Yesterday, it was announced that ConocoPhillips is the mystery buyer of the old StorageTek campus. There was much revelry and prognosticating about how magnificent this is for the universe. I agree – but only if ConocoPhillips razes the entire grotesque ugly thing and builds something nice and integrated into the natural beauty of the 432 acres they just bought with perfect views of the flatirons.
I was at a board meeting yesterday when this was announced and my first reaction was "superb – it’s not a large tech company." A friend – who is on the board with me – said "damn, it’s not a large tech company." One of the founders said "thankfully it’s not a large tech company."
The early rumors were that Google or Microsoft had bought the campus and were going to build out one of their largest non-HQ campuses. This never made sense to me because the local tech community could never support a buildout like this. The positive argument was "it’ll bring loads of new jobs to the area." The counter argument is "yeah – right now we are strapped for great talent anyway, so bunches of people will have to move here to make it work." You can go around and around in circles on this discussion, but I think to ultimately make it work you have to believe that you are going to be a huge net importer of new people. While the Boulder/Denver software industry has been a large net importer of great folks from the coasts, I’m skeptical that we’d gracefully add 10,000 new high end software engineering jobs to this region without some real "entertainment."
Now – ConocoPhillips is planning to turn the campus into "a center to research hydrogen fuel cells, solar and wind power, and clean diesel fuel made from renewable resources. It also plans to establish a learning center to train employees from more than 40 countries." That actually sounds perfect – the "cleantech" interest, talent, and expertise in the Boulder area is extensive but there are relatively few real non-govt / non-academic jobs. Many people around here have been talking about how important the cleantech industry is – now Boulder is going to have an anchor tenant that is making a serious investment in it. That feels much more sustainable and achievable to me.
Of course, it might be that ConocoPhillips has figured out a cost efficient way to extract fuel from the massive stores of shale located under the 432 acres and will be digging big holes in the ground. That’ll stir up all my eco-friendly buddies in town.
Regardless – the big mystery is over. And no – I’m not going to suddenly start investing in cleantech.