If a Magic 8 ball was consulted about North Bay high technology in 2013, the answer might be, “Outlook cloudy, try again.”
North Bay tech leaders say uncertainty has dimmed the near future of the industry in the U.S and elsewhere as the fiscal cliff and other financial crises loom.
It’s not just the inability of politicians in Washington to either concur or compromise on tax issues that has blocked forward movement, but changes in the regimes of Japan and China, the unsettled nature of the European union and troubled times in the Near East.
“Any company is necessarily a global company these days, and so we are all affected by world affairs,” said Enphase Energy President and CEO Paul Nahi. “This is not a time for long-term investment.”
Agilent Technologies’ Electronic Measurement group headquartered in Santa Rosa reported a 5 percent drop in revenues during 2012 despite strong margins. Group President Guy Sene said hiring would remain slow in the coming year.
The company has reduced travel to cut expenses and plans to spend less on equipment and materials during 2013, he said.
“It's really a more cautious spending profile, and making sure what we're spending is really necessary. We never know what will happen. If ... some of these big looming issues happen" in the world economy, "we will probably have to think this through again.”
Caution has not stifled innovation, however. Agilent just launched two lines of new products which it hopes will broaden its market share in testing cellular networks.
At Autodesk the focus is also on new products, said Amar Hanspal, senior vice president of the Information Modeling and Platform Products Group.
“We’ve been through rough times before and they inspired us to become more than just a CAD software company. We intend to keep our eyes on what customers want and continue to provide it,” he said. “We’re looking for short-term growth.”
The coming year will see judicious allocation of resources at the San Rafael company, but Mr. Hanspal expects a flurry of new applications for mobile and cloud computing.
“Autodesk has always been about simplifying complex technology and moving design closer to the actual field work,” he said. “Cloud and mobile enable an extraordinary level of collaboration between the two areas. Despite troubled times we’re seeing a revolution to rival the PC.”
Short-term growth is also the goal of Enphase. The Petaluma maker of microinverters for the solar industry will continue to move into new areas of the globe, but lightly, without the addition of many staff, said Mr. Nahi.
“The solar market is experiencing some challenges right now, but there will be growth. It’s important for solar companies -- for all companies during turbulent times -- to keep an eye on providing value and cutting costs for customers.”
Reducing energy bills, as the Enphase equipment does by increasing the output of solar panels, is especially important during unsettled economic times, he said.
“The need for solar energy is greater than ever and so is the need for low-cost solutions," Mr. Nahi said.