He said cities like Encinitas have a good shot at building a successful new-media hub.
“The smaller ones are easier to manage,” he said. “That’s why Blacksburg, Va., has done such a great job. It’s a university town (Virginia Tech). They have the whole town wired.”
The more people live and work in cyberspace, physical locations like the beach and cultural centers take on a more important role, Eger said.
“The knowledge worker wants to go where there are strong cultural roots. They understand the connection between culture, community and commerce. They want diversity.”
Carlsbad Chamber of Commerce officials hope a mix of culture and commerce will lure high-tech companies to the coastal North County town, known for its flower fields, golf companies and village-like character.
The chamber has had a Technology Task Force since 1997.
“The chamber recognized early on the importance of technology in an area,” said Valerie Chereskin, a member of the board of directors for the Carlsbad chamber and the volunteer chairman of the Technology Task Force.
Chereskin, also a consultant for ContentOne Innovation, Inc., a PR firm specializing in high-tech, said the chamber plans to develop a program to attract and retain high-tech companies. The program will include producing and handing out promotional CD-ROMs.
‘Office Of The Future’
The chamber is also exploring the idea of establishing the “office of the future” at chamber offices to demonstrate the latest technology.
The chamber plans to instigate a technology discount for its members, as well as look at the possibility of establishing a technology incubator for start-ups.
The Carlsbad chamber already provides free technical support to its members and provides seminars spotlighting issues such as E-commerce.
The chamber also plans to hold roundtables to find out what tech companies need and want.
Besides attracting and maintaining tech companies, the chamber has also pledged to become a tech leader.
In 1997, the chamber hooked up to a high-speed Internet connection and launched an award-winning Web site.
“If someone is thinking about coming to a community they would call and ask for an information packet. For us, the Web page becomes a conduit to the entire community,” said Jan Sobel, the chamber’s CEO.
‘Looking For Gazelles’
Carlsbad is home to about 200 high-tech companies, including Digital Outpost, Digital On Demand, Lucent Technologies and Denso.
The chamber would like to see a lot more.
Two years ago, Carlsbad didn’t have any new buildings. Since then, 3 million square feet of office space has built.
“We want to make sure we have quality companies that go in there,” Sobel said. “We’re looking for the gazelles.”
Sobel noted not all tekkies like to live and work in urban areas, such as Downtown San Diego, New York and San Francisco.
“This is another choice, if you like the beach or wide-open spaces,” she said about Carlsbad. Sobel pointed out Carlsbad is the only city in San Diego County that has a growth plan, which dedicates 40 percent of the land in Carlsbad as open space.
Traffic is another issue companies are beginning to look at. Laurie Levenson, a technical recruiter who owns DirectAccess Technology Staffing, moved her business to Carlsbad because she was tired of sitting in traffic on Interstate 5.
“Ever since I’ve put my office in Carlsbad, I’ve been amazed at the flood of people calling me wanting to move to Carlsbad,” she said. “They’ll even take less money.”
As for Media 101’s Martin, he’s just looking forward to working by the beach.
“It’s a better way to live,” the 29-year-old surfer said.