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Second Western Maryland TECHFAST

September 08, 2000

Second Western Maryland TECHFAST



A year ago this September, Washington, Allegany and Garrett counties put on the first Western Maryland TECHFAST, an event held in part to showcase local industries using new technology to improve their products and the way they do business.

Next Thursday, Sept. 14, the second edition of the event will be held at 8 a.m. at Hagerstown's Ramada Inn. Since the first drew more than 200 people from all over the state and praise for its panel discussion, this one should be routine and no big deal, right?

Not so, said John Howard, Washington County's Economic Development Director. Technology is changing so quickly that it's essential for local businesspeople to stay in touch with innovators in the field, and just as important, with outside folks who might be attracted to this area.

"The changes in technology that have occurred in a very short time continue to make it exciting for Washington County," Howard said.

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Just two years ago, Howard said, a professional journal in which the county advertises wrote about the use of the Internet as a tool for companies seeking new sites.

The prediction then was that it would never replace personal visits as a site-selection tool, Howard said, but now it's become routine for firms to use it for a "very thorough pre-search."

Next Thursday'[s event, co-sponsored by the state's three western counties, the Tri-County Council and PenMar Development Corporation, will begin with a breakfast, followed by a panel discussion led by Dyan Brasington, who heads Maryland's High Technology Council.

The panelists will include Paul Barbas, president of Allegheny Ventures, Jordan Glogau, chief executive officier of RegisterFREE.com and Eric Payne, co-founder of Xoutdoors.com.

Founded in July 1999, Allegheny Ventures is a subsidiary of Allegheny Energy. It invests in businesses related to the parent company, like Genosys Technology Management. In January the firm announced it would install more than 600 miles of fiber-optic line as part of an agreement with Adelphia Business Solutions, a deal that might eventually allow the company to package technology products for sale with electric power.

For Barbas, TECHFAST provides opportunity to demonstrate to people outside the area what's available in Washington County.

"These events are important so that we don't fall off their radar," he said.

Barbas is eager to tell Allegheny's story, noting that this past March, Allegeheny formed the American Fiber Network. partnering with some other companies to create a fiber network of more than 7,000 miles to serve some mid-sized communities "that were somethat left behind by the big communications companies."

And, he said, "if we can provide infrastructure in our service territory, hopefully we can drive economic development."

A second panelist, Payne, co-founded Xoutdoors, which provides on-line shopping and other services for outdoor enthusiastists. The company is the Internet partner for Nations Best Sports, with 900 retail stores.

Payne couldn't be reached for this column, but in a profile from Techway magazine supplied by the EDC, the Washington County native said that one if his biggest challenges is convincing people he deals with that just because the company is located in Washington County rather than Washington, D.C., it still has the expertise and the resources to do a good job.

The third panelist, Jordan Glogau, is CEO of the Hagerstown-based company RegisterFREE.com, which registers Internet domain names. His Techway profile says that the firm, launched in March of this year, has already registered 400,000 names.

In that article, he praised the county as a high-tech business site, saying that it has "good people, an innovative spirit and infrastructure."

Not every business will make a fortune by using the Internet, although it does allow small firms to reach a much wider customer base at a lower cost than any other medium. Even if you don't feel that it's the right solution for you, or your business, you should consider attending TECHFAST, for several reasons.

The first is that because officials from all over the state will be here, it's important to demonstrate local interest in high-tech development, something a half-empty hall won't do.

The second reason is that you might learn something that would benefit you or your business. Imagine, for example, a web site that would show off your products or services 24 hours a day. If your competitors have one and you don't, who's going to lose business?

Finally, for parents and taxpayers, high-tech companies open up new opportunities for our children and grandchildren, but getting them ready for those jobs will take an investment in local schools that we've only begun to make.

The cost of the event is $35 and tickets can be obtained by calling EDC at (301) 791-3080, b y faxing a request to that agency at (301) 791-3157 or by registering online at www.washtech/calendar.com. The deadline is Tuesday, Sept 12.

Bob Maginnis is editorial page editor of The Herald-Mail newspapers.

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