Dot-commers beginning to give up pioneering spiritgreenspun.com : LUSENET : Grassroots Information Coordination Center (GICC) : One Thread
Dot-commers beginning to give up pioneering spirit and head home
Posted at 9:56 p.m. PST Saturday, March 3, 2001
BY MICHELLE QUINN
Before dawn one morning last week, Bob Burke packed a U-Haul and drove east. His California dream was dead. He was in debt. Twice, he had been laid off from Internet jobs, and all his new prospects had fizzled.
So the 25-year-old is going back to the Midwest, where he believes life will be better -- apartments are cheap and companies are stable -- even if he does have to wear a tie to work.
Going home was once unthinkable for those who flocked to Silicon Valley like modern-day 49ers in search of Internet Gold. Now, 12 months after Nasdaq's peak, the gold is gone. The dot-com crowd that only a year ago cherished its stock options today whines about meager $230 weekly unemployment checks and ponders whether it's time to pack the bags.
``A lot of young professionals are leaving because they are disillusioned,'' said Linda Flores, owner of Specialized Transportation and Systems, a moving firm based in Livermore. Destination cities: Chicago, Atlanta, Dallas.
A grim new joke captures the pain of tumbling stock prices, underwater options and widespread layoffs. ``B-to-C'' no longer means Business-to-Consumer Internet firms. Now it's Back to Cleveland.
Or in Lauren Fredman's case, back to Washington, D.C.``I like the Bay Area, but it's indifferent to me,'' said Fredman, 36. In the fall, she was laid off from an Internet and strategic consultancy firm in Pleasanton just a few months after she moved from Manhattan. Last month, she decided to change a planned visit home to D.C. into a one-way trip.
Home is the ``path of least resistance,'' Fredman said.
35,000 jobs cut
According to the outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Internet companies have cut nearly 35,000 jobs over the past three months, compared with about 31,000 jobs over the previous 12 months.
No statistics track how many tech workers are leaving the Bay Area. But there are clues that an out-migration is afoot.
In the past two months, U-Haul International says it has seen a spurt in the number of people using its equipment to leave the San Jose and San Francisco areas, although it won't release exact numbers. In 2000, it recorded 18 percent more people leaving San Jose than in 1999. And 9 percent more people left San Francisco.
For some, leaving town is an act of self-preservation, getting out of Dodge before the high rent comes due again. Those who can leave quickest often don't have families to tow, homes to sell or much furniture to move. They are the ones ``who came for the tail end of the gold rush and are less rooted in California,'' said Patti Wilson, principal of the Career Company in Los Gatos, which handles career management for high-tech professionals.
Still, even for newcomers like Burke, pulling up stakes and accepting defeat isn't easy. In many ways, Burke's story is about exhilarating success in a time of plenty.
Fantasy comes true
Two years ago, while working in Cleveland, he was enticed by stories about young, smart people in Silicon Valley who wore shorts to work and still made a lot of money. He set out for San Francisco, where his fantasy came true when he landed a job selling online ads for Productopia, which offered reviews and information on products.
He had more responsibility than he ever expected at his age. ``The environment was incredible. Everyone was creative. Every day, I looked forward to work,'' said Burke, speaking from his cell phone somewhere in Nevada en route to Chicago.
But the fantasy ended one October afternoon when Productopia executives called a meeting and announced the company was closing. The employees had an hour to leave. ``I was really sad,'' he said.
Burke remained optimistic and quickly fielded offers. He took a job selling ads for LookSmart, a Web directory, choosing it over another company because LookSmart seemed more stable. But LookSmart wasn't as smart as it looked. In late January, the company laid off 170 people, about 30 percent of its staff. Burke was among them.
Burke immediately plowed back into a job search, looking into three other Internet companies. Then those firms, too, had layoffs. ``That was it for me,'' Burke said. ``I quit looking.''
