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CarteGraph Maps Strategy

High Hopes Still Buoy Dubuque's Technology Park

M. D. Kittle

Dubuque Telegraph Herald

December 13, 2005

[Note: This material is copyright by the Dubuque Telegraph Herald, and is reproduced here as a matter of "fair use" for non-commercial, educational purposes only. Any other use may require the prior approval of the Dubuque Telegraph Herald.]

CarteGraph Systems Inc. and its host technology park have shared a similar fate in the days following the dot-com bust.

The Dubuque software development firm and the sparse park in which it operates were once marked with great expectations - both thought to be portents of Dubuque's expanding high-tech economy.

But more than five years after CarteGraph opened its 28,000-square-foot headquarters, the company still is a long way from hitting its ambitious job-creation goals, and Dubuque's technology park remains a pretty quiet place.

CarteGraph's chief executive and local economic development officials claim the times are changing, however, and better days are ahead for the tech park and its tenants.

"We have been busy building our foundation to allow us to get back on a path of growth," said Scott Taylor, CarteGraph president and chief executive officer.

The government software-design company had big plans when it landed at the new tech park in the summer of 2000. CarteGraph, assisted by more than $400,000 in state and local incentives, pledged to create 80 high-paying positions, bringing its local work force to 140 employees. Its work force stands at about 50, according to Taylor.

CarteGraph did earn a reprieve from the Iowa Department of Economic Develop- ment, but the clock is ticking for the company to fulfill its contract terms with the agency. Local economic development officials are considering asking the state for another extension as CarteGraph "reinvents itself" and rebuilds on a new model - a process Taylor says is already paying dividends.

"We really emerged in 2005; it has been a great year for us," Taylor said. "It is a new company and there is excitement about what 2006 means for us."

CarteGraph was the beneficiary of the so-called dot-com boom of the late 1990s and a survivor of the subsequent bust that swallowed more than a half million tech jobs in two years.

"CarteGraph has a lot of peers in the business that are done, that are through," said Dan McDonald, assistant director of Greater Dubuque Development Corp.

The company shifted focus, changing its operational directive from mostly phone sales to a face-to-face sales model. Taylor said that cut into the firm's work force needs, but the jobs became more financially rewarding.

"We don't have as many people employed as we thought, but the people here are at significantly higher compensation," he said.

Taylor argues the higher wage figures, not to mention the capital invested in CarteGraph's $3 million technology park facility, should be weighed against the company's lackluster job creation figures.

"The concern I have is there is too much emphasis placed on head count and not enough on income and quality of jobs in the community," the CEO said. "Hopefully, people will take that into consideration in assessing whether incentives in CarteGraph's case have been successful."

Quality versus quantity seems to be the mantra of Greater Dubuque Development Corp. Rick Dickinson, the organization's director, said raising the area's income bar "bleeds through everything we do," and that CarteGraph is a "poster child" of what economic development in Iowa should be.

Still, CarteGraph and the city's technology park are a long way from being the major employment hubs they were billed to be. CarteGraph was the last office building constructed at the 120-acre center.

McDonald said the park was hit by the same economic pressures in the wake of the bust.

"You look at the years between 2000 and 2005 - this was not a good time to be a tech company," he said. "And if you are marketing a place called a technology park, you do the math."

The math is pretty simple: The park today hosts four firms at three facilities.

Dickinson said the park also has taken a back seat to the city's downtown development drive. Some of Dubuque's biggest employers - Prudential, Heartland Financial USA, McKesson - had considered the tech park in their expansions, Dickinson said.

"You can go down the list, where we actually competed against the tech park," he said.

As the beleaguered tech sector licks its wounds and the survivors position for the next boom, McDonald said the tech park is generating much more interest from companies looking to expand.

"We have active prospects for the tech park and we will fill that tech park," he said.