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Discs to chips: the step up for a high-tech center

By Ruth Walkera staff correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor / September 21, 1982

Colorado Springs

This Rocky Mountain city, with a strong military presense, has begun to shed its role as just a remote site for national electronic firms to set up assembly plants.

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Colorado Springs has started to flex some innovative engineering muscle.

''It's still a manufacturing center here - but that's changing fast,'' says John Riggen, manager of the Colorado Springs division of Hewlett-Packard Company.

Hewlett-Packard and Ampex Corporation, a maker of audio-visual equipment, are the old-timers of high technology in Colorado Springs, going back some 20 years.

As a matter of corporate policy, Hewlett-Packard divisions are ''verticalized ,'' each one functioning as a small company on its own. And so the Colorado Springs division, 2,400 strong, does the research and design as well as the manufacturing for its three product lines: oscilloscopes, graphic displays, and logic development systems. These last are used in software design; they show how a program will function when put through a computer, thus enabling an engineer to give the program a ''dry run,'' so to speak.

But other firms, too, are starting to put design ''brains'' into the Colorado Springs area as well as manufacturing ''brawn.''

Digital Equipment Corporation's plant has graduated from making computer-storage disc drives to designing them as well. The computer giant's latest two entries in the field were both designed here.

Mostek, a semiconductor producer that was spun off from Texas Instruments and has a plant in Colorado Springs, has been bought by United Technologies. Mostek, in turn, has put in a microelectronics research center in Colorado Springs.

And Inmos, capitalized by the National Enterprise Board of Britain, (now part of the British Technology Group) has chosen Colorado Springs for its US headquarters. This firm, in a year and a half of production, has captured 70 percent of the world market for very-high-speed static RAM (random access memory) computer ''chips'' using metal oxidized semiconductors technology.

When Dr. Richard Petritz, founder of Inmos, was getting ready to launch his firm, there were only three employees, including himself.

Inmos's agreement with the National Enterprise Board in Britain required half of the firm's operations to be in that nation, so the firm has a research and design facility in Bristol, England, that works on microprocessors. A manufacturing facility has been set up across the Bristol channel in economically depressed (and tax-break-laden) South Wales.

Inmos, like all these firms, has been carefully courted by the Colorado Springs Chamber of Commerce. Bringing the clean electronics industry to town has been the centerpiece of Colorado Springs' economic development program for the past decade.

The program grew out of the community's concern that its economy was too dependent on tourism and the military (Fort Carson, the North American Air Defense Command (NORAD) headquarters, and the US Air Force Academy).

Developer Steve Schuck speaks of the city as ''a community that writes its own destiny and controls its own fate.''

Different communities have developed different strategies for attracting high-technology industry. A key feature of the program in Colorado Springs, according to Frank O'Donnell of the chamber's Economic Development Department, is the involvement of firms already here in bringing other firms to the area. State government, on the other hand, has played virtually no role here.