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Photography by John Dowling


Silicon Valley it's not—yet. But Syracuse is on the economic upswing, and pumping energy into the area are high-tech companies that are bleaching the city's blue-collar image. Syracuse, for instance, is the headquarters of Coherent Networks Inc., which creates sophisticated software for telephone and utility companies. The brainchild of Chuck Stormon'83, G'86; Mark Brule '83, G'88; and Jim Brule '75, this recent startup already has 10 offices here and abroad, employs 277 people, and expects sales to exceed $30 million this year. "Our work is leading edge," Stormon says. "Like every high-tech company, we recruit aggressively. But we've found a ready supply of highly qualified employees right here in Syracuse."
      Peter Hess '94 is also polishing Syracuse's tarnished image. He and partner AT&T WorldNet recently selected Syracuse as headquarters for YAPA, a web-based business poised to become the AARP of young professionals. "We're here because we need a location with a lot of energy and young people," Hess says. "You wouldn't believe the number of startup and high-tech companies locating here. This city is becoming a mini-version of a high-tech hub like Boston."
      It's been years since Syracuse has been associated with a sense of economic energy. "For most of the 1990s you heard nothing but bad news about the Central New York economy," admits David Cordeau, executive director of the Syracuse Chamber of Commerce. "With General Motors, General Electric, and others moving out, the early 1990s were pretty bleak. But things are picking up."
      Cordeau is a cheerleader for the city by profession. But now he's finally cheering for a winning team. "In the past 24 months, the metropolitan Syracuse area has added 3,500 jobs, many in the high-tech sector," he reports. "There is a substantial cluster of perhaps 30 new or rapidly expanding high-tech companies. For the first time in decades, site consultants are looking at Syracuse. This area is turning into an extremely salable commodity."
      This brain-powered reversal of fortune is out of character with the town's past. For most of its 150 years, Syracuse has been a manufacturing town, producing such necessities as salt, soda ash, steel, candles, bicycles, automobiles, and adding machines. In the past decade, however, the manufacturing base eroded by almost 20 percent. The city's leaders had to develop new strategies. They couldn't compete with lower labor and business costs in the South and overseas, but they could market a valuable local resource: a highly educated workforce. "Within 100 miles of Syracuse there are 42 colleges and universities. That's the third highest concentration of higher education institutions in the United States," says Irwin Davis, executive vice president of the Metropolitan Development Association (MDA), a group of the area's top 100 business leaders that aggressively seeks new ventures. "Our number-one selling point is the quality of our workforce."


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