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THE TECH COAST

A Technology With Two Faces

March 09, 1998|KAREN KAPLAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

LOS ANGELES — It almost seems like there are two technology industries in Los Angeles. In one camp are the flashy Internet and new-media software companies--many of which have close ties to the entertainment world--clustered on the Westside, along the coast, and in the Hollywood "suburbs" of Burbank, Glendale and Pasadena.

The other group consists of the unsexy, decades-old firms that make everything from communications satellites to computer peripherals.

The new-media firms are anxious to be considered Big Players in their nascent industry, and have even recruited Mayor Richard Riordan to help them in their publicity quest. With the newly minted Digital Coast nickname, they are taking aim at rivals in San Francisco's Multimedia Gulch and New York's Silicon Alley.

Meanwhile, the older, more substantial companies are already well-known within their industry sectors and say they would rather focus on their businesses than spend time comparing their home base to Silicon Valley--or any other region.

What both sides have in common is a firm belief that Los Angeles is a prime location for any technology company that wants to succeed.

"We're here to stay," said Toby Lenk, chief executive of Santa Monica-based start-up eToys, which sells children's toys, books and software online. "A good management team and a good company will have no disadvantage by virtue of being in Southern California."

Added Derek Lidow, co-chief executive of International Rectifier, an El Segundo-based power electronics firm: "We've remained vital in our industry for 50 years."

For NMB Technologies in Chatsworth, a 10-year-old spinoff of a 30-year-old firm, engineers, suppliers, support services and customers have all been easy to find. After the Northridge earthquake, executives considered relocating but could think of no other region that would be better for the company, which makes PC components such as keyboards and cooling fans.

John Cosgrove, vice president for marketing at Nexus Integrated Solutions, a networking systems firm in Valencia, is sanguine about tech's low profile here.

"People tend to think of entertainment first," he said. "L.A. Harbor is a big harbor, but you don't hear much about that, either."

But software companies of the Digital Coast aren't content to accept anything other than top billing.

"This is a technology powerhouse area that has been overlooked nationally," said Nick Rothenberg, founder of the Culver City digital design studio USWeb/W3-design. "We have to get people to wake up and say, 'We have tremendous things going on here.' "

Massoud Entekhabi, managing partner for Coopers & Lybrand in Woodland Hills, said that after raising $275 million in venture capital last year, Los Angeles-based tech firms don't need to have any chips on their shoulders: "Don't be afraid of saying, 'I'm from Southern California.' It's nothing to be embarrassed about."

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