As more companies moved in, a network of suppliers and subcontractors sprang up, from prototype-manufacturing firms to graphic designers and attorneys, all buying and selling from one another, said UCLA's Scott. The development got the name "Spectrum" as more and varied companies moved in.
Development in the Spectrum slowed during the recession of the early 1990s, but has rebounded in the last two years as the economy has regained its footing and companies have begun expanding again. Last year, the Irvine Co. built a dozen buildings in the Spectrum. This year almost twice that many are under construction, and it plans an additional 164 over the next five years, representing a $1-billion investment, according to Sim.
For the Record
Los Angeles Times Friday May 23, 1997 Orange County Edition Business Part D Page 6 Financial Desk 1 inches; 20 words Type of Material: Correction
Irvine Spectrum--Western Financial Bank was incorrectly identified in a graphic published Sunday on the Irvine Spectrum business park.
That hefty investment will include a new high-rise office building, one of the few in the area, which could break ground later this year. Construction also will begin on a cluster of small one-story buildings, which will house the Spectrum's accounting and law firms that cater to high-tech companies.
And the Irvine Co. will start building six of its signature two-story office buildings to help accommodate tenants that need to expand.
Many of the companies in the Spectrum start out leasing 1,000 square feet in one of the center's small office buildings, then graduate to a larger building. Eventually--sometimes within just a few years--they build their own headquarters.
These small but fast-growing firms have become the backbone of the Spectrum and have fueled further spinoffs. A whopping 77% of the Spectrum's companies employ 24 employees or fewer, according to a company study.
In fact, only a few of the Spectrum's tenants have recognizable names, like disk-drive manufacturer Western Digital Corp. and Japanese auto and electronic makers Toshiba Corp. and Mazda Motor Corp., which have their U.S. headquarters there.
"The whole trend in the high-tech industry is toward these small firms producing very specialized products in relatively small quantities," Scott said. "These leading-edge firms just keep spinning off in a constant turmoil of innovation."
Paul Mikus moved his prostate treatment company, Endocare Inc., into the Spectrum in 1995 after it was spun off from Aliso Viejo-based Medstone International.
He picked the Spectrum because of its reputation as a breeding ground for gazelle companies and for its no-frills, sterile environment that sends a message to investors that money is not squandered.
Also important, the chairman and CEO said, is the short commute allows him to get home in time to take a walk in the canyons by his home in Aliso Viejo.
Wonderware Corp., a maker of automation software, got its start in the Irvine Spectrum in 1988 when then-Chief Executive Dennis Morin and a handful of others set up shop in a 700-square-foot office on Technology Drive.
There wasn't much around them, he recalls, just the AT&T office tower on Irvine Center Drive and a few small office buildings nestled among agricultural fields. Nine months after moving in, the company got an infusion of venture capital. Morin went back to the Irvine Co. and asked for an additional 3,300 feet of space to expand. There wasn't any available in the building, so it had to get creative.
"For the next two years we bribed four different companies to move out," Morin said. Five years later the company built its own headquarters, and it has swallowed up four other buildings since then.
Once moved in, most companies stay, despite high rents and rigid guidelines that prohibit colorful corporate signs and all but a few types of architecture. Company CEOs say it would be just as expensive to move and that then they couldn't be as close to their homes.
"We've never thought of moving anywhere else," said Jay Amestoy, a vice president with Mazda Motors of America, the U.S. headquarters of the Japanese auto manufacturer.
"Our executives are familiar with Orange County and think it is a prestigious place to do business." In particular, top brass overseas likes the park's access to a wide variety of golf courses, he said.
But workers have complained for years that they are virtually imprisoned in the Spectrum.
Although the industrial park is surrounded by residential neighborhoods of Irvine, Lake Forest and Laguna Hills, it took more than 10 years for the developer to build the Irvine Entertainment Center, and to sell land for the first fast-food outlet or gas station. Two years ago, Morin ran out of gas driving through the Spectrum.
"About a half-mile from my office, my car died," he recalled. "You try breaking down in the Spectrum on a Sunday afternoon. There's nobody around."
Sim said the place was so deserted at night that retailers didn't want to move there.
"We even offered 10 years of free rent to a gas station one time," he said.
Things improved in 1995, when the Irvine Co. opened its neon colossus, the Irvine Entertainment Center, which contains upscale restaurants and a food court.