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High-tech: no economic cure-all

By Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / November 14, 1983



San Francisco

Contrary to popular planning theory, high-tech growth should not be relied on as the single salvation for depressed industrial areas or for employment for vast numbers of jobless Americans, a new study from the University of California (UC) at Berkeley says.

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The study, paid for by the National Science Foundation and the Congressional Office of Technology Assessment, indicates that the factors generally believed critical in attracting high-technology industry actually are not inducements for this growth.

For example, labor surpluses and quality-of-life factors are not as important as the presence of a major university and per capita defense spending, UC geography and regional planning experts say in the preliminary findings of the one-year study.

The study, released Nov. 4, is likely to be used in the formation of government economic and industrial policy.

Though the findings are tentative, they should be viewed as a red flag for communities staking their futures, as well as large chunks of taxpayer revenue, on attracting high-tech growth, suggests Amy Glasmeier, a doctoral candidate in city and regional planning who cowrote the study.

Communities may be erring in trying to model themselves after ''the exceptions to the rule'' - Silicon Valley in California, Route 128 in Massachussetts, and other established high-technology centers, she says, adding that this is her opinion and not the official implications of the study.

''Communities

view themselves in competition for high-tech and that puts them in a disadvantageous position,'' Ms. Glasmeier says. Often cities create tax incentives and programs to lure high-tech businesses, but city leaders are not always totally familiar with the volatile industry, she explains.

''Figures do not suggest that high-tech jobs are oriented toward and absorbing the labor surplus created by declining manufacturing sectors in the older industrial areas,'' the report says. ''Our most important conclusion is that the location and growth of high-tech industry is a very varied and disparate process which will require . . . industry-by-industry analysis.''

Ms. Glasmeier notes that while 22 states have established programs to develop high technology, none have a definition of what high technology is. She adds that communities often ''assume high-tech is somehow homogeneous - it's not. Businesses operate differently in different locations.'' (The study shows, for example, that major metropolitan areas were some of the biggest gainers in plant locations, while ranking among the lowest in job growth.)

She says findings of the study, which observed industry in all sizes of communities across the country, should encourage communities not to bank on anything but ''a solid community.''