Sunday, October 14, 2012
Christina Nuckols: A high tech touch at the 2012 (X)po
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Christina Nuckols grew up in the Shenandoah Valley and worked at several newspapers in western Virginia, including The Roanoke Times, before moving to Richmond to cover state government and politics. After 14 years at the state Capitol, she returned to Roanoke in 2011 to become the editorial page editor. christina. firstname.lastname@example.org | 981-3377
From the RoundTable blog
When Eddie Amos spoke at last year's CityWorks (X)po conference in downtown Roanoke, he enjoyed mixing it up with the eclectic group of 300 entrepreneurs, social media gurus, educators, government officials, authors and other creative people who attended the event.
But he also wished he had bumped into more folks like himself from the technology sector.
"I thought, 'Wouldn't it be really cool if we could add more technology components, too?'" he recalled last week.
Amos is a Virginia Tech graduate who returned to the region last year after a 25-year absence, part of that time spent as an executive with Microsoft. He's now the new chief technology officer for Meridium, the international software company based in downtown Roanoke.
The tech cool factor should be higher at this year's conference, which will be held Thursday through Saturday in Charter Hall on the third floor of the Market Building.
The lineup of speakers still has something for everyone, but techies won't be disappointed. There are national speakers like Christopher Allen, an expert on social web strategy from Berkeley, Calif., as well as tech standouts who call the Roanoke and New River valleys home.
"They represent the new Roanoke in terms of what technology is and what it can be," said Amos, who is returning as a speaker this year.
The Roanoke-Blacksburg Technology Council, an association of individuals and businesses promoting the industry, has partnered with CityWorks to attract speakers for the event, including Peter Sforza, director of Virginia Tech's Center for Geospatial Information Technology. Sforza will talk about how to develop digital cities that can be used to better guide everything from land use to energy infrastructure.
If the reception is positive, Derick Maggard, executive director of the council, hopes to create a Te(X)po next year as a warm-up to the 2013 (X)po.
The goal this year and next is to raise the profile of the technology community inside and outside of the region.
"We need to highlight what we have and also bring people from outside the region and make connections," said Brent Cochran, director of the CityWorks conference. "We cannot direct where those relationships lead. We can just make sure they happen."
The conference also is an opportunity to identify barriers the region must confront if it wants to be a major technology corridor.
"If we don't get our act together, we could go the way of the dodo bird," Amos said.
The largest challenge for new tech companies is access to capital, said Maggard, but once they are established, infrastructure like high-speed Internet service becomes a pressing priority.
A group of business leaders, worried that the Roanoke Valley lacks adequate access to high-capacity broadband, kicked off a push this summer to develop an open-access system of fiber optic trunk lines that could spur competition and generate new business opportunities. The group has been meeting with telecommunication providers and hopes to make recommendations on how to proceed by the end of this year.
"It's neat to see the private sector take the lead," said Maggard.
Amos points to still other needs, including a center for innovation, where entrepreneurial birds of a feather can collaborate year round, not just at an annual conference.
All of those things and more will be needed if the region wants to make a name for itself as a tech hub. This week's conference is a good place to start putting some of those missing pieces in place.
"We need this collective intelligence to solve these problems," Sforza said. "Everyone brings something to the table."
Nuckols is editorial page editor of The Roanoke Times.