Silicon Valley is Looking Up


We’ve written before in this space about how little manufacturing is done in Silicon Valley these days.  You may find the occasional chip worker dressed up in the Michelin Man-like safety suit here and there, but for the most part, all of that stuff has been outsourced for years, as Silicon Valley has re-invented itself as a leader of the “idea economy.”
Most of the time.
As I write this, Silicon Valley itself is under seige from another day of pounding rain.  Being in a Valley, that’s got a lot of people nervous about whether or not their home, garden, local freeway, etc., will be submerged tomorrow.  Being an employee of a television network’s news division, you can imagine the latest “Storm Watch” graphics package we’re working on for the news tonight.   You know, those colorful forecasts streaming across our TV and computer screens.  They have a lot of technology behind them.  And, like Hebrew National hot dogs,  they answer to a higher authority.
Which brings us back to manufacturing.  One of the few companies that both design and build their hardware in Silicon Valley is Space Systems Loral.  Nestled in old-school “tilt-up” buildings that will remind you of the early days of Valley innovation, Loral builds, in Palo Alto, the satellites that make weather forecasting.  They’re being built on the floor, right next to the ones being built for Sirius Satellite Radio, DirecTV, and your internet service provider. 

We got a rare tour of the floor (while wearing the aforementioned safety suits) where the satellites are made, and the view from the ground is spectacular. Check it out:

Through the decades, Loral has, fairly quietly, made a name for itself building gigantic satellites, each one costing as much as $300 million. The manufacturing wing is currently filled to capacity, as customers want more satellites — because their customers want more broadband, satellite TV, and so on. You’ve probably heard about the struggles faced by most media companies this year.  But the company that helps make the media happen?  That would be Loral, and it’s done fine.  Never busier, with a stock price that has tripled over the last twelve months.

When it comes to weather,  Loral works with NASA to construct satellites for the  National Oceanic and Atomospheric Administration (NOAA).  This is also steady work, and Loral just retired one of its weather satellites after 12 years of service.  As the technology they use improves, the pictures you see on your screen improves along with it.

So, the next time you see a meteorologist telling you what he sees in his or her weather computer, just know that he or she had to look skyward first.

[For more Silicon Valley reports from Scott Budman, please visit]



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