Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Innovate Holyoke

I'm trying hard to think positive thoughts about the Innovate Holyoke project that just got $25M in state funding to help create a high-performance computing and data center.

Maybe it will be the best investment the State ever makes, and will help make Holyoke a hotbed of high-tech activity. That would be great!

But I think they'll end up creating an obsolete product that nobody will really want. Amazon and Google (and IBM and probably some startup that we haven't heard of yet) have tremendous expertise and experience running high-performance, high-availability data centers. And competition will drive them to provide an ever-better, ever-cheaper product.

I like the idea of putting a computing center next to a green source of energy ("The project is designed to draw hydroelectric power from the river while serving as an example of a green, environmentally friendly data center"), but that's not a new idea-- Google, Microsoft and Yahoo have been doing it for at least 5 years.

I also like the idea of recycling old factories, but that's an old idea, too-- here I am with the rest of the Resounding Technology team at our MASS MoCA offices in 1999:

I believe the master plan was to make North Adams a hotbed of high-tech activity, building on the success of Tripod.com. That... hasn't really happened.

Most startups fail (Resounding was a moderate success-- it was sold to a Silicon Valley company about a year before the .com implosion; the company to which it was sold imploded). And most government projects designed to revitalize a city or region fail; that's par for the course. Writing this blog entry, I did some research on perhaps the most shining example of a project that has done really well-- North Carolina's Research Triangle Park.

It might just be my anti-government bias shining through making my cherry-pick factoids that support my ideology, but I couldn't help noticing one factor that I think might have helped it succeed:
"The park is 7,000 acres (2,833 ha) situated in a pine forest with approximately 630 acres (255 ha) for development. The park is an unincorporated area, and state law prohibits municipalities from annexing areas within the park." (from wikipedia)
I wonder if any economists have tried to study whether projects in unincorporated areas do better overall...

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