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Tuesday, 3 September, 2002, 12:35 GMT 13:35 UK
Q&A: Wales' Technium future
The Welsh Development Agency's latest Technium promises jobs for opto-electronics workers.

BBC News Online explains what the network of business development facilities will do for Wales.

What is a Technium?

With Welsh Assembly support, the Welsh Development Agency (WDA) is building six centres of excellence around the country for specific sectors of the technology industry.

The agency calls it "a new world-class commercial concept that is set to strengthen Wales as an innovative destination for knowledge based businesses" and the ultimate hope is to create hundreds of spin-off jobs.

The 47m network's aim is to group together fledgling start-ups, entrepreneurs from universities, researchers and developers and industrial market leaders at each site.

Under one roof, Technium tenants will get office space, business support, fast telecom links and venture finance in a series of mini Silicon Valleys.

With help from public sector experts at the WDA and access to Wales' 12,000 annual technology graduates, new companies hope to develop innovative new products destined for the private sector market.

Those companies may eventually leave the facilities as they mature commercially and grow out of the space.

Where do the Techniums come from?

The first centre grew from a WDA partnership at the Innovation Centre at University of Wales, Swansea, in 1986.

It graduated to flagship Technium Swansea status at a purpose-built 2m facility to house general technology at Swansea's Prince of Wales Dock in 2000.

It is now let to 12 growing technology firms, including California-based electronics producer and Hewlett-Packard supplier Agilent and digital media design house s8080, whose clients number Tesco and 20th Century Fox.

Upon its success, the WDA decided in October 2001 to roll out five more centres nationwide in an effort to kick-start hi-tech innovation in Wales' economy.

Where are the rest of the centres?

AutoTechnium, for performance engineering and motorsport, is already working from Pembrey Circuit in Carmarthenshire and an 18-acre research site at for 15 new companies Llanelli, where several car components manufacturers employ hundreds.

The aim is to advance specialist motor racing technology using students of Swansea Institute for Higher Education's motorsport engineering course.

The 9.7m MediaTechnium, for budding digital media professionals, is operating from the historic Gelli Aur stately home near Llandeilo, Carmarthenshire.

BioTechnium for the potentially lucrative biotechnology sector will work from the National Botanic Gardens of Wales at Llanarthne, Carmarthenshire.

DigitalTechnium and a second Technium flagship will be based at Swansea and the 15m OpTIC Technium for north Wales' opto-electronics industry will open at St Asaph, Denbighshire, in 2003.

Will the idea work for Wales?

The whole concept is radically different from the WDA inward investment strategy of the last two decades, which attracted foreign employers who have since left leaving many unemployed.

Instead, the aim is to generate home-grown talent that stays in Wales. Economic Development Minister Andrew Davies thinks the new OpTIC Technium could create about 300 jobs in an industry which already employs over 2,000 in north Wales.

It focuses on the key "knowledge economy" which now rivals the manufacturing sector and which Welsh Assembly ministers hope can offer a haven to re-trained factory workers as well as technology developers.

Hasn't the bottom fallen out of the technology market?

Many firms in the industries targeted by the Techniums - telecoms, new media, e-commerce - have been bitten by the global economic downturn in technology fortunes and have retreated.

Last year, US optical fibres maker Corning Optical shut its Deeside plant in the same area targeted OpTIC Technium, hitting 436 jobs, blaming "difficult market environment".

But many business analysts see research and development is the way for industry to negotiate tough economic times.

This is exactly what companies housed at Techniums will be going. That means the Welsh Development Agency's plan to build a domestic tech sector with a recession looming will have to pay off if it is not to be regarded as the latest strategic fad.

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