Long-time entrepreneur had insider’s view of region’s tech growth

There isn’t much Fred Sibayan hasn’t seen during his long career working in technology and later as head of venture capital firm Sibayan and Associates LLC of Reno.

Sometimes, Sibayan saw things with an uncanny prescience.

In the early days of Northern Nevada Business Weekly, long before the housing boom and bust, the Great Recession, or the high-tech explosion currently underway in Northern Nevada, Sibayan addressed members of the local chamber of commerce to outline his vision for Northern Nevada’s economy.

Among the topics addressed:

The importance sending all trains moving through downtown Reno into an underground trench

The threat of Indian casinos on regional gaming operators

The potential for Northern Nevada to become a home for high-technology companies

That last — even Sibayan couldn’t have known how well that one would turn out. He recently reminisced on his speech to the chamber at a muffin shop on California Avenue and examined what he got right, as well as where Reno is headed in the future.

Sibayan grew up in Salinas and launched his career in Silicon Valley after graduating from San Jose State in the 1960s. Sibayan is now semi-retired and spends his time on the boards of a few companies, but one of his first jobs out of college was with Motorola’s government electronics division. Later, he moved into Motorola’s communications and electronics division, which focused on providing corporations with different forms of communications technologies.

The South Bay area in the 1960s wasn’t the Silicon Valley of today — major businesses included Bell Telephone, Xerox, Motorola and Lockheed Martin. The giants that dominate today’s tech landscape — Google, Tesla, eBay, Facebook — came decades later. Sibayan has first-hand knowledge of Silicon Valley’s tremendous growth and transformation into the world’s premier technology hub. Few could predict how the tech sector would reshape the economic climate of Silicon Valley — and few could predict how much today’s technology leaders are changing Northern Nevada.

Several factors are behind the regional tech boom.

“One of the things we do have is a trade-free zone. I thought that was a major advantage for us,” Sibayan said.

Another factor is that regional business leaders can move quickly when it comes to securing permitting for new businesses at Tahoe Reno Industrial Center in Storey County, Sibayan added.

One of the things Sibayan noticed when he first moved to Reno in 1998 was that the young, fresh minds graduating from the University of Nevada, Reno often left the area after earning their degrees. Today, that’s changing with the influx of advanced manufacturing and technology companies that now call northern Nevada home and have brought more white-collar jobs with them.

“Today, when you look around this community, you see a lot of entrepreneurs and a lot of young people,” he said. “People who are getting degrees from UNR are staying here.”

Apple, Tesla, Switch and Panasonic offer many highly technical white collar jobs with good wages that might not have existed with such prolificity just a decade ago. While Tesla/Panasonic job boards do include a large number of production positions, there are plenty of technical and management positions open as well.

Sibayan says today’s entrepreneurs aren’t just people who have the moxie to start their own businesses. Today’s entrepreneurs are those who bring added value to their position and to their employers.

“Whatever company you go to work for, you could be hired as an engineer in a large firm, for example – you have to have some entrepreneurial background,” he said. “You may become a manager one day, and all of a sudden you are involved in a project and have to become creative in how to keep your department going. If you don’t have that creative skill set, you had better hire someone or partner with someone who knows how to do it. You see that happening here (in Reno).”

As Northern Nevada continues to add technology into its primary economic makeup of manufacturing, gaming/tourism and distribution, it’s quite possible that the next big company corporate name in technology might just have its roots in Reno rather than in Silicon Valley.

“We have that ability. Look at Silicon Valley, the companies that first came in there like Hewlett-Packard. That talent came from somewhere (else). Look what’s happening here — we have Switch, Panasonic, Tesla, and a number of other companies. Those individuals that are being hired out of UNR, and the talent that is coming in from other areas, those young people will say, ‘I can do something better,’ and will go start a company. I get excited to see it.”

The run-up in home values over the past few years also is reminiscent of what happened to property values in the South Bay area as well, he added.

“When you start to move away from blue-collar (jobs), and start getting more involved in more white-collar (jobs), those people are going to buy those houses, and that drives up the cost of housing. We are into a time of boom, and it’s going to be a positive boom.”

After looking back 15 years, Sibayan looked ahead to the next 15 years and what major changes are in store for Northern Nevada.

“We have to understand where technology is headed and ask, ‘Do we become a leader?’ or do we become a state where we take ideas from other places and put those ideas in play here? What do we have that is an advantage to helping companies that are in Silicon Valley? There are a number of advantages – we have land, and we have a college that pays attention to the needs of these companies.

“Research and development also is an important part,” he adds. “You have to figure out what the future holds, and who is going to develop these ideas.”


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