NEW YORK – The scene may place less emphasis on decadence and pandering to any Internet outfit with the words "start-up" in its business plan, but the technology sector is still a powerful force at the Republican National Convention (search).
"You don't have the dotcom exuberance, but I think there is a quiet exuberance," said Gary Fazzino, government affairs vice president of computer giant Hewlett Packard, referring to the notorious technology "bubble burst" in 2000.
Against the backdrop of the indoor stock ticker at the NASDAQ (search) headquarters in Times Square on Wednesday, technology movers and shakers as well as numerous members of Congress schmoozed over cocktails and under the radar that homed in on the tech industry in 2000. Much of the talk referred to the massive market shake-up four years ago and the sector's regrouping on a more realistic plane since then.
Glancing at the current prices of stocks like Intel, Microsoft and Sun Microsystems, which were a far cry from their sky-high values of the late 1990s, some guests noted fewer wild fetes being held and less royal treatment toward industry chiefs. But the convention, they said, is not all bad.
"It's not so much that we did much more, but we were much sexier then," said one big company official who did not want to be named.
Back in the day, twenty-something programmers and executives thrived on super-casual work attire, foosball games and ice cream socials in their office rumpus rooms. Capital investment was pouring into virtually any start-up with an original business plan.
But at Wednesday's NASDAQ affair no sneakers and tie-dyes were in sight. And while the discussions might have been more staid, focusing on issues ranging from promoting more broadband access to tax relief, and IT security to global trade, important and pressing issues to the industry.
"I do think the sector has been becoming more intelligent, more sophisticated," said Peter Pitsch of Intel Corp., the leading manufacturer computer chips. "In the last four years, there has been a marked change."
"While technology is not at the top of everybody's minds, it's certainly in the underpinning of what both parties are trying to achieve," said Jim Prendergast, executive director of Americans for Technology Leadership.
"I think for [the technology sector], their presence here at the convention … it's a little more subdued, but I think they are certainly in force," Prendergast said. "They continue to develop and build relationships with key people in policy and industry."
One of congressman whose ear they have is Rep. Bob Goodlatte of Virginia, co-chairman of the Congressional Internet Caucus, who agreed the industry has a lot on its plate in the future.
"I'd say the tech sector is strong as ever, but it is more solid" now that stocks that were too speculative are out of the picture, he said. Congress is doing its best to help spur investment and to keep technology jobs intact, he added.
Several technology companies are still sponsoring lavish receptions across the city during the national convention — and for good reason — a number of bills affecting the industry, including telecommunications and piracy protection are on the table before Congress.
"They are making sure that the laws they are putting into place don't unfairly hinder the growth of the technology company," Jon Venverloh, who is in charge of federal sales for Google, one of the surviving and most successful Internet start-ups today, particularly since its strong initial public offering made headlines for weeks in August.
Big name corporate technology sponsors like Microsoft and IBM spent lavishly at the Democratic National Convention, too. But Republicans like to say they have the best interests of the tech companies in mind, particularly with positions like lower taxes, free trade and deregulation.
Call it growing up, but the sector has seemingly learned that it can get just as much accomplished when it's not the life of the party. Government contracts in homeland security are booming, industry experts point out, but the public hears mostly about the security policy, not the technology driving it.
"I'm in Silicon Valley and I can say there is a lot of optimism," said Fazzino. "And it's not just about Google."