Five years ago, Cindy Tysinger was looking for an area where she could start a new information technology company.
She lived in Denton and her son went to the University of North Texas, and wanted to make sure her company was in a location that was desirable to live in, energetic and youthful. So she started GSATi, which provides technology, marketing and managed services for businesses.
“I really was attracted to the vibrancy and the energy around the Denton Square and the college,” she said. “We were really looking for a lot of energy and youth that Denton brings.”
In 2012, the company had three employees. Now, it has 30, Tysinger said.
The growth of GSATi and others help illustrate what recent figures have concluded — that Denton County is a leader in high-tech and information employment. A new analysis by the Progressive Policy Institute identifies Denton County as the sixth leading location for high-tech information jobs in the country, which measured new tech/information jobs from 2007 to 2012.
Denton is beginning to see a high-tech cluster of businesses, because these jobs tend to attract younger employees who want to live here, said Aimee Bissett, economic development director for the city.
“We’ve seen high-tech companies make a deliberate choice to come to Denton, and they tend to make a choice that’s more related to quality of life,” she said. “We see there’s an attraction here, and we need to capitalize on that.”
The recently published rankings should serve as a starting point to market Denton as a city for high-tech development, said Kevin Roden, a City Council member. However, the city hasn’t updated its economic development strategies since 2003, and that needs to change, he said.
“This has happened through no strategy of our own,” Roden said. “It just happened because we have all the ingredients in our town to make this the place to be for that industry.”
The city needs to brainstorm ways to identify the resources already available in Denton, and the achievements of local companies.
Part of this is because of the resources available through the local universities. Students bring energy and innovation, Tysinger said.
“I think [the high-tech sector] is very strong for leveraging the knowledge out of the college students that are here,” she said. “We leverage a lot of open source technology, so that has been really great support.”
The resources available at UNT’s Discovery Park and through the university’s College of Engineering help improve the high-tech industry in the city, said Kuruvilla John, associate dean of research and graduate studies for the college.
As the college grows and more research funding comes in, the larger the opportunity for businesses to collaborate with students and the stronger the local economy will become, said Miguel Garcia-Rubio, associate dean for outreach and international relations.
“If you look around in the United States or anywhere, any economic development activity that really changes a town or city, there’s a strong correlation between economic development with having a major research university near or close by,” Garcia-Rubio said.
Another aspect of this growing sector are independent contractors who work at home or out of coffee shops for major companies that aren’t based in Denton, Roden said. There is no way to tell how large this population is, though, because they can’t be tracked by traditional measures for success like tax revenue or the size of their office.
“We’re seeing an increase in that type of worker more and more, and it’s interesting to me that people who already have jobs in these other fantastic cities are choosing to stay to live and work here in Denton,” he said. “The typical way we’re measuring the success and industries doesn’t work for this, so it’s really a game changer for how we see economic development.”
As the industry continues to grow, Bissett agreed that the city needs to capitalize on the recent ranking to attract more high-tech professionals. The wages are higher and support the population that already lives in Denton, she said, and Denton is an ideal place to start a company.
“I do think we’re going to see this sector continue to grow, and part of that is because we have a perfect storm — a very highly educated population with the universities here, as well as the culture that we have — [that] makes it a desirable place to start a business,” Bissett said.
This environment is inspiring and has reinvigorated Tysinger after 40 years in the technology industry, and has her excited for the future of Denton and her company, she said.
“I think [the economy] is going to get much stronger as more and more services come out here and businesses come out,” she said. “With the benefit of the community support, it really affords businesses great opportunities they won’t be able to get in other communities.
“I hope we keep our quirkiness and uniqueness to help foster this innovation.”
JENNA DUNCAN can be reached at 940-566-6889 and via Twitter at @JennaFDuncan.