Connect Takes on Programs after TechAmerica Closes San Diego Office

8/9/12Follow @bvbigelow

A move to restructure the operations at TechAmerica, the nonprofit technology trade association, has prompted its longtime San Diego representative, Kevin Carroll, to jump to Connect, the San Diego nonprofit focused on innovation and entrepreneurship.

As an executive vice president at Connect, Carroll is now responsible for building a new program intended to help small-to-medium companies adopt best business practices, accelerate growth, and lower costs. A business mentoring roundtable that was a core part of the services TechAmerica provided in the San Diego region also will be integrated into Carroll’s endeavor, called SME Connect (as in small-to-medium enterprise).

Kevin Carroll

“At one point we thought about standing up our own organization,” Carroll said, but it made more sense to combine TechAmerica’s regional activities with Connect. “Everyone wanted to make it happen,” Caroll said.

San Diego was one of at least eight regional offices that TechAmerica has shuttered in recent weeks. The Washington, D.C.-based industry group announced its reorganization in mid-June, saying the changes are intended to focus its operations on lobbying and on business networking and intelligence.

In response to a query about the closure of TechAmerica’s regional offices, spokeswoman Stephanie Craig says in an email: “We still have a very strong presence in California including Silicon Valley as one of our three main offices (Washington, D.C. and Brussels being the other two)… While we have closed some physical offices, we still are well represented in all corners of the country through our state government affairs program, with hubs in California, Texas, Illinois and Washington, D.C., and people on the ground in even more states. We will continue to hold events around the country as we build out the business networking and intelligence part of our organization.”

TechAmerica also decided to postpone its annual Classic financial conference, which became a showcase for its corporate members during the tech boom of the 1990s.

“We are focusing on what will be of the most value to our members,” Shawn Osborne, who was named TechAmerica President and CEO in March, said in a statement at the time. In her note, Craig added, “We put it on hiatus as we decide how to make it more relevant to the community by consulting with members and looking for a strategic partnership.”

So far it’s unclear how TechAmerica’s corporate members are reacting to the new strategy. But it’s worth noting that Google, Facebook, eBay, and Amazon are among the founding members of the Internet Association, a new lobbying outfit focused solely on the interests of Internet companies. As Brendan Sasso reported recently for The Hill, industry groups like TechAmerica, the Information Technology Industry Council and the Consumer Electronics Association also represent wireless carriers, software developers, and device makers—sectors sometimes at odds over policy and legislation with the Web industry.

Carroll says the end to his 12 years as San Diego’s regional vice president and director came about four weeks ago, with an unexpected phone call from the San Diego airport. It was TechAmerica’s general counsel, who had just arrived to close the office. “He asked me for directions,” Carroll said.

To Carroll, the reorganization puts more emphasis on TechAmerica’s role as a national policy advocate for technology industries on issues like cybersecurity, online sales tax, and defense spending. TechAmerica says it currently represents 1,000 corporate members, including Apple, Google, GE, Qualcomm, Microsoft, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, and General Dynamics.

Carroll maintains that San Diego’s tech leaders saw more value in his regional programs—especially the roundtables that provide peer-to-peer mentoring for chief executives, and in six specialized areas: finance; human resources; operations; sales and marketing; logistics; and product development.

The CEOs at San Diego’s small-to-medium businesses aren’t paying much attention to national technology issues, Carroll said. “They’re really focused on running their businesses. They’re looking to make payroll. They don’t have time for some of the things that larger companies do.”

At TechAmerica, Carroll said the program was aimed at businesses that generally ranged from $2.5 million to $250 million in annual revenue. Learning best business practices, though, is something that early stage technology and life sciences startups also would be interested in. “If you’re doing a finance roundtable,” he said, “a million-dollar company could still take advantage of that.”

Bruce V. Bigelow is the editor of Xconomy San Diego. You can e-mail him at bbigelow@xconomy.com or call (619) 669-8788 Follow @bvbigelow

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