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Agilent adding research staff; new and expanding design centers bode well

[caption id="attachment_30055" align="alignright" width="308" caption="National Instruments Santa Rosa team members Jin Bains, R&D director of radio frequency products, and Russ Thompson, R&D senior group manager, in new office space undergoing renovation at Stony Point Lake"][/caption]

S0NOMA COUNTY – A rising tide of demand for high-tech test and measurement equipment is floating boats of all sizes in Sonoma County.

Agilent Technologies’ Electronic Measurement Group’s revenues and orders jumped for the third consecutive quarter and the company said last week it is once again beefing up staff in its research and development operation.

Agilent attributes most of its growth surge to the burgeoning cell phone industry.

“Our position is very strong competitively, orders are up on a global scale, and we see that continuing into the coming year assuming that the economy continues to rebound,” said Ron Nersesian, president of electronic measurements group based in Santa Rosa.

Meanwhile, Tektronix, a Beaverton, Ore.,-based technology company is also flexing its muscles, opening radio frequency design centers in both Sunnyvale and Santa Rosa.

Tektronix intends to hire about 15 local RF design engineers and researchers during the initial ramp up phase, said spokeswoman Amy Higgins.

National Instruments, too, is expanding its Santa Rosa RF research and design center. The Austin, Texas-headquartered test and measurement systems company opened a design team in Santa Rosa in 2006 that has grown from three to nearly 30 employees.

Originally in a 3,000-square-foot space in the Stony Point Lake business center, the team will open a new, 16,000-square-foot office in the same complex in March.

“Our growth has been steady throughout the downturn,” said director of RF products Jin Bains.

“Last year we, and the company as a whole, had the best year ever.”

National Instruments develops RF test products using a software-based approach, which sets it somewhat apart from companies like Agilent and Tektronix. But, like them, its growth is tied to the mobile phone industry.

“We have over 30,000 customers, and our domestic and Asian markets are growing at about 20 percent,” said Mr. Bains.

National Instruments’ Santa Rosa team will be hiring during the coming year as it identifies talent.

“Our growth is opportunity-based, depending on finding people who are the right fit,” he said.

Another Oregon-based company with a presence in Sonoma County is TriQuint Semiconductor, which acquired RF signal technology startup TriAccess Technology last year.

The Hillsboro, Ore.,-based company supplies high-performance RF modules, components and foundry services to the world’s leading communication companies.

TriQuint was formerly the foundry for TriAccess products, video chips that use radio frequency to amplify signals at the subscriber's premise.

“TriQuint TriAccess products now lead our cable portfolio,” said Mark Andrews, strategic marketing and communications manager.

The Santa Rosa team has added staff and nearly doubled revenues during the last year, he said.

According to Chris Day, TriAccess co-founder and leader of the local team, 2011 will be focused on developing new products.

TriQuint is forecast to grow 20 percent during 2011, with 74 percent of that growth coming from smart phone components.

“Our own markets are tied to new cable and telecommunications networks, and that area is also expecting growth,” said Mr. Day.

At Venture Design Services, Santa Rosa branch of Singapore-based Venture Corporation Limited, senior manager Bob Armantrout is also anticipating growth, albeit modest.

The global electronic design and manufacturing services provider was founded in Singapore during the early 1980s by former HP managers and opened an RF design center in Santa Rosa in 2003.

“The coming year should be interesting, what with three major test and measurement companies in the area,” said Mr. Armantrout.

He expects an uptick for his company during 2011 and stronger growth in 2012.

“Radio frequency use is exploding, not just for smart phone data transmission – although that sector was almost impervious to the recession – but also machine-to-machine communications like smart meters. Eventually, wireless will replace cables completely,” he said.

Venture’s team will add employees during the coming year, but “our growth will be conservative, like the company. If the same indicators were present five years ago that we see today, we’d be hiring in bulk. But nobody wants to see a repeat bloodletting.”