By Nathan Solis, Record Searchlight, February 2016
Around lunch time while visiting the Shasta Venture HUB, Eric Casequin grabs a pair of tacos from a green food truck parked in front of the building. Wearing a cap and goatee, Casequin lays out his career as a Web developer in Redding.
After several jobs in and out of the tech industry locally and in the Bay Area, Casequin found work as a full stack developer — someone with high-end coding skills who helps create and maintain websites — with Limelight Health in Redding. The San Francisco-based company creates insurance quoting apps and recently opened an office in Shasta County off Bechelli.
Redding’s tech industry is expanding at a steady pace, making someone with Casequin’s skill a hot commodity. But the local industry is in a delicate point where the demand for tech-savvy workers is greater than the local pool of employees who know computer programming and systems. Some who monitor the industry closely say the community needs to take steps now to increase the number of workers with the right skills. That means expanding local educational opportunities and even looking for talent from out of state.
“Still a lot of work to be done”
Rachel Hatch, co-curator of TEDxRedding, has watched the local tech scene grow in the past five years. That was due in part to letting others in the tech industry know that a number of companies found success in a city far north of Silicon Valley. Continuing those efforts and getting the word out to younger workers that tech jobs are available here in Shasta County will determine whether a company will look north of San Francisco, she said.
“I believe we stand a chance at becoming an unexpected hub of entrepreneurial activity, if we position ourselves well right now,” said Hatch. “Jobs in the tech sector don’t just arise out of nothing. They require a culture of making a sense of community around entrepreneurship, lots of smarts and connections to funding.”
Casequin has a front-row seat to the current state of the local tech industry.
“Redding’s scene right now is fast moving, but unknown. People outside the community do not know it exists,” he said. “There is still a lot of work to be done.”
Some of that work is convincing a tech company to set up shop north of the Bay Area, an ongoing job for the Economic Development Corp. of Shasta County. It plays up affordable real estate and the growing tech industry when promoting Redding to potential companies.
EDC President Mark Lascelles said when the Great Recession eliminated certain jobs in the North State a few years ago, the tech and startup economy seemed recession-proof.
“It’s a relatively new field in Redding,” he said. “People have already established the infrastructure. Our role now can be focused on the recruitment process and letting people know about the industry already here.”
Growing the industry will be essential to encourage people to move to Shasta County to work in tech, business owners and managers said. Alan Leard, chief technology officer and co-founder of Limelight Health, said finding talent in Redding can be just as complicated as the Bay Area but in a different way. In the Bay Area, developers might be abundant but so is the competition. In Redding, it’s more difficult to find those with the necessary tech skills. Leard said it’s taken time for Limelight Health to build its current workforce in Redding.
“We have not tried to convince talent to move here yet,” he said. “It will be hard until Redding has sufficient opportunities in the industry. When a potential employee is considering a relocation, they want to know there will be other opportunities for them in their career if this one doesn’t work out.”
Incubator focuses on tech
The tech incubator model of the Shasta Venture HUB, managed by the EDC, is one component of grooming the new workforce. It provides a place for new businesses centered around tech services or products.
An example of what a tech incubator can do can be found in Butte County. ChicoStart has hosted 33 startups over two years, with six of those companies growing too big for the space in the municipal building where the incubator is housed, according to Wendy Porter, managing director.
Of those six companies, five are operating in Chico and 41 jobs have been created, Porter said.
Mark Soderwall operates Indie Game University out of the Venture HUB, where he offers insight into video game development. Soderwall says there are a number of ways to build a game world.
One method is beta testing, where developers give players early access to their game world, similar to how the popular sandbox game Minecraft created the mechanics of its world. But without players the world can seem lonely, and without structure the novelty can wear off quickly. The same can be said for the local tech economy.
“Iron sharpens iron. There needs to be community engagement between creative types and companies, and those people need to know they are not alone,” Soderwall said.
To help foster that kind of community, Casequin, the Web developer with Limelight Health, hosts a monthly social meetup at the Venture HUB. The Redding Area Designers and Developers (R.A.D.D.) group boasts a noble agenda — to improve the tech oriented community in Redding. Its website reads, “Talent is hard to find. Building community helps talent be more exposed.”
Casequin worked in an early version of Bethel Church’s Web development department. Today, Bethel Media is a large player in the local tech industry and continues to create momentum for the area.
Lascelles said the tech industry would be different today if it were not for Bethel Media.
“I think the growth curb we have seen would have been considerably longer. They are the majority players in this arena and are a big part of what’s going on in the city,” Lascelles said.
To help create more tech workers, education will be necessary, those watching the industry say.
Shasta College offers several certificates in computer related fields, including Web design and two associates of arts degrees in systems management. One degree includes programming, e-commerce marketing and other courses that focus on establishing a service or product in the tech field.
The computer networking program prepares students for CompTIA, Microsoft and Cisco certification, real world certificates that offer entry-level jobs. Certification is a goal for the college, said Dhabih Hendershot, computer information systems instructor.
“What’s good about that process, we have the degrees, and the point is to get students prepared for industry certification, to get them experience and education,” said computer information systems instructor Dhabih Hendershot, who added the college also offers testing on the campus, allowing students to take the tests locally rather than driving a larger metro area as they had to in the past..
Simpson University doesn’t offer a computer science program, and other community organizations aren’t offering much tech training, either.
But not all jobs in this field depend on knowing how to code. Support services such as accounting and sales also come into play.
Last year Catavolt, Inc. chose Redding to establish a West Coast sales team. The Georgia-based, mobile app platform company chose Redding because a sales force was already in place, according to Tim Marinello, director of sales operations.
Marinello has worked in the tech industry and in Redding since graduating from Simpson University in 2007. As an example of a fast-moving industry, Marinello and his five-person team were ready to work on day one.
“Catavolt chose Redding, because we stayed in Redding,” Marinello said, remarking the tech industry often poaches players from other companies when looking to expand.