Madison’s Web Future
In recent years, as the Great Recession locked down the economy and the Republican surge rolled back the perks of public employment, I’ve wondered how a quintessential government town like Madison could reinvent itself and prosper. More and more, I find myself thinking that the young entrepreneurs in the city’s tech industry will lead the way. For this story in Isthmus, I look at a Web-development outfit called Bendyworks. I make this case:
Information technology companies like Bendyworks could be the stars of downtown Madison’s 21st-century economy.
“The tech community in Madison is exploding,” says [co-owner Stephen] Anderson. “So is Madison’s entrepreneurial community.”
He’s sitting at a table at the Bendyworks office with [Brad] Grzesiak and their partner, Jim Remsik. All three are convinced the downtown is well situated to ride the wave. They argue that the isthmus has the urban setting, the indie culture, the face-to-face proximity, and the creative talent to prosper in the burgeoning IT world.
And they declare that Bendyworks, in its deliberate, idiosyncratic way, is intent on making it happen. Anderson defines and champions the scene. Remsik and his wife, Jenifer, organize Ruby conferences (and in a few years a music-themed conference) that bring the best tech people to town. Bendyworks and the Remsiks have even produced beguiling videos promoting Madison (watch one) to out-of-town techies.
“We can compete with the second-tier cities like Portland and Austin,” Remsik, 35, says confidently. “They don’t have anything on Madison. The problem is that people don’t think of Madison and say, ‘Oh, Madison — yeah, that’s a cool start-up place.”
Grzesiak easily has the most ambitious idea of the three partners: Madison should create a formal web district stretching east from the Capitol and south of East Washington Avenue to Schenk’s Corners.
That corridor has the empty storefronts and cheap space that start-ups need, he says, but it still lacks one crucial component to attract programmers: more apartments that accept cats. “In the web world, it’s a cat thing,” Grzeskiak says.
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