- The Washington Times - Monday, July 24, 2000

The mission statement of the Northern Virginia Technology Council's international committee includes the pledge to "build interest and support" for the group's work among the organization's entire membership.

Judging from the attendance at the committee's July meeting, that goal appears to be accomplishing itself.

"I'm not worried about August, but if this keeps up, we're going to have to lease the MCI Center in September," James LeBlanc, the chairman of the committee, told a packed conference room in Tysons Corner on Tuesday.

A late arrival to the gathering at the law firm of Greenberg Traurig was lucky enough to find a seat in a far corner, even though several people in the room were already resigned to standing.

"This is absurd," she muttered. "The coliseum next time, perhaps?"

For a group that began with 10 members last September, but has seen dizzying growth since then, the reactions seemed tame, if not expected. Mr. LeBlanc, a Canadian citizen who heads the Alexandria-based S&H;/LeBlanc International consulting practice, announced at the meeting that membership in the international group was approaching 340, out of the 1,450 members of the entire technology council itself.

"It's a sign that we are tapping into an enormous vein of interest," Mr. LeBlanc said.

The international group is planning various events and program with two main goals in mind, according to Mr. LeBlanc. One is to expand business opportunities for its members, while the other is to influence public policy on issues that matter to technology companies, such as international trade and electronic commerce, and privacy on the Internet.

While regional and national matters have dominated the Washington-area technology industry throughout the 1990s, global issues no longer fall by the wayside among area businesses. The largest ones already have international operations, the mid-sized businesses are establishing them and the smaller ones have global ambitions.

With a membership list that is constantly in flux, the precise makeup of the NVTC international group is hard to pin down. Mr. LeBlanc said that slightly over half are actually technology companies, while another large portion are professional services organizations lawyers, consultants, associations for whom an ever-expanding contact network is vital.

Amelia Porges, for example, is a lawyer who recently joined the Washington offices of Powell, Goldstein, Frazer & Murphy after 20 years with the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative. The firm has an extensive practice in issues surrounding the World Trade Organization, which is venturing into the new frontier of trade barriers in electronic commerce.

"We think northern Virginia should be much more interested in what goes on at the [World Trade Organization]," Ms. Porges said.

Similarly, the international committee includes associations seeking to broaden their membership. Ken Hagerty heads the Vienna-based Global Venture Investors Association, a group that tries to expand the links between venture capitalists in the United States and other countries.

For Mr. Hagerty, the technology council is about spreading the gospel of venture capital, a "platform for joint action and marketing."

The group includes well-known players with global interests, such as America Online, Dittus Communications, First Union Corp. and Deloitte & Touche. Others members, like Falls Church-based CavaSoft, are small start-ups whose businesses rested on international connections from the start.

CavaSoft, a maker of software that speeds a company's conversion to an Internet-based system, relies heavily on engineering talent from Russia, Ukraine and Belarus, said its president, Steve Kurtz. Employing foreign software experts in the United States, and outsourcing work to those who remained overseas, has helped the two-year-old firm turn a profit from the beginning.

Exploiting more international talent now rests on the whims of the U.S. government. Foreign employees in the high-tech sector need H-1B visas, but federal legislation to expand the number of permits each year is currently caught in a partisan crossfire in Congress.

"We need to understand the issues that might affect these aspects of the business," Mr. Kurtz said.

The keen interest among members like Mr. Kurtz has not shielded the international committee from growing pains. A period of confusion over precisely what the group would do to boost the value of NVTC membership followed the initial burst of growth last year, Mr. LeBlanc said.

"It has not always been pleasant," Mr. LeBlanc said. "There have been stresses and strains."

But he and the group's other active members are seeking nothing less than the globalization of the entire technology council. They are realistic about what they can achieve in the short term, but Mr. LeBlanc hopes their evangelistic fervor will spread.

"The goal is to make global thinking pervasive throughout the entire organization in one form or another," Mr. LeBlanc said. "At some point, ideally, we would not need an international committee."

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