Say "Greater Fort Lauderdale" and "high tech" in the same breath, and some might believe they misheard you. Yet the city and region have become a technology and innovation hub.
Citrix Systems — a global tech firm founded by a former IBM executive — traces its roots back to the "IBM effect."
Dozens of high-tech companies have grown in and been attracted to the region. This nexus can be traced back more than four decades. In 1967, IBM opened a location in Boca Raton that eventually would create the OS/2 personal computer. The campus peaked at 12,000 employees in the early 1980s. Yet, by the time the company began powering down its South Florida presence, its mark was permanent.
This "IBM effect" — and similar influence from Motorola's presence in the Fort Lauderdale suburb of Plantation for more than 30 years — has powered a technology market that spans the region. This high-tech and wireless communications cluster today includes Research In Motion, the maker of Blackberry; General Dynamics C4 Systems for defense and homeland security; and Chinese exporter FoxConn.
Former IBMer Ed Iaccobucci founded tech leader Citrix Systems in 1989. Throughout its history the company has relied on favorable factors — low taxes, good weather, a growing arts community, a nurturing startup climate, and a budding tech sector — to attract employees, says Paul Martine, CIO of Citrix Systems, the technology company that employs 1,700 people in Fort Lauderdale. Its international location helps Citrix lure workers and partners from Europe and throughout the Americas, he says.
The market has grown for the interactive and high-tech marketing sector, says Peggy Nordeen, CEO of Starmark International, a Fort Lauderdale marketing agency. Two organizations — Internet Coast and the South Florida Interactive Marketing Association — have helped strengthen the city's lure. Tech also includes aeronautics, led by the likes of Embraer-U.S. Founded in 1979, the company is responsible for marketing, sales and technical support activities for the Brazil-based aircraft maker.
Thse city will play host in March to Subtropical Cities 2011, an annual, international conference of major cities that face issues of travel, trade, climate change and the like.
From senior executives to the rank and file, the lure is much the same.
"The draw for employees is really quite easy. We always have new and exciting things going on," says Martine, who sits on two CIO councils and collaborates with area executives. "This community has taken on its own tech DNA. We're proof positive that it is a market for technology."