When Sony Ericsson announced 13 months ago that it would close its Research Triangle Park operations, it was a major blow to the region's high-tech economy.
But the company's departure has turned out to have a silver lining.
On Tuesday, Taiwanese cell phone maker HTC became the third wireless company to be drawn to the Triangle since Sony Ericsson left.
Garmin, the country's largest maker of satellite navigation devices, opened a research center in Cary in April, and BlackBerry maker Research in Motion has said it plans to add an office in the region.
HTC will open a research and development office early next year in downtown Durham's American Tobacco Campus. The company is leasing about 15,000 square feet, with 12,000 square feet reserved for expansion.
The office will initially employ 45 people, with that number expected to increase to 99 within five years. The average annual wage for jobs is expected to be $125,000.
HTC picked Durham over Seattle and Atlanta because the company can tap into the Triangle's deep pool of technical talent, said Ron Louks, HTC's chief strategy officer, in a release.
Louks was formerly Sony Ericsson's chief technology officer.
At its peak, Sony Ericsson employed about 1,000 people in the Triangle. The company moved its Triangle operations to Atlanta as a cost-cutting maneuver after watching its market share dwindle and its losses mount.
"I think a lot of these handset makers, like HTC and RIM, are benefiting from the fact that Sony Ericsson shed a lot of jobs," said Jud Bowman, CEO of PocketGear, a wireless company that also has offices in American Tobacco. "I think they're picking up that work force."
PocketGear develops and runs stores that sell games and other apps for more than 40 phone companies or handset makers. Bowman had lunch with HTC executives several weeks ago when they were in town.
He said being in proximity to a company like HTC is invaluable in terms of keeping tabs on what direction the industry is heading.
HTC started as a contract maker of mobile phones. It began making handsets under its own brand in 2006, and is now the world's largest producer of phones that use Microsoft's Windows operating system.
The company also makes smart phones that use Google's Android operating system.
Making its move
HTC, which has its North American headquarters outside Seattle, has been making an aggressive push into the U.S. market in recent years. The company employs more than 240 people in North America and more than 9,000 worldwide.
The Durham City Council approved $150,000 in incentives for HTC in October. The state has not approved any incentives for the company.
Landing HTC is a major win for both downtown Durham and American Tobacco, which has been trying to position itself as a hotbed for tech startups.
The arrival of HTC will also help offset the loss of Glaxo SmithKline, which is leaving 88,000 square feet of office space in American Tobacco in May.
"American Tobacco is all about becoming a hub for the smartest, most innovative people and companies in the world," said Michael Goodmon, vice president of real estate for Capitol Broadcasting, which owns American Tobacco. "HTC certainly fits that bill."
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