Who Needs Silicon Valley?

I did love visiting San Francisco for @d:tech this week. My sister in San Jose is a real treasure. But do you really have to live in Silicon Valley to be a player in the Internet economy?

Many people think so. The big VCs line Sand Hill Road. San Francisco is the beating heart of the technology press (which is where the bucks are). Sun, Cisco, Intel, Apple, Applied Materials all the big names are there.

Money has made land south of San Francisco awesomely expensive. (On a map, the area looks like a big thumb pointed up if you have to ask how much it costs you can’t afford it.) Pricey real estate is well cared for. Every aspect of the economy dances to the high-tech beat. The restaurants are fantastic, the streets are clean, and every amenity is first-class.

All that said, it’s not perfect in paradise. Even millionaires get the blues when they are priced out of the housing market. Society there is increasingly class-conscious the rich are exceedingly rich, and everyone else looks poor beside them. (Even reporters earning six figures must live modestly.) Most of the manufacturing plants for the Valley’s technology leaders are now far from California, because costs are lower there.

The question is do you have to pay the price to play the game? The Internet, after all, is based on the proposition that no matter where you go, there you are. This site is based near Boston, and doesn’t seem to suffer from it. The author of this column is based in Atlanta. Austin is crawling with web start-ups, and Chicago has some good ones as well. There’s an entrepreneur up near Seattle who doesn’t appear to be suffering much from his out-of-the-way location. (He has a few other problems, though.)

Right now I’m consulting with people in Australia, Germany and India. I have correspondents in Israel, South Africa, Denmark, and Pakistan, among other places. All these people are actively reaching for web opportunities, and many are finding them.

Finland is much bigger in terms of the wireless web than the U.S., because that’s where you find the biggest installed base. Israel is huge in areas like net telephony and security. The transit station at my local airport features ads from a British Internet start-up. Anyone, anywhere, can study the best sites the web has to offer, download their source code, and use that knowledge to build their own business.

It’s true that Silicon Valley is the epicenter of an earthquake that’s shaking the world, but (if I might mix metaphors a bit) you don’t have to be inside a tornado to appreciate its power. If you can handle a modem, you can play on the web. If you can get good connectivity, you can be a player. If the law isn’t friendly where you are, you can always go where the laws are friendlier. (That’s why so many Internet casinos are in based in the Caribbean.)

Silicon Valley is a wonderful place to visit, in other words, but you really don’t have to live there.

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