A Belated Look Back at Choi’s “State of the City” Address


I missed Mayor Steven Choi’s 2014 State of the City address at last week of February; one of the major components of the speech was Choi’s desire to turn Irvine into a new center of technology (ironically, I missed the speech because I was at a technology trade show in San Francisco).

We used to call Steven Choi “Dr. No” on this blog for being a regular “no” vote on most matters before the council, first with Christina Shea and later with Jeff Lalloway.  With his “vision” to make Irvine the center of a “Tech Valley,” we’ll start calling Choi “Captain Obvious” for the simple reason is that the Mayor is clearly trying to take credit for a technology economy that already exists in Irvine.

From his speech:

“Let me now turn to my vision for turning Irvine into a new tech center: I want to call it ‘The Irvine Initiative for Tech Valley.’

From my trips around the world, I have learned that it takes the government leadership and vision to make it happen. We just can’t sit back and hope for it to happen.

Irvine is the most ideal location for a Tech Valley. The Irvine Valley will become internationally recognized as Tech Valley.

Here are the most important 3 unique ingredients that we have in Irvine:

  • The sunny weather: God has blessed our City with perfect weather;
  • The quality of life: Irvine has the best quality of life in public safety, education, and pleasing aesthetics;

And …

  • Human resources; You will need the brightest minds for the 21st century new high tech center.

We’re lucky to have the think tank right here in Irvine … and that is UCI.

Within about an hour or two driving distance to the South and North of us, we also have pre-eminent research universities such as UCSD, UCLA, USC, and even UC Santa Barbara for that matter, among many other fine public and private universities in the region.

I shared my vision with UCI Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor, Dr. Howard Gillman, a few months ago. As luck would have it, he also had the similar vision for UCI … that is, to encourage the research ideas from UCI to stay in Irvine and grow in Irvine.

And, he has already taken several actions about this.

Just yesterday, UCI launched the Blackstone LaunchPad. It will help students launch their startup companies.

Also, this morning, Dr. Gillman, who has been named as Interim Chancellor after Chancellor Michael Drake soon leaves for Ohio State University, announced that UCI is creating an Institute for Innovation. The center will focus on transferring discoveries from the lab to the marketplace. 

These new initiatives fit right into my vision to make Irvine the center of new innovation to create Irvine Tech Valley.

Mr. Peter Polydor is a businessperson who uses the term ‘TechVine.’ He is director of ERGO Capital Partners and is attracting companies to the Eureka Building in Irvine – a technology hub that is home to start-ups, tech and creative companies and events. The Eureka Building had its grand opening a few weeks ago.

Mr. Peter Polydor, please stand.

As you can see, it is already happening!

Through the cooperation of government, research institutions and the private sector companies, Irvine is emerging as a 21st century Tech Valley.

I have also asked community developers like the Irvine Company and FivePoint Communities to move forward with attractive space rent rates to entice the relocation of the leading tech companies from around the world.

With all of this, the Irvine Chamber of Commerce will have a big role to play.

Where to begin?

I’ll start by saying I’ve worked in technology for 30 years – 17 of those in Irvine.  There is one “Tech Valley” and that’s several hours drive north near San Jose and Silicon Valley would be considered by anyone to be the epicenter of technology innovation and growth.  I remember first moving here, and reading a story in the Orange County Business Journal that that was more technology in Orange County than Silicon Valley simply because more square footage was leased or used by technology firms here than in Silicon Valley.

Mayor Choi referenced only one technology company in his address — Broadcom.  And it’s a great company.  But what about Toshiba? What about Mitsubishi? What about Vizio?  What about Blizzard Entertainment? What about Edwards Lifesciences?  What about Gateway? What about CoreLogic? What about Sage Software?  What about Epicor Software?  What about Boost Mobile, Western Digital, RealtyTrac, Kofax, Linksys and tons of start-ups?

The Tech Center Choi envisions is already here.  He is simply trying to take credit for a technology economy that already exists which he had nothing to do with.  If anything, Orange County is a Technology County — there are plenty of great technology companies in Newport Beach, Fountain Valley, Mission Viejo, Aliso Viejo, Orange and Tustin.

Delighted Dr. Choi mentioned all the universities in Southern California.  I guarantee that those in San Diego care about the tech community in San Diego more than Irvine.  Santa Barbara cares about growing technology in Santa Barbara and the central coast.  USC and UCLA really want to expand Silicon Beach in Venice and the technology community in Pasadena.  And that leaves us with UCI, Cal State Fullerton, Concordia, and Chapman University.  And for every Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates and Steve Jobs who creates a hot new company while in college, the vast majority of tech entrepreneurs are seasoned professionals often on their third or fourth start-up.

The Mayor is largely absent from participating in various technology groups that foster economic development work in technology.  I’ll bet Choi has never attended a meeting or an event of OCTane, the OC Tech Alliance or the Technology Council of Southern California.

If great weather makes for great technology centers, the Mayor will have to explain the technology market in Boston, Washington DC and Research Triangle in North Carolina — all of which have very changeable weather and varying degrees of quality of life issues.

Choi’s comment that he’s asked the Irvine Company and Five Points to give favorable lease rates for companies to relocate here just shows how little our mayor knows about business or technology.

Suggesting that the Irvine Chamber of Commerce will have a big role to play in helping Choi achieve his vision of a tech center that’s already here, don’t count on it.  In 2011, the Irvine Chamber of Commerce pulled its support of I2C, the Irvine Incubation Center, an organization that was dedicated to supporting promising technology start-ups to grow in Irvine.  I2C was notified by email that the Irvine Chamber of Commerce was withdrawing its support and forced the closure of this center for tech entrepreneurship. Oddly enough, I2C had just succeeded in gaining sustaining sponsorship from the Irvine Company when the Irvine Chamber abandoned it.

Besides, Irvine can’t be the Tech Valley since Five Points killed the ‘canyon” at the Great Park.  When it comes to technology in Irvine, the mayor’s vision must have come from driving around.  There’s plenty of technology already here.