So long . . .

Those of you who were becoming regular readers of Colorado Tech Times earlier this year may have noticed the sudden lapse in postings several months ago.

I realize it’s a bit belated, but I’d like to finally offer some explanation for my sudden vanishing act.

No, it wasn’t a case of Fat Tire overdose (see my last post, below).

In May, I accepted a job as senior writer for the Loomis Group, a San Francisco technology PR firm. Since then, I simply haven’t had the time to make further posts to this blog. And considering some other duties I’ve taken on since then, that doesn’t appear likely to change anytime soon.

Oddly enough, the blog continues to draw readers – as many as 50 a day. So even though I’m no longer posting additional material to this forum, I’ve decided to leave the site and its postings online as a reference for those seeking information about Colorado’s technology industry.

It was fun. I’d love to do it again sometime when time permits. But for now, you’ll have to look elsewhere for news on Colorado’s burgeoning tech sector. For starters, I’d suggest checking out some of the links along the right side of this page.

Best,

– Russ –

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Colorado’s craft beer rules!

Some readers may argue that brewing beer isn’t really a high-tech occupation.

To that I can only say: Bah humbug!

My college roomate and I tried brewing our own back in the late 1970s — cooking the ingredients on the kitchen stove, bottling it in previously used Hamm’s bottles and aging it in a closet. The disastrous results convinced me that brewing is truly a complex, highly technical process.

And besides, how many software programs, semiconductor designs and computer systems do you think would ever have been completed without frequent sessions of “beer therapy?”

In any event, Coloradans have reason to be proud of our homegrown craft brewing industry.

The Boulder-based Brewers Association (see http://www.beertown.org/) this week released a list of the country’s top 50 “craft brewers,” a term that refers to the smaller, independent and traditional breweries that have become the fastest growing segment of the U.S. brewing industry. The association reports that sales of craft beer in U.S. supermarkets grew 17.8% in 2006, compared with just 10% for wine and a mere 2% growth for “ordinary” domestic beer from the industry’s big four producers (Anheuser-Busch, Miller, Coors and Pabst).

Colorado, it turns out, is home to five of the 50 largest U.S. craft brewers. Only California, with seven top-50 brewers, has more. (If all the smaller brewers are counted, Colorado actually has closer to 100 commerical micro-breweries)

Fort Collins’ New Belgium Brewing Company Inc., maker of the extremely popular Fat Tire beer, ranks as the third-largest U.S. craft brewer in terms of 2006 sales. Actual sales figures were not disclosed as part of the rankings, but a Denver Post article last July reported that New Belgium brewed about 370,000 barrels of beer in 2005, while Inc. magazine reported last year that the progressively managed, eco-friendly company had 2005 sales of about $70 million.

Following is a list of Colorado’s Top-50 craft brewers, and their rankings:

      Company…………………City……….Rank

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  • New Belgium…………………Fort Collins……3
  • Rock Bottom Brewery…..Louisville……..24
  • Flying Dog…………………….Denver…………29
  • Odell Brewing……………….Fort Colllins….31
  • Breckenridge Brewery…..Denver………….36
  • Boulder Beer…………………Boulder…………41

Source: Brewers Association

_______________________________

“Beer made by small, independent and traditional breweries is definitely an American success story,” says Paul Gatza, Director of the Brewers Association.

With just under 1400 small breweries the segment eclipsed 6.7 million barrels in 2006. The fastest growing craft beer sector in 2006, with a 16% sales increase, was microbreweries (those under 15,000 barrels a year). Total craft beer industry sales have grown 31.5% over the past 3 years.fattire2.jpg

The Denver Post reported that brewers contribute $3.7 billion a year to this state’s economy, although the bulk of that no doubt comes from the Coors and Anheuser-Busch operations here.

Nonetheless, my hat’s off to all the dedicated beer makers whose bubbly brews make our lives — and the technology industry — so much better (when consumed in moderation). I plan to open an ice-cold Fat Tire a few hours from now in celebration.

Simtek’s Q1 sales slip

Colorado Springs-based Simtek Corp. (Nasdaq: SMTK) expects to report sequentially lower sales during the year’s first fiscal quarter, for which full earnings results will be announced April 27.

