Xconomist of the Week: Sean MacLeod Says Stop Trying to Be SF

9/13/12Follow @curtwoodward

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a longtime leader in casual games, for $750 million in up-front cash and stock.

Nuance has been busy in the region too, snapping up Swype last year for around $100 million in cash, adding to the portfolio of mobile startups that have turned the larger company’s Pioneer Square offices into a local center of innovative mobile technologies.

The PopCap, Isilon, and Swype deals are also instructive of what appears to be a newer trend in big acquisitions, MacLeod says. The acquiring companies are often opting to keep a local branch operation full of people from the acquired company, and then keep hiring.

That’s different than what many acquirers have done in the past, when they just harvested the most valuable products from the company they were acquiring, and closed down or greatly cut back on the local operations.

You also see Silicon Valley companies embracing the trend by seeking to establish beachheads in Seattle. Many of those companies—Google, Facebook, and Zynga to name a few— have been hungry for technical talent that once was housed mostly at Microsoft or Amazon.

“There is a recognized talent pool that is here … that isn’t just going to get up and run down to the Bay Area,” he says. “And these large companies are coming in and acquiring, and leaving the marketing and the R&D in place.”

That’s not to say it’s all sunshine and roses to be the source of corporate takeovers. Mergers and acquisitions are famously ineffective at boosting the larger companies’ fortunes over the long term. And there’s no guarantees of stability once you’re on board, either—just ask PopCap, which recently laid off 50 people and may have to close its Irish office as the game industry grapples with big systematic changes.

So sure, any region could always use more anchor tenants. Amazon’s starting to step into that role, with mind-boggling ambitions in infrastructure, media, devices, and commerce. And the Seattle area’s education system definitely could use a boost, particularly in the area of college programs for in-demand technology professions like software engineering and data science.

But, MacLeod says, people who care about the technology community should focus on turning up the volume on what they already have—not pining for a mythical future in which they become the junior version of Silicon Valley.

“To try to emulate something else would be kind of an unnatural act,” he says. “We’re unique and have a unique culture. Embrace it.”

Curt Woodward is a senior editor for Xconomy based in Boston. Email: cwoodward@xconomy.com Follow @curtwoodward

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