At least for now, most of those laid off or facing economic uncertainty are deciding to stay and ride the economic roller coaster. They plan to hold onto their current jobs for dear life, take whatever work they can or collect unemployment while living on savings.
After all, the region's job market is still tight. Santa Clara and San Mateo counties have less than 2 percent unemployment, while San Francisco has just 3 percent. And as everyone says these days to reassure themselves: The Internet is not going away.
Some, like Marlinda McPhail, aren't ready to give up on California. McPhail, a marketing consultant living in San Francisco, thought she would leave when she was laid off from her job just three months after arriving from Manhattan.
But McPhail, 30, is trying to stretch her severance and unemployment checks to stay put. And she's found a ready-made social group among the laid-off who can hang out in cafes or go jogging.
``I know it would be easier to find a job in New York, but it's more laid-back here,'' she said. Still, ``financially, it's scary.''
Dot-commers never had to work at optimism before. They were blessed with an abundance of opportunity. As they face a downturn in their fortunes, the newly disillusioned travel through different emotional stages. First denial. Then puzzlement. Then hope as they get a job, contract or interview. Panic hits if the bank account dwindles too far.
When business slowed in December, Katie Albers told herself, ``It's just the holidays.'' Then a couple of weeks ago, three jobs disappeared that Web consultant Albers had expected to carry her as she looked for more work -- a financial company shut down, a Fortune 100 company ended its arrangement with her and a start-up didn't pay its last invoice.
Now, Albers, 46, has no income and owes $2,000 in monthly rent on her small house near San Jose's Rose Garden. With six weeks of savings to live on, she's looking for work and calling her widely scattered family every day. ``Tell me it's going to be all right,'' she pleas. ``Just say those words.''
Thinking of Maine
And she plans to leave, maybe to Portland, Maine, where some family members live. ``Now that opportunity is shutting down, it's hard to see the benefit of living here,'' she says. But to give up is to go against the pioneer spirit of pushing west.
``The Okies came here,'' she says. ``Where do we go? Into the ocean?''
Going home isn't necessarily a defeat, says Mike Zubey, 30, who left Silicon Valley last summer after his software company stumbled. He is happily resettled near Philadelphia, working for Unisys and enjoying the cachet of being a valley alum. ``Silicon Valley should be part of your tenure,'' says Zubey. ``You should do two years.''
Burke's decision to head out took shape in early February. His childhood friend, Jason Calhoun, 26, a technical recruiter who'd been in San Francisco three years, was falling on hard times himself, with business drying up and invoices going unpaid. Why not Chicago, Calhoun suggested. That would be a three-hour drive from Ann Arbor, where the two grew up and where Burke's twin brother lives.
At first, Burke didn't want to go. But he worried that if LookSmart, a public company with 500 employees and strong partners, could go down, anyone could. Another bad sign: He could easily drum up 12 friends to go bowling on a Friday afternoon because most were unemployed. Plus, he wanted to move from his Presidio apartment to downtown San Francisco ``closer to the action,'' he said, but it would cost him an extra $400 monthly.
Friends threw the men a going-away party at a San Francisco club called Bohemia. And the Midwesterners joked they might be packing U-Hauls too if the economy gets worse.
Saturday, Burke and Calhoun were scheduled to pull into Chicago, the end of a two-vehicle, 2,300-mile journey. Calhoun was in the front car pulling a 6-foot-by-12-foot trailer filled to the brim with the pair's possessions. Burke followed in his blue Jeep Wrangler.
As they drove, the young men pointed out scenic spots to each other via two-way radios. Over dinner last Wednesday at the Rainbow Hotel Casino in Wendover, Nev., they talked about the debt they accrued living their California dream (meals out, $4 beer) and how they are going to get out of it.
``Like anyone, I hoped to make a lot of money,'' Burke said. He didn't. But he had a great ride.
And he regrets none of it.
Contact Michelle Quinn at firstname.lastname@example.org or (408) 920-5749.
-- Swissrose (email@example.com), March 04, 2001