The non-volatile memory chip company announced this week that it expects Q1 2006 product revenue to be about $8 million, 12% less than the record $9.1 million mark reached during last year’s fourth quarter.

Despite the decline, the company’s projected Q1 sales would be 70% more than last year’s first quarter. Simtek — which reported its first quarterly profit in nearly six years during last year’s fourth quarter — nearly tripled its annual revenue during 2006 to $30.6 million, compared with $10.4 million in 2005.

The past year has been eventful for Simtek, which was founded in 1987 and struggled for years to develop a niche market for its unique nvSRAM technology, which allows memory chips to retain stored data when their power is shut off, while also operating at extremely fast speeds.

Last October the company completed a 1-for-10 reverse stock split, paving the way for a Nasdaq stock listing this January 10.

In December Simtek acquired the nvSRAM business of Germany’s Zentrum Mikroelektronik Dresden (ZMD) (which originally licensed the technology from Simtek) for $10 million in cash and stock, and began shifting ZMD’s chip customers to its own nvSRAM chips. In January it raised $11 million in a private share placement, with most of the proceeds used to pay for the ZMD deal.

The company also filed for 10 patents in January, and announced plans to open a design and business-development center in San Diego.

Simtek employs about 45 people in Colorado Springs. Its chips are used in computer servers, GPS navigation systems, robotics, copiers, avionics, radar, “smart” weapons and other products.

Among its competitors is Colorado Springs-based Ramtron Corp. (Nasdaq: RMTR), which uses a different technology, ferroelectric random access memory (FRAM), to produce non-volatile chips.

Wind-energy stock tips

Colorado features prominently in an article this week on wind-power transmission stocks in the AltEnergyStocks.com blog.

Written by investment advisor Tom Konrad, who also serves as treasurer for both the Colorado Renewable Energy Society and Ratepayers United Colorado, the article identifies several companies (though none in this state) that could benefit from increased demand for transmission facilities. That’s assuming, of course, that the current boom in wind power and other alternative energy sources continues.

The article mentions Colorado’s recently passed Senate Bill 100, which requires regulated electric utilities to identify — and develop plans to remedy — areas of high wind-energy potential where a lack of transmission capacity could hinder development. Gov. Bill Ritter signed the bill into law two weeks ago, along with House Bill 1281, which requires state utilities to obtain at least 20% of their electricity from renewable energy sources by 2020.

The AltEnergyStocks blog also ran an article last week on stocks that could benefit from wind turbine supply constraints. Investor’s Business Daily mentions some of the same stocks in a similar article today.

Turbine makers such as GE Energy are reportedly booked solid with orders well into next year, despite the industry’s aggressive plans to expand production. Denmark’s Vestas Wind Systems, for instance, announced plans last month to build its first U.S. wind turbine blade factory in Windsor, Colo., near Fort Collins.

Surging demand for wind energy may pose a challenge for utilities and potential wind farm investors, but for transmission equipment suppliers, as well as Vestas, GE and other turbine suppliers, the good times appear to be just beginning to roll.

Denver hosts Green Grid meeting

Denver will play host next week to the first technical summit of The Green Grid, a non-profit consortium dedicated to advancing energy efficiency in computer data centers.

Energy use is a growing concern for Google, Yahoo, Microsoft and other big computer users, which are building huge data centers around the globe to handle soaring demand for broadband Internet services. Google engineer Luiz André Barroso has predicted, in fact, that energy costs may soon surpass the cost of computing equipment for large users.

The April 18-19 Green Grid event is expected to bring together leading technical experts from founding companies AMD, Dell, Hewlett-Packard, IBM, Intel, Microsoft, and Sun Microsystems. Longmont-based Copan Systems, Inc., a privately held maker of energy-efficient disk storage sysytems, was one of nearly 30 additional new members announced this week, including Brocade Communications, Cisco, Juniper Networks, Novell, QLogic, Texas Instruments and others.

This will be the first event for the organization since its launch this February. The two-day summit’s three main goals are: how to define and measure data-center efficiency, how to build more efficient data centers and how to improve the efficiency of daily operations.

EE Times reports that one possible solution the group may debate is shifting data centers from AC to DC power. While Intel has been touting that idea recently, Google has been pushing another approach calling for the computer industry to replace a wide variety of multi-voltage power supplies with standard, more efficient 12-volt power supplies.

