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Deals, recruiting show growing Santa Barbara tech sector

By   /   Thursday, February 11th, 2010  /   Comments Off on Deals, recruiting show growing Santa Barbara tech sector

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In a sign of a booming Santa Barbara technology sector that is still hiring, Flir Systems paid $25 million in cash for 170,000 square feet of space across two buildings in Goleta.

A company official disclosed the price of the transaction, which was formally announced last week, at a technology employment outlook luncheon held by the Science and Engineering Council of Santa Barbara.

“We’re very fortunate to be in a strong cash position,” said Dan Munoz, a recruiting and staff specialist with Oregon-based Flir, which has about 400 employees in the Goleta area and makes commercial infrared vision systems. Munoz said Flir paid cash for the space it bought in the 6700 block of Hollister Avenue in the Cabrillo Business Park.

Munoz and the rest of the panel of employers at the luncheon — which included representatives from property management software firm AppFolio, architectural lighting firm Bega US and online learning company Lynda.com — said they were actively looking to add high-tech workers such as engineers. But they all also noted they are willing to wait for the right applicant who presents the best mix of technical skills and cultural fit with their firms.

James Knight, a former Flir leader who recently served on the board of the Goleta Valley Chamber of Commerce, said the recent real estate deal and the positive outlook of the panelists all bode well for the tech sector from Carpinteria to Goleta.

“Companies that are willing to make investments like that in this environment show there is light coming over the hill,” Knight said. “I don’t want to call it a recovery — I don’t want to jinx it — but there are signs there.”

All the panelists agreed that it’s still a challenge to find the right engineers for their companies.

Santa Barbara-based AppFolio, which has raised $30 million of venture capital and grown from a handful of employees to more than 50 since starting up three years ago, plans to grow its engineering staff by 20 percent this year and add a third data center to power its online software offerings, said Chief Financial Officer Karen Anne Platt.

At Carpinteria-based Bega, which has grown to more than 100 employees in recent years, the firm needs mechanical engineers to design its lighting fixtures but holds out for a good cultural fit. “A position can be open for six moths,” said Erma Zuniga, director of human resources at the firm. “We’re hiring a lot more based on attitude.”

Munoz, of Flir, concurred, even though his firm and a handful of others have nearly tapped out the local market for specialized infrared engineers. “At Flir, it’s 50 percent technological aptitude and 50 percent cultural fit.”

There are also job openings for positions that aren’t strictly technical. Carpinteria-based online learning course firm Lynda.com, which has expanded to 142 employees in recent years, is looking for “training producers” who can work with experts in fields such as graphic design to translate their knowledge into online courses. Sometimes, a tech-savvy former professor or teacher fits the bill.

“They have to be instructional technologists,” said Dixie Vargas, the firm’s corporate recruiter.

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