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Welcome News: Software Maker Moving to O.C. : Technology: Digitalk reverses trend in relocating headquarters and 80 jobs from the LAX area to Santa Ana's Hutton Center.


SANTA ANA — Going against the tide of companies leaving the region, a fast-growing software publisher plans to move its headquarters and 80 jobs to Orange County from the Los Angeles International Airport area.

Digitalk Inc. said it will move into the 11th floor of the Griffin Towers high-rise in Santa Ana's Hutton Center development. Digitalk, which makes tools for programmers, signed a two-year sublease for 21,000 square feet.

The deal gives a needed boost to Hutton Center, a 45-acre business park built during the 1980s real estate boom. Unisys Corp., which previously occupied the 11th floor, has been cutting back its staff.

John Carrington, president and chief operating officer of Digitalk, said the company also plans to hire as many as 50 people by the end of 1994 and might expand to other floors of the office tower.

"We're always looking for bright people," Carrington said. "We found this area has a pool of talent and a good quality of life. We're doing this because we're a growing company, and we hope we're starting a trend."

Citing high costs and strict regulations, other high-tech manufacturers have left Orange County in waves. During the past year, 38,253 people with California drivers' licenses moved out of Orange County, according to a study by the state Department of Finance.

But software companies, many of them small and highly profitable, don't face the same pressures that aerospace companies and other manufacturers do when it comes to deciding where to establish a headquarters.

Digitalk selected Orange County after a search in other high-tech meccas such as Silicon Valley, Boston and Portland, Ore. It chose Orange County because it is not far from its old headquarters in Los Angeles and is near UC Irvine and nearly 300 software companies from which to recruit employees.

When Jim Anderson, chairman, founded Digitalk in 1983, the company could draw on a pool of talented programmers in the Los Angeles airport area. Anderson himself had worked at Computer Sciences Corp., which had offices there.

But during the recession, companies such as Hughes Aircraft and Rockwell International have moved from the airport area's office complexes because of congestion and other urban ills. That has hurt Digitalk's ability to recruit employees, Carrington said.

Digitalk's products, based on an object-oriented programming language known as Smalltalk, simplify the work of computer programmers from companies such as IBM, Southern California Gas Co., Bank of America and Wells Fargo.

Programmers typically must write their programs in arcane code, one instruction at a time. In object-oriented programming, programs are written and used in modular blocks, or objects. The blocks can be reused and bundled in different combinations--like prefabricated windows and walls for a tract home--for a variety of programs.

Because creating programs by plugging different objects together is easier than the standard procedure, the programming is faster, costs are reduced and highly skilled programmers are able to create software more quickly.

"If you chopped down trees, sure enough, you could eventually build a house," Carrington said. "But this way, you can mix and match different prefabbed objects and build a home faster and cheaper. That's what we do for programmers."

Acceptance of object-oriented programming is gaining momentum in the programming community.

As a result, Carrington said, Digitalk's sales are expected to grow from $6 million for 1992 to $12 million this year. The privately held company does not disclose profits.

Carrington said Digitalk hopes to go public during the second half of next year in an initial public offering of stock.

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