For more information, see the Green Grid website: http://www.thegreengrid.org/.

NREL prizewinner: solar at ‘critical’ stage

Lawrence Kazmerski, director of the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Center for Photovoltaics at the Golden-based National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) sees the U.S. solar energy industry at a “critical stage,” with future progress dependent on continued government and university research.

kazmersky2.jpg

Kazmerski — who spoke Thursday at the University of Delaware after receiving the Karl Böer Solar Energy Medal of Merit and a $40,000 prize — says the energy department’s recently unveiled Solar America Initiative was a major turning point for solar energy in this country. Last month the DOE announced it would provide up to $168 million for 13 industry-led solar energy research projects.

“It’s kind of like Nixon going to China,” he said in an article reported by the university’s daily newspaper. “A lot of people would not associate President Bush with renewable energy and anything like this, but he did make this initiative, part of which is in solar.”

Kazmerski said the new initiative positions the United States to be “a major player” in developing affordable solar energy technology, but notes that federal funding for solar technology development is just starting to recover from years of cutbacks. Last year’s $139 million merely brought the level of federal solar research funding even with what it was in 1982.

“Photovoltaics is at a tipping point, and right now it’s at a very critical stage [in] what happens and how fast this technology disseminates,” he said.

Kazmerski joined NREL’s predecessor, the Solar Energy Research Institute, in 1977 and has been director of its photovoltaics center since 1999. He also has been an adjunct professor at the University of Colorado, Colorado School of Mines and the University of Denver.

He said he plans to donate the money from the award to start a program for university students to conduct research at NREL.

Sorry, tech visas are all gone

An article in yesterday’s Electronic News notes that the fiscal 2008 U.S. quota for H-1B visas — which allow scientists, engineers, computer programmers and other skilled workers from around the world to to work here for limited periods — was filled in just two days.

Visa applications were accepted starting April 2, and within two days the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) received about 150,000 applications — more than twice the maximum 65,000 new visas alotted for the entire upcoming year. An additional 20,000 applicants with a US-earned masters or higher degree are considered exempt from the cap, but the USCIS is not sure yet how many of the initial rush of applicants met that criteria.

Meanwhile, I’d estimate that close to one-fourth of the enrollment in my children’s Colorado schools these days are the children of illegal Mexican and Central American immigrants (that’s just the illegals — the total Latino school-age population is closer to 40%). These are not, for the most part, the children of H-1B applicants.

You can’t blame these families for wanting to come here, where the jobs are plentiful and the quality of life is far better than in their own poverty-stricken countries. Yet this influx of illegal immigrants is putting a real strain on our schools, health care and law enforcement systems.

You have to wonder what U.S. immigration policies (or the lack thereof) are trying to accomplish.

Clearly there are legitimate questions that need to be addressed about the efficacy and aims of the H-1B program, which if not properly regulated could depress wages and cost the jobs of U.S. scientists and engineers.

On the other hand, our universities simply aren’t turning out enough top-notch graduates in these fields, at least not graduates with U.S. citizenship, and the only way many of our companies are getting by is by recruiting foreign scientists and engineers.

Boulder venture capitalist Brad Feld, for one, says he’s constantly trying to find enough qualified software developers for companies he’s investing in. “There is just no reason why there should be a quota on this type of H-1B visa,” he writes in his Feld Thoughts blog.

What’s more beneficial to the U.S. economy — skilled scientists and engineers who boost the productivity and innovation of our knowledge-based economy, or the mostly uneducated throngs that pour across our southern border in search of menial labor?

Why are the best and brightest applicants limited to a relative trickle, while the doors are thrown virtually wide open for millions of the world’s poor, huddled masses?

Immigration is a complex, emotional issue that could emerge as a major factor in next fall’s presidential elections. And I don’t pretend to have all, or even most, of the answers.

But it’s time for us to begin dealing rationally with the nearly insatiable desire of foreign nationals to work here, and U.S. companies’ eagerness to employ them. Surely we can be smarter and more deliberate about harnessing that supply and demand, and directing this remarkable influx of human talent towards goals that further the best interests of the United States.