My Turn – A Birthday to Note

This is a editorial Page Entry from the Greenfield Recorder, May 8, 2007
A birthday worth noting

Proud of my connections to Hidden-Tech

Not longer after 9/11, with my business greatly reduced, I started to contemplate creating a formal support group for virtual company owners like myself. At the time, I was writing about the growth of the virtual company trend in the valley for the Boston Globe Magazine and it had become apparent that small, often home-based virtual companies were booming in the valley.

I soon realized management guru’s Tom Peter’s vision of the virtual work world had come to life in the valley. Entrepreneurs like myself were workin out of homes or small offices backed up by advanced technology to serve far-flung, sometimes global customers. We were both hidden from sight and from government statisticians ­ hence I called this population “hidden tech.”

Throughout that seemingly endless fall of 2001, I labored on the Globe article, earnestly trying to find nonexistent data on the virtual company trend. Four people came to my rescue and later helped get the organization off the ground: Jaymie Chernoff, then head of the UMass Office of Industry Liaison and Economic Development and founder of the Regional Technology Alliance (RTA) now the Regional Technology Corp.; John Mullin, then vice chancellor of UMass Outreach; Tim Brennan, executive director of the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission (PVPC); and Mike Levin, then chief economist for Northeast Utilities in Hartford.

Levin was able to cobble together some stats, but not enough to satisfy my editors. I approached John Coull, former executive director of the Amherst Chamber of Commerce and Ann Hamilton, president of the Franklin County Chamber of Commerce, to see what they knew about the virtual company population. In the process of pouring over their membership lists, we unwittingly created the first database on the virtual work place that I have found anywhere in the United States.

But it wasn’t until the winter of 2002, after the Globe piece was published, that I saw a pathway to connect micro-company owners like myself with larger companies and institutions in the region. Attending a meeting at the Log Cabin in Holyoke of the then-
fledgling RTA, I was awed by the hundreds of other entrepreneurs in the room. Accustomed to seeing writers, artists, acupuncturists and professors, I never knew that western Massachusetts was home to so many other business owners and I was eager to connect with them. I also knew then none of us could survive without high-speed Internet connection and that companies like mine couldn’t afford to be hidden to Internet service providers. We needed to stand up and be counted.

The RTA’s Technology Enterprise Council (TEC) agreed to support me in building an affinity group for TEC, which is why Hidden-Tech was once Hidden TEC. Humera Fasihuddin, then RTA director, agreed to hold the growing list of names I’d collected
from chambers, from friends and even a buddy’s Christmas list, in the RTA database. By the time we announced that initial meeting, held on May 7, 2002, at the former headquarters of Avaquest in Amherst, we had almost 100 people on an e-mail list. By the end of the first summer, the fledgling organization had grown to 300 and Rich Roth of TnR Global in Greenfield began housing the organization database on his company servers that fall.

Of the many people throughout the region who has assisted me in me in building Hidden-Tech, along with conducting ongoing research on the hidden tech/virtual company trend, Hamilton was one of the most helpful and dedicated. Not only did she take
my concerns seriously, agree to interviews, glean information from her database, but she also introduced me to economic development, educators and community builders throughout Franklin County. One of those was Nancy Bair, head of work force development for Greenfield Community College. On several occasions over the years, Bair helped stage programs for the Hidden-Tech population, always with backup from Hamilton.

It’s impossible to assess the impact of these efforts without a formal study, but there is no doubt that the programming spawned media coverage ­ particularly in this paper ­ which helped breed awareness that built Franklin County membership in Hidden-Tech. Research I conducted with the help of grants from Western Massachusetts Electric Co. (WMECO), based in Springfield, and
Northeast Utilities in Berlin, Conn., indicated that the arts was a major cluster within the Hidden-Tech population and many of those people lived in Franklin County. I’d like to think that the research helped Hamilton, Dee Boyle-Clapp and many others promote
Franklin County’s creative cluster net work. And last fall, with Hamilton’s intervention, Hidden-Tech had a table at the Creative Economy Summit held at GCC.

At its fifth birthday Hidden-Tech is still “a sniveling adolescent” searching for a pathway to become sustainable, jokes Jon Reed, the organization’s president. But the trend is recognized throughout the region and is part of an action plan in the region’s economic
blueprint, the Plan for Progress. Although I am no longer on the organization’s board, feeling strongly that founders need to allow their creations to evolve, I am proud to have jump-started an organization that assists so many people flourish independently.
Thanks to the hundreds throughout Franklin County and the region who helped, especially Recorder writer Richie Davis for his outstanding, award-winning coverage of the hidden tech economy.

Amy Zuckerman is founder of Hidden-Tech
( and principal of AZ
International Associates, a strategic marketing
firm in Amherst. She resigned from the board of
Hidden-Tech in the fall of 2006 after five years to
allow the organization to evolve. She thanks Jon
Reed, Rich Roth, Claudia Gere, Jeff Lander,
Heather Row, Sheldon Snodgrass, Afranio
Torres-Neto, Rick Feldman and many others for
their significant contribution to Hidden-Tech.

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