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Sun also rises.


Where the occasional deer or antelope once roamed, more than 2,100 humans now swarm through four sprawling buildings, bent on dot-comming the world.

Palo Alto, Calif.-based Sun Microsystems Inc. (NASDAQ: SUNW), the $11.7 billion behemoth that sells systems and software for the Internet Age, in 1996 announced it would establish its Colorado beachhead. Its Sun Enterprise Services Division staked out a 75-acre patch of Broomfield's Interlocken Business Park as Sun's only division headquarters outside Silicon Valley. Construction continues, with three more buildings likely to be finished by the end of 2000. Sun hesitates to predict, but many observers believe its eventual employment will top 4,000, which would place the division among Colorado's 15 largest employers.

"I see Sun playing a very important role in Colorado's future, not just because of their employee base, but because of their leadership role in their industry," said David Solin, director of the Colorado Office of Economic Development.

Sun has brought more to Colorado than high-paying jobs and messier rush hours on U.S. 36. It has added a different dimension - a California flavor - to the business community here. This is a company that has its own trademarked color, Sun Blue; that holds informal meetings in armchair-sprinkled "touchdown areas" instead of cubicles.

Sun fosters an entrepreneurial spirit unusual for its size that encourages its employees to work and play hard. "Kick butt and have fun" is the oft-quoted mantra of Sun CEO Scott McNealy.

"We've been very successful at that for the last 17 years," said Bill Richardson, vice president and general manager of Sun Educational Services, one of three divisions in Sun's Colorado location, which covers customer and employee training. The company has had only one unprofitable quarter in its history, Richardson noted. "People are given a lot of responsibility and a lot of latitude, and told to do good. And they're rewarded for that .... I think that's perhaps a little more California than it is Colorado."

Sun's community commitment wins high, wide praise in the metro area.

"Sun has been an outstanding neighbor," said John Buechner, University of Colorado president. "It's a perfect fit in many respects."

Sun hires CU students as interns, and hires CU graduates as full-time employees. Sun employees serve as adjunct faculty, and work on special engineering projects. CU plans to offer classes at Interlocken for Sun and other companies, Buechner said.

Regis University, too, has opened an Interlocken-area campus with 12 classrooms and a computer lab. Before the facility was finished, Sun opened its company classrooms to Regis for a nominal fee, said Ed Cooper, associate academic dean for graduate programs in the Regis School for Professional Studies. Sun and Regis are working on an online master's degree in computer information systems, and brainstorming other cooperative ventures.

"They don't come in with preconceived notions," Cooper said of Sun. "They've been very open toward building relationships."

Sun also supports the lower grades. It sponsors a worldwide NetDay to wire schools for Internet access, and gives grants to support college readiness. Five Boulder Valley schools have benefited from NetDay.

Broomfield's Birch Elementary School was wired during the Oct. 25, 1997, blizzard. The snow kept Principal Ed Schriner at home, but about a dozen Sun volunteers and another dozen Birch volunteers slogged to school that day, donating the equivalent of $30,000 to $40,000 in labor. Sun speeded up Birch's Internet connectivity by several years, Schriner said.

Some local nonprofits have been less thrilled with Sun's approach to giving, said Kathy Brown, executive director of the Broomfield Community Foundation, an umbrella organization of nonprofits. Sun stresses "sweat equity" projects, does not often donate directly to groups such as the foundation and can be hard to reach, she said.

"They're kind of a walled community ... almost like a little city of their own," Brown said, adding that accessibility could improve with Sun's recent hiring of a corporate affairs site manager, Clif Harald.

But Brown is a Broomfield City Council member, too, and wearing that hat she is "delighted" with the local projects of Sun and its employees. "They're helping our community, and that's important to me," she said.

The rapid growth of Sun and other nearby employers has helped bring boomtown aches and pains to the Broomfield area. Sun avoids direct involvement in local politics, but it encourages alternative transportation such as carpools or buses - Richardson's deputy, for instance, bicycles daily from Louisville. The company's shuttle system moves employees around Interlocken. Its landscaping goes easy on water use, and recycling bins are located campus-wide. "This is," Richardson added, "a California company. The environment is very important."

Greg Demko, Broomfield city finance director, said Sun helps pay for infrastructure through city taxes, and growth and permit fees totaling about $750,000 per year. And each dollar paid a Sun employee has about a 10-fold economic impact on the region. Sun is "generating the economic engine of the whole northwest region," Demko said.

Growth, in fact, helped drive Sun's Enterprise Services Division out of California. Silicon Valley was running out of space, and living costs were obscenely high. Colorado offered a well-educated hiring pool, a fast-growing high-tech community, and relatively affordable living - plus mountains, Richardson said. Broomfield got the nod over Austin, Boston and the south Denver metro area.

Richardson said the move has worked out even better than some at Sun expected. If there is a down side, it has been that Sun expanded here even faster than expected. "We're constantly hiring," Richardson said.

Few consider working in Sun's only division headquarters outside California to be Siberian exile. Colorado natives or California transplants, Sun employees seem happy to be here.

"I don't think there's any sense of being a long way from 'mecca,'" Richardson said of Sun's Palo Alto home office. "This is mecca for us."


So just what do more than 2,000 employees of the Enterprise Services Division of Sun Microsystems Inc. do in Colorado?

One of eight Sun divisions, Enterprise Services supports Sun customers. It has three branches: Professional Services consults on systems integration and information technology; Educational Services teaches Sun customers, on-site or in Sun training centers worldwide, and consults on employee development; and Support Services makes sure Sun customers' products keep running, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Broomfield's also home to one of Sun's 14 Java Centers, dedicated to helping Sun customers create small applications, called "applets," for Java, Sun's popular programming language.

The division accounts for about 10% of Sun's annual revenues, which in fiscal 1999 totaled $11.73 billion, a 20% increase over the year before. Net income was $1.16 billion, up 28% over fiscal 1998.

All this is housed in four buildings totaling 525,000 square feet, linked by an enclosed hallway known as "Main Street." To an outsider, the buildings seem a maze of staircases, hallways, office cubicles, classrooms and cubbyhole meeting places, known as "touchdown areas," equipped with modernistic, upholstered armchairs with a writing table built into one arm.

Sun offices themselves are utilitarian and fairly colorless - even division President Larry Hambly's. But the building's byways are brightened with occasional giant graphics (of Java's "coffee cup" symbol, for instance) or a wall of color (frequently Sun's trademark blue or purply pink).

The dining room offers a panoramic view of the Rockies. One wall holds a video screen, nearly as big as a drive-in theater's, used for "all-hands" teleconferences with the California home office.

Sun's generous employee perks helped with the company the 69th spot in Fortune magazine's first ranking of the 100 Best Companies to Work For in America. The Broomfield campus has an on-site concierge service and a travel agency. Workers dine in the company cafeteria on bargain-priced dishes from white chicken lasagna with fresh-baked bread ($5.50) to buffalo stew ($5.95).
COPYRIGHT 1999 Wiesner Publications, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
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Title Annotation:Sun Microsystems in Colorado; includes related article
Author:Graham, Sandy
Geographic Code:1U8CO
Date:Nov 1, 1999
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