City suffers techno identity crisis

Locals do double take as college phases out technology programs

Fort Lewis College graduate, Ken Mohrman, now a technical support supervisor at Brainstorm Internet, says despite FLC dropping its computer sciences and information-systems major in 2011, local businesses should not have any trouble hiring technology-skilled employees because of Durango’s quality of life. Enlarge photo

SHAUN STANLEY/Durango Herald

Fort Lewis College graduate, Ken Mohrman, now a technical support supervisor at Brainstorm Internet, says despite FLC dropping its computer sciences and information-systems major in 2011, local businesses should not have any trouble hiring technology-skilled employees because of Durango’s quality of life.

Technology is one of the fastest-growing fields and more businesses are seeking employees in the technology industry to manage everything from websites to information-technology support.

Durango is no exception with local startup technology companies such as Mercury Payment Systems and Brainstorm Internet.

Local companies were left pondering where they would pick up technology employees after Fort Lewis College eliminated its computer sciences and information-systems major in 2011 because of funding cuts from the state. Twelve students remain in the program, which officially dissolves in 2013.

The largest of those companies is Mercury Payment Systems. About 23 percent of its staff members are FLC graduates, with the majority coming from the business-administration program and the second-largest group of graduates coming from the computer-science program, said Director of Recruiting Scott Davis.

“We prefer to hire local when we can,” Davis said. “For us it’s unfortunate because (FLC) was a key place we could go to find qualified candidates that we now have to look elsewhere for.”

Roger Zalneraitis, executive director of the La Plata County Economic Development Alliance, said part of the problem with the college cutting the program is the message it sends to outsiders looking to relocate to the area.

“The symbol of cutting a technology program when we are more technology dependent is bad,” he said.

Brainstorm Internet’s technical support supervisor Ken Mohrman – a 2007 FLC computer-science graduate – disagrees, saying he doesn’t think Durango will have a problem attracting technology employees because of the quality of life here. Employers can be picky with who they hire and how much experience they require in an applicant, he said.

While the cut has had a drastic effect on Mercury, StoneAge CEO Kerry Petranek said she doesn’t think the closure will affect the water-blasting tools company or even most companies around Durango.

“Most of the companies here now don’t have the need for software engineers, and they don’t have complex systems that need specialized network engineers,” Petranek said in an email to The Durango Herald. “They need people who can help them with desktop support, network design, report writing and business intelligence.”

FLC is incorporating some computer-sciences courses into its curriculum to augment the dissolved major after several businesses approached the college, said Doug Lyon, mayor of Durango and dean of the School of Business Administration.

One course is teaching advanced spreadsheet modeling “that builds upon our existing course in spreadsheets and databases,” he said in an email.

Founder of Durango Tech, a local group of people in the technology industry, Jim Mackay warns that teaching students how to do spreadsheets is not the same as teaching them how to program.

“If they’re still doing database work, that’s great, but it needs to go deep enough that at the end of it you have someone who can create software,” he said. “Teaching people to use software is not the same as teaching them to create software.”

jdahl@durangoherald.com