Tulsa technology industry surviving downtown.

Sunday, April 27th 2003, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

Technology firms have come and gone in tough economic times, but some are hanging on and even growing in the Tulsa area.

The stock market hit its high in the spring of 2000 and then began to unravel. Corporate scandals, inflated earnings reports, threats of terrorism and the cooling of the "dot-com" trend combined to make business difficult for technology firms.

In the past few years, several firms closed their doors while others downsized and handed out pink slips.

Buyitnow.com was purchased by another company and moved from Tulsa, taking employment with it in June 2002. Infinitec closed its doors and cut loose 110 workers in February 2001 just four years after its founding and three months after being named Oklahoma's fastest-growing privately held company by Oklahoma Business Monthly magazine.

Other Tulsa tech workers have suffered cuts, including those at WilTel Communications Group, Williams Cos. Inc. and WorldCom Inc.

Last year 3,394 people were laid off in the Tulsa area, many of them in tech positions, Workforce Tulsa reported.

But some companies are left, and experts say they have a good chance of getting through the recession.

"The good survive -- all they need to do is learn to do more with less money," said Tom Walker, chief operating officer for the Oklahoma Technology Commercialization Center.

Solarc Inc., a Tulsa-based software company, is a firm that has tightened its belt and found success in frugality, Walker said.

The company laid off 20 people last August, bringing the total employment down to 100. Solarc is beginning to hire selectively, said Brad Anderson, chief executive officer.

"This is certainly a difficult environment, especially for a company that is selling software to the energy trading industry," Anderson said.

The economic climate forced Solarc to look at diversifying its customer base while cutting costs. It is working with the transportation industry as well as international energy firms.

Brett Williams, president of Tulsa-based Knowledge Gear, said being able to show a quick return on a customer's investment is important in making a sale.

To reach potential customers, Knowledge Gear uses another Tulsa-based company, New Media Worx, to conduct its interactive e-mail marketing campaigns.

Despite the sluggish economy, New Media Worx has grown from two employees in 2000 while working out of one of the founder's homes, to 17 employees in a 3,600-square-foot downtown office.

CEO Chris Zenthoefer said smaller technology companies have an advantage in down economic times because their size allows them to "out-think" and "out-maneuver" larger companies.

New Media Worx president Adam Nemec said companies have to show customers how they can help them save money or become more efficient to succeed in today's business environment.

Hardworking entrepreneurs are the only way the national and local economies are going to rebound, said Ron Cooper, executive director of the Tulsa-based Center of Excellence in Information Technology and Telecommunications.

Tech firms small and large are hoping the conclusion of the war in Iraq and a stabilization of the transportation sector will improve business confidence.