Spokane Journal of Business

Rating the terabyte triangle

Concept alone hasn’t lured companies here, but is touted as key recruiting tool

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Spokane is touted by economic cheerleaders here as one of the most wired cities in the U.S. for its size, but whether that has translated into increased recruitment of information-technology companies and quality jobs in the citys core is difficult to answer.

Supporters of whats called the terabyte trianglea marketing concept coined for the high-speed bandwidth data-communications infrastructure available in a host of downtown-area buildingssay its an important factor for recruiting such companies as software developers and e-commerce, multimedia, and Internet businesses.

Companies with a technology bent have been impressed with the infrastructure within the terabyte triangle, says Mark Turner, president of the Spokane Area Economic Development Council. So, I think its important.

None of the companies that have relocated here so far, however, is believed to have chosen Spokane over another city solely because of that infrastructure.

I dont know of any companies that have specifically relocated here because of the terabyte triangle, Turner says. That said, however, its extremely unusual for companies to be recruited specifically because of the terabyte triangle or any other factor. It almost always is a host of reasons that attract them.

Steve Simmons, a computer-science professor at Eastern Washington University and a founding member of the terabyte triangle committee, says he still is waiting for the big headline to tout that a major technology company has chosen to come to Spokane because of its high-speed infrastructure.

Kevin Donahue, president of ConvergenceNow, a communications provider that recently was recruited to Spokane from Phoenix, says the terabyte triangle didnt play into the companys decision to move here, but did play a critical role in where in Spokane it would locate. The company chose the Holley Mason Building because of the structures high-speed communications access offered through multiple providers.

Id say the terabyte triangle played an about 90 percent role in the office space we chose because its critical that we have high-quality, high-speed connectivity and redundancy, Donahue says. The terabyte triangle provides that.

About a year ago, the Downtown Spokane Ventures Association, which was formed by the Downtown Spokane Partnership, began sponsoring a committee to market the terabyte-triangle concept, Simmons says. He says that sponsorship, which involves some funding, has moved the concept from a cheerleading effort to an organized, targeted marketing campaign. As part of that campaign, the committee also developed its own Web site, which in the next month is expected to start focusing more sharply on available real estate and connectivity issues rather than continuing to address the charm and other attributes of the downtown area, he says. It can be found at www.terabytetriangle.com.

The terabyte-triangle concept, which began to take shape in 1996, is a marketing name given to the high-speed fiber-optic infrastructure that has been developed in Spokanes downtown area over the last five years by several communications companies, Simmons says.

A number of Spokane developers now have tied into that infrastructure, bringing a variety of high-speed bandwidth capabilities to their buildings for prospective and existing tenants.

One of the first downtown buildings to tie into the terabyte triangle was the Fernwell Building, at 505 W. Riverside, which is owned by Spokane developer Tom Power, Simmons says. He also credits Spokane developers Rob Brewster, owner of the Holley Mason, and Ron Wells, who has been involved in several projects in the triangle, as being strong boosters of the concept.

Its not individual developers, though, but all of the developers working together to retrofit their properties with high-speed fiber optics that makes the terabyte triangle a recruitment tool.

The terabyte triangle is a package, Simmons says. Prospective tenants dont want to hear from 10 different landlords and 10 different communications vendors. They want a simple package that allows tenants to view all the possible real estate and to easily access contact people for each fiber company.

The three geographical points that make up the rough triangle referred to in the terabyte triangle are the Riverpoint campus, the arena district, and Brownes Addition, Simmons says. Downtown Spokane falls within the fuzzy boundaries of the triangle, he says.

The Riverpoint Higher Education Park provides an education and research element to the terabyte triangle, while the Brownes Addition area is expected eventually to provide an arts and culture element to it, Simmons says. He says that the Brownes Addition corner of the terabyte triangle is the one that has lagged behind in development.

Simmons describes the arena district as the new and growing part of greater downtown. He credits the Rock Pointe Corporate Center and its developer, Walt Worthy, as building up that corner of the triangle.

Theres a pretty good high-tech synergy that has developed in that area, Simmons says.

That may have been unintentional.

When asked if he considered the Rock Pointe complex to be included in the terabyte triangle, Worthy responded, Got me. I cant even spell byte.

Worthy says, though, that he considers the Rock Pointe complex to be a hub for the fiber-optic network that exists in the arena district. He claims that Rock Pointe tenants Avista Advantage and Pitney Bowes have some of the most sophisticated computer rooms in Spokane.

Since these buildings were built spec, I tried to design them to be as flexible as possible to many high-tech needs, Worthy says.

Ron Wells, who developed the Steam Plant Square within the terabyte triangle and currently is working to renovate another 170,000 square feet of space in three separate projects within the triangle, says downtown Spokane is so well wired that the terabyte triangle simply gives prospective tenants a reason to look at downtowns other attributes.

The terabyte triangle doesnt set us apart, but it makes us competitive, Wells says. It tells people were with it and that we have the bandwidth capacity they need. Plus, we dont have traffic jams and exorbitant lease rates. We have a fabulous shopping mall downtown and a whole lot of other advantages going for us.

The three planned office projects Wells is working on include the Courtyard Office Suites, the Freeman Center, and the Morgan Building. Of the four tenants Wells has landed for his Courtyard Office project so far, only one is communications based.

The terabyte triangle is one piece of a whole package, Wells says. Its hard to say what the terabyte triangleapart from everything elsehas done. I cant point to a high-tech tenant that has come out of the woodwork because of the terabyte triangle. On the other hand, I havent been marketing it much out of the Spokane area yet.

The EDCs Turner says a series of four marketing pieces have gone out to software companies throughout the Western U.S. during the last six months. He says the mailings, which partially have been funded by the Downtown Spokane Ventures Association, tout several attributes, including the terabyte triangle.

We have a few leads from the mailings, but nothing that has culminated in a location move yet, Turner says. Thats typical, though. This is a process of communication and our efforts have to be ongoing.

ConvergenceNows Donahue says he believes Spokane provides more bandwidth resources then other cities of similar size.

To keep its competitive edge, however, Spokane needs to take another step, Simmons believes, by developing what he calls the Inland Northwest Digital University, which would electronically unite via broadband cable EWU, Washington State University, the University of Idaho, Whitworth College, and Gonzaga University. That would require the development of a virtual classroom in which an actual classroom would be duplicated elsewhere with the use of high-definition televisions and technology that allows for instant document transport, he says.

Before long, all other cities will be saying we have high-speed bandwidth, too, Simmons says. We have to keep Spokane ahead of the curve.

  • Lisa Harrell

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