Sizing up the Telecom Corridor

FRAMINGHAM (03/17/2000) - There's no denying that Texas' Richardson and Plano area has an affinity for the telecommunications business.

According to the Richardson Chamber of Commerce, the so-called Telecom Corridor has 70,000 daytime workers in 25 million square feet of workspace. And the North Texas Council of Governments expects that there will be an additional 40,000 jobs in the area by 2010.

Yet an examination of the list of headquarters and branch offices in the region belies a narrow classification. In Richardson alone there are companies like Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Texas, NationsBank Corp. and Perot Systems Corp.

Cross a highway into Plano and you add Fina Oil & Chemical Co., Electronic Data Systems Corp. (EDS) and Frito-Lay Inc.

Such a wide variety of industries - from consumer products to energy, services and consulting - means that almost any background can find a home in the area.

Startup Territory

In addition to the large number of jobs "at big comfortable places," Richardson and Plano host many start-ups, according to Joe Head, executive vice president of ODS Networks Inc., a Richardson-based, $100 million computer security firm.

Richardson is home to STARTech Business Development LLC, a well-known high-tech business incubator that helps with seed funding, strategic planning and contacts with venture-capital firms and local technology companies. Information technology professionals have many options; if one job doesn't work out, there is always another nearby.

Other employment opportunities are within a short distance. According to William J. Rich, CEO of VocalData Inc., a Richardson telecommunications firm, there are major oil companies with headquarters 5 miles to the south, technology suppliers such as Lucent Technologies Inc. and IBM and insurance companies "strung around."

"It's quite competitive, and the options for those seeking positions are more plentiful than they have ever been," according to Gordon M. Markley, southwest regional recruiting manager at EDS.

Highway Master Communications Inc. has felt the pressure. Robert Lambert, vice president of IT, says his 250-person company is trying to add another seven IT positions this quarter. While other local companies also have a great demand for people, there is a lot of movement from one job to another.

"We've found the market here is volatile enough to fill our needs," Lambert says, noting that his company hasn't needed to bring people in from out of state.

Salaries here are nationally competitive. Lambert says he has found that Visual Basic programmers with some relational database modeling experience without a specific industry background can earn between $50,000 and $65,000. Project managers can demand $70,000 to $85,000, "depending on years experience and knowledge in your industry." According to ODS Networks, IT salaries are on the "middle high" end of the scale.

The money can look even better, though, when considering the cost of living.

The average sales price of an existing home in Plano is $161,300. Older home prices are depressed by the amount of new construction, meaning that it's possible to get a bargain, like the house Head sold last year: 4 acres with a creek, a city park next to the back yard, house and an old barn for $183,000.

There is no income tax, although the sales tax tops 6 percent and property taxes can be high. The taxes on Head's old house were $2,900. Someone with a $500,000 house in another town reported paying about $7,000 in taxes, while a house worth half that amount in another location still had a tax bill of $6,500.

Sherman is a freelance writer in Marshfield, Mass.

Major Employers In Plano and Richardson

Firms in Plano employing 1,000 or more people:

-- Alcatel USA Inc.

-- Citizens Communications

-- Collin County Community College District-- Columbia Medical Center of Plano-- Countrywide Funding Corp.

-- Electronic Data Systems Corp.

-- L.M. Ericsson Telephone Co.

-- Frito-Lay Inc.

-- J. C. Penney Co.

-- Plano Independent School District

-- Texas Instruments Inc.

Large employers in Richardson:

-- Alcatel

-- Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Texas

-- Ericsson

-- Hewlett-Packard Co.

-- NationsBank Corp.

-- Nortel Networks Corp.

-- Northern Telecom Inc.

-- Perot Systems Corp.

-- Texas Instruments.

More about Alcatel-LucentBlue Cross/Blue ShieldEDS AustraliaElectronic Data SystemsEricsson AustraliaFrito-LayHewlett-Packard AustraliaIBM AustraliaLucentLucent TechnologiesNationsBankNortel NetworksNorthern TelecomPerot SystemsTexas Instruments AustraliaVocalData

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