Feb 20, 2014

Epic opportunity: The software giant is positioning Dane County for an economic breakthruogh

Excerpted from Isthmus | The Daily Page
by Marc Eisen

This is the big question: How far can Dane County ride Epic’s success?

Done right, we’re talking about the foundation for Dane County’s 21st-century economy being built on the medical software industry: lots of good-paying information technology jobs that fuel an expanding housing market, a glittering downtown with hip restaurants and music clubs, a rising tax base to fund new community services and a lot more resources to deal with the serious problems of poverty.

Call it the “Epiconomy.” Madison advertising executive Andy Wallman, who coined the name, should trademark it. “Epiconomy” nails the fact that Epic now drives the Madison area’s prosperity.

Founded in 1979 by its mastermind Judith Faulkner, Epic Systems Corp.is the world leader in the burgeoning health-care software market. The privately owned Epic has 6,800 employees at its Disney-like headquarters in Verona and recorded $1.66 billion in sales in 2013. The company is renowned — notorious, say its critics — for hiring only the smartest young people and working them hard. Salaries for these twentysomethings range from an estimated $60,000 to $100,000 a year.

More are coming. Lots more.

“They could have as many as 10,000 employees by 2018,” says Madison planning chief Steven Cover, who was among top city officials briefed by Epic’s chief administrative officer Steve Dickmann in mid-January. (The media-shy company declined to be interviewed for this story.) Epic expects to add 800 positions a year for the next four or five years, Cover notes.

“They have an international operation that is growing very quickly. This will fuel their continued growth,” he says.

As heartening as that message is, the good news doesn’t stop there. Epic will continue to run its worldwide operation out of its nearly 1,000-acre Verona complex.

“There won’t be a European headquarters,” says Cover. “Their international operation will be staffed and operated from here.”

It’s big news that Epic will not decentralize its operation with regional headquarters. But for Dane County, the even larger payoff hinges on the answer to that opening question: Will Epic’s success give birth to an even larger health industry?

The optimists see that steady stream of brainy Epic expats who leave the mother ship after three or four years sticking around Madison to form their own health IT companies. This in turn will draw entrepreneurs from across the country who want to share the Epic magic.

As it is, the Madison area already has six times the number of software writers as the national average, says Aaron Olver, the city’s director of economic development. Credit Epic’s huge investment in software research and development. Data prepared for the Madison Region Economic Partnership show that IT workers are making, on the average, $89,844 a year.

“Epic will be our equivalent of Microsoft in Seattle, of Dell computers in Austin,” predicts an upbeat Mark Bakken, founder of Epic-focused Nordic Consulting. This is a familiar comparison for Epic watchers in Madison.

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