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E-Coast illustration
Illustration by Ingo Fast

By Rachel M. Collins '81

See also:
Homegrown and Thriving: Erik Dodier '92
An e-Coast Pioneer: Andy Beaupre '75

On a cool early-summer morning, Craig Welch '93 paddles his kayak around the rocky point of New Castle, N.H., under the 368-year-old walls of Fort Constitution, past white church steeples and elegant 18th-century houses. He steers the kayak into shore just a few blocks south of downtown Portsmouth, straps it onto the roof rack of his car and drives to work -- a "nine-iron away," as he says -- at Eyeon Interactive.

At the age of 30, Welch is a senior partner and vice president of business development at the two-year-old company, which develops Web pages and Internet strategies for customers like Stop & Shop and Citizens Bank. Eyeon Interactive's state-of-the-art multimedia studio occupies a renovated garage about a block from Portsmouth Harbor, next to historic Strawbery Banke, one of the oldest neighborhoods in the United States.

Like many Internet companies, Eyeon Interactive has seen explosive growth since its launch. Revenues grew by almost 1,000 percent in the firm's second year, and Welch expects them to triple this year. "We had aggressive expectations, and we still grew more than that," he says, explaining that his company works with Internet startups. "We build it; we program it; we market it. We even help startups to position themselves to get venture capital. We're like a business incubator for the new economy."

This 18-employee company could have established its headquarters anywhere. It doesn't need to be near customers or suppliers, and its products exist only in cyberspace. So why did it choose Portsmouth?

"We're here for the lifestyle," says Welch. "When people from New York City ask me why I'm here, I tell them, 'I don't have to get out of the Atlantic Ocean until 7:30, and I can be at work at 8. Can you say that?'"

Most of Eyeon Interactive's employees, whose average age is 28, have chosen to live in New Hampshire's Seacoast region for similar reasons. Like Welch, they see it as an ideal place to live and raise young families. "You work hard and long hours, but it's not like you have to go out of the city to go for a bike ride," Welch says. "We have our bikes, kayaks and surfboards right at the office."

Welcome to the e-Coast, where business opportunities and quality of life have combined to create an economic hot spot in the Northeast. Within the past few years, an estimated 400 high-tech businesses have sprouted in the greater Portsmouth area, with more than 100 in the city of Portsmouth alone. The e-Coast's influence is evident as far north as Maine's Casco Bay and as far south as Cape Ann, Mass. This booming region has been compared to a small-scale Silicon Valley or Austin, Texas. It routinely attracts people like Welch's three partners, who were all working in or near New York City before they moved to New Hampshire to found Eyeon Interactive